More Government windows should be untinted

Kudos where it is due.

During a public auction this week, the Government has been recouping the costs from customised door handles, tow bars, tinted windows, mag wheels and other accessories which should never ought to have been attached to publicly-owned cars.

One suspects selling second-hand mag wheels for $1200 tala a pop is unlikely to balance the budget. (A curious secondary question arises: can you un-tint a car window?).

But the message that this measure sends is priceless

We applaud Cabinet for passing the directive banning the addition of accessories and the Ministry of Finance C.E.O., Leasiosiofa’asisina Oscar Malielegaoi, for cracking down on those who defy the order.

And we congratulate him for handling this issue in a manner of utmost transparency, both in his public statements on the matter and the conduct of the public auction. 

Government property is owned by the people of Samoa; it should be treated with reverence by by its temporary custodians. 

As we have been reading recently, far too often it is not. 

Stories of expensive holidays, overpayments, generous refreshment bills and accounting irregularities have featured constantly over the past month. 

At the risk of repeating a point recently made by my colleague, Editor Mata’afa Keni Lesa, the report by the Controller and Auditor General, Fuimaono Afele Taimalelagi that produced these stories is a commendable example of thorough regard for good governance. 

But if there’s one thing to be learned from this recent experience is that Government business should be conducted in the open much more often.

Too often C.E.O.s, unlike Leasiosiofa’asisina has been this month, are not available for comment. 

And the stories from Fuimaono’s audit report are based on a Financial Year 2015 to 2016 edition of his report. It has to be asked why more recent editions have not been made available to the public in a timely manner. 

In Britain public inquiries have been the preferred means for dealing with issues of contention for hundreds of years. They have since become a regular and default feature of other Westminster democracies around the world such as in New Zealand, Canada, Australia and others in the 20th Century. 

The idea behind revealing sometimes unpleasant business publicly is that only by doing so can a trusted institution remain that way and assure those who rely on it that its health is ongoing. 

As the old maxim goes, sunlight makes the best disinfectant. 

Good newspapers worldover - often thought of us as the fourth branch of Government - are also excellent exponents of this practice.

You need only read the letters section of this newspaper to show that we regularly dissenting views and views critical of this newspaper.

Might I commend to you an eloquent critique of this newspaper on page one of today’s edition and run in its entirety as an example of this ethic in practice. 

We recognise that opinions differ; that otherwise reasonable people can disagree about things; and ultimately we trust our readers to make their own decisions.

So it should be with Government agencies and voters.

The official Samoa Palemene website makes for sorry reading on this score. The latest available reports released for some Ministries such as Revenue and Customs date back to the Financial Year 2013 to 2014. 

Earlier this year when he foresaw that public confidence needed to be restored in the health system Acting Chief Justice Vui Clarence Nelson ordered a full inquiry into how two infants in Savai’i were administered a fatally prepared vaccine. 

For much too long an ethic antithetical to openness has been prevailing in Samoa. 

If you read the comments section of the Samoa Observer website you’ll see not only occasionally vociferous criticism of our reporting (and our editorials) but a great deal of cynicism about how our Government operates.

Much of this circulates around the web at warp speed and without professional journalists to fact check it it’s impossible to say whether there’s an ounce of truth to any of it.

But if the Government of Samoa wants to dispel these perceptions there should be more of what we have seen this month.

Have a pleasant Wednesday, Samoa. And God bless. 

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