The cost of corruption, negligence and ignorance in interesting Samoa

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 16 March 2017, 12:00AM

We’ve said this before and we will say it again. We are an interesting lot.

And if you’re a visitor to these shores, you could be forgiven for thinking that we Samoans are a weird bunch. 

When you think you see black, sometimes we don’t necessarily see the same colour. It’s more or less a shade of grey, probably cream or something else. But that’s what we mean. We are an interesting lot – especially our politicians.

We are referring to the fact that our people generally welcome and embrace most things palagi except when it comes to things that make us look bad. Then we suddenly play the Samoa vs palagi card. 

For instance, when it comes to corruption, hardship and poverty, you suddenly find that here in paradise, there is a different measure for Samoa and palagi.

Let me explain. Not so long ago, the Controller and Auditor General uncovered instances of unbridled corruption and mismanagement in some government offices. The issues were highlighted in not one, not two but at least three reports tabled with Parliament.

These reports were referred to what’s called the Officers of Parliament Committee (O.P.C). They investigated the claims, costing taxpayers lots of money and they were required to report back to Parliament with their findings.

In the end, the O.P.C, a group made up of highly qualified accountants, lawyers and other respected professions, confirmed the findings of the Controller and Auditor General. 

They found that there existed corrupt practices among some public servants and there were also instances where some had colluded to defraud taxpayers. To remedy the problem, the Committee recommended taking legal action against the individuals implicated.

It didn’t happen. Instead the report was tabled and the government brushed it aside in its response. Neither the report nor the government’s response was the subject of an open debate as Members of Parliament should have done and the rest, as they say, is history.

Outside Parliament though, a senior Member of Parliament’s response about corruption really baffled the mind at the time. It still does.

Listen to him again: “The palagi corruption is different from Samoa corruption. Compared with bigger countries, any corruption in Samoa is tiny.”

 “The corruption that happened in the United States with its financial crisis spread out to other countries affecting us and other countries in the world. But if there’s corruption in Samoa, it doesn’t affect American Samoa, it’s domestic for us.”

Palagi corruption? Samoan corruption? And Samoa’s corruption is domestic what? Hogwash. A humungous load of hogwash!

Now let’s look at the issue of poverty or hardship.  It’s well known now that Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi doesn’t believe poverty exists in Samoa.

 “There’s the palagi way of defining (poverty),” Tuilaepa said about reports identifying poverty here, adding that he has instructed the Bureau of Statistics to use the “Samoan way” of measuring poverty, not the palagi way. 

This is not the first time Tuilaepa has rubbished claims about poverty. 

Not long after his government launched the first State of Human Rights Report for Samoa, which identified undeniable “poverty” in this country, he turned around and called the report writers “foolish.”

The report, by the way, was launched by the Prime Minister himself.

Compiled by the Office of the Ombudsman as the National Human Rights Institution (N.H.R.I) of Samoa, it found that one in every five Samoans live in poverty.

“Despite progress in big picture economic growth and within high level development framework, there is disparity in development outcomes particularly in rural and remote areas,” the report reads.

 “Approximately 20 per cent of Samoa’s population lives below the basic needs poverty line (B.N.P.L), with the higher proportion of rural populations falling below the B.N.P.L. Basically, this means that about 1 in every 5 Samoans lives in poverty.”

Folks, we repeat, those are not our words. Those are the words of the report endorsed by Prime Minister Tuilaepa. He even called for the formation of a Parliamentary Committee to follow up on the report’s recommendations.

But then he changed his mind. And what’s more, he pulled out the Samoa vs palagi card.

 “That is based on palagi thinking,” he said about the report. “It’s a foolish thought based on the idea there’s not enough food and income. That’s such foolish thinking (for Samoa).”

Which brings us back to the point we made at the beginning of this piece.

Isn’t it funny how this government has embraced everything about the palagi world but when it comes to topics they are uncomfortable with, it suddenly demands that they are viewed in the Samoan context? 

So what is the Samoan context of poverty? According to the Prime Minister, poverty is defined as someone who is so poor they walk around without clothes.

“They’re naked all the time,” he said. “Have you seen someone like that in Samoa? If the answer is no, then there is no-one living in poverty in Samoa. There is no-one walking around on the road naked.”

Well perhaps Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his government should take time to read about the plight of mothers, fathers and people featured on the Village Voice every day.

If they are not convinced by their stories, take a look at the photos of where these people live. It is atrocious. They survive in squalor type shelters where they can’t even afford a bag of cement for the floor. 

So they sleep on rocks. They are suffering and they live to tell stories of perennial hardship and the reality of poverty in Samoa today.

The bottom line is this; regardless of what Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration say about poverty, corruption and hardship, the people of this country are not fools. 

They can see right through those empty words and the political rhetoric. Indeed, we cannot deny that poverty and crippling hardship are real issues in Samoa.

We’re talking about the poverty of jobs, poverty of ways to earn money and poverty of opportunity that ultimately results in the poverty of your stomach.

Yes, if you don’t have a job to earn money, you’re bound to go hungry. Your children will end up starving. That’s the bottom line.

And that’s why these people are on the streets. They see it as a form of employment; they see it as the only way to make a living. We’ve been saying this for years.

Interestingly enough, the government last week launched another fancy report announcing that the reason why these kids are on the streets is because of “financial problems.” Oh really? 

Did they need a consultant, a report and some more aid funding to find that out? Would it have cost that much if they used their common sense?

Imagine if they used the money they spent on the report and the cocktail party to launch the report to help the family of one child? Imagine that? Do you need “big brains” to do that? 

When it comes to street vendors, the simple questions are: 

Would those young people be skipping school and risking the wrath of the law if they were not desperate? 

Would the number of street vendors be growing in Samoa today if there was no poverty?

Would the number of break-ins, robberies, social issues and crimes have increased if people have enough money to fall back on?

Now think of the millions wasted by the government on white elephants and projects that fail. Think about the millions wasted through the corruption identified by the Chief Auditor and O.P.C. Think about the abuse of power, mismanagement of public resources and the luxurious lives of some public servants.

Who do you think is paying for that? And you wonder why so many of our people are so poor? 

Have a productive Thursday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 16 March 2017, 12:00AM

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