O.E.C. cloud needs scrutiny

By The Editorial Board 05 January 2022, 9:25PM

The question of how much the private lives of public figures should be on display draws strong and different convictions across cultures and nations.

We ourselves share a degree of ambivalence on the question of whether those leading the country, either in parliament or as Government administrators, should also be leading entirely blameless and perfect private lives. 

In the public service, professional performance is the most important standard someone should be held to; using others tends to invite judgmentalism and hypocrisy of the worst kind.

The past is littered with examples of reputations ruined after people have sought to hold themselves out as moral exemplars, only to be undone by their own words and deeds. 

Sometimes private lives spill over into public with such eye-catching impact they provoke not only distaste but also questions about an individual or entire organisation's past record.

Criminal charges levelled at the Assistant Electoral Commissioner, Afualo Daryl Mapu, and another woman working at the organisation, over the holidays are a perfect example. 

During a raid at his Nuu-fou home police confiscated an unspecified quantity of methamphetamine, firearms and cash. 

“We received a lot of complaints from the public regarding this household and we had to act,” Deputy Police Commissioner, Auapaau Logoitino Filipo alleged. 

“The household has been on our radar for quite some time and when we received the complaints we acted and moved in last night.”

We believe that those who occupy positions as important to our democracy such as senior executives at the Office of the Electoral Commission (O.E.C.), should indeed be beyond reproach. 

The hard drugs, illegal weapons and unexplained income seized by police at the raid made for an eye-opening mixture. 

Becoming involved in a life in which things such as those seized from Afualo’s house feature poses obvious risks - but not just to the person themselves.

It jeopardises the integrity of one of the most important offices in our public sector in a number of ways.

The first is blackmail. Without commenting on the specifics of the case, a top official’s involvement with any one of the three quantities involved in the raid exposes them to the possibility of blackmail. 

Officials consorting with drug dealers and arms sellers are, as a rule, obliged to keep such behaviour quiet. That instantly burdens them with the need to live a double life. Any one person who had knowledge of such behaviour could exert significant influence over them and, by extension, their powers as a public servant and so for their own gain. 

Rightly or wrongly, most all decisions made by anyone seriously involved with drugs or other illegal behaviour are likely to be seen through aspect, at least at first. 

That means that poor personal decisions can now carry immense consequences not only for the public organisation - but our public life. 

Decisions made by the Electoral Commission last year have been at the centre of highly consequential debates and court cases about the very nature of our democracy. 

These decisions should always be fought and discussed on their own merits. But the organisation’s entire authority and legitimacy have now been tarnished by this episode, which now opens an entirely new potential strand of criticism against the O.E.C.

That being said, we should hesitate to generalise from the particular example of one person, even though those seeking to undermine the organisation won’t. 

But the fact that two employees from the same organisation were caught up in the raid that apparently began only long after complaints of rowdy behaviour does raise serious questions about the O.E.C. and its workplace culture, including how widespread or well-known such behaviour is. 

We agree with the comments made by the Speaker of Parliament, Papali'i Li'o Ta'eu-Masipau, who, despite the raid involving his own son, did not hesitate to argue the O.E.C. could not stand to be so tainted and that the Government needed to take further action to vet its Ministries and officials. 

"To find out these kinds of people who do things illegally and do so without hesitation. It is unacceptable for people who hold high positions in Government to be caught doing these kinds of things,” he said. 

"Yes they were caught at their private homes and after working hours; but what happened tells a lot about what's been happening behind closed doors in that office.

"You know, whatever is done in the darkness will always come to light.”

Once again we return to the question of where private lives start and where they end. 

But it is clear that taking on a senior position at an agency such as the Electoral Commission brings with it a degree of responsibility and scrutiny, neither of which are being applied appropriately.  

By The Editorial Board 05 January 2022, 9:25PM

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