I have noted that in the last 10 years or so the term 'corruption' has been widely used in Tonga and in most cases, it is levelled against those in authority, particularly against the Royal family and the government. And of course, the term is mostly used in the political arena and by the media for various agendas and in most of the cases they have been right in its application. Nowadays, every Dick and Harry labels Cabinet ministers and senior civil servants as corrupt or to half-heartedly accept it as koe me'a pe ia 'a e kau paipa.
Within the international arena, there is more and more acceptance that developing countries, Tonga included, need to weed out corruption first if they are to advance in their socio-economic development effort. In other words, there is widespread corruption in the developing world, which acts as constraints to the best use of their own and donors... hard-earned money. Examples? Look no further than the millions lost in the Royal Tongan and the passport money investment saga.
Recently, an Australian academic reported that the Pacific Islands countries are getting more donor money per capita than any other region in the world, yet the impacts of this money have been minimal. In order words, she is implying that donor funds would be better utilized in promoting good governance (remove corruption) first, otherwise it is a waste of money to maintain the status quo. Examples of these good governance initiatives are Australia's current lead role in the RAMSI in the Solomon Ils and the Enhanced Cooperative Programme in PNG and many others.
A lot has been written about corruption in the Pacific Islands, Tonga included, all pointing to the fact that our cultural practices, forms of governments and regrettably religious practices are excellent breeding grounds for corruption. So much so that they are used as justifications for corrupt practices. For instance, when one takes a basket of yam to the Director of Education's home so that his child can be admitted to a government school, we call that anga fakafonua or koe me'a fakaTonga pe ia but to the world that is bribing and a first degree corrupt practice.
But what is corruption? Corruption can be broadly and simply defined as the illegal and/or immoral use of one's personal and public capacity for personal gains. So when the HRHs used their royal family status to gain "special" rights to Tonga's satellite slots, duty free, power generation, domestic airline and the .to domain, that is condemned as corruption.
When a noble removes land from a Tongan family so that he can lease it to a foreigner for big time cash, or when ministers and members of parliament attend irrelevant overseas meetings at taxpayers' costs, that is corruption. And when a head of department awards building or supply contracts to people in return for some work on his house, or for part of the supplies for his family, or when church delegations use the church's overseas fund raising trips to also raise funds for themselves, that is corruption.
When middle and junior level workers take sick leave when they are not actually sick and still get paid for those days that is corruption. When daily paid laborers sleep during working hours but still get paid for those hours that is corruption. And when farmers sell a basket of kumala carefully placing the rats-eaten side of the kumala upside down, and when people carefully fold old taro leaves and place them inside the bundle so that they may look like new ones, that is corruption.
And let us not forget that when Tongans abroad intentionally and falsely fill government forms in order to qualify for government benefits and other support schemes that is corruption too. And the hele fulufulu that is practiced by people doing 'iate is corruption. Have we forgotten the Tongan contractor who cheated people in his 'a maka business in Auckland? What about the famous drive way cementing Tongan contractor in LA?
Come to think of it, the Tongan society (whether in Tonga or abroad) is so rife with corruption and I can go on with hundreds of examples from our daily lives. Yet we talk of corruption as if it is only at the royal family and in the government. For the advancement of Tonga, corruption has to be removed from all levels. We have to start in our own families and lives before looking at others. This means we have to do away with some of our Tongan ways of doing things. So far the progress has been very, very slow. Is there a zero tolerance policy for civil servants not to accept gifts from the public for the performance of their public duties? Certainly, there is no such policy for the Immigration, Police, Customs and Quarantine officers at the arrival lounge at Fua'amotu airport.
Democracy will be effective if it will remove corrupt practices from society. Both are foreign concepts and there is no way Tonga is going to manipulate the world's standard definitions for them. Therefore we can't use culture and religion as cover up for corruption. Regrettably those who condemn others of corruption do not realize that they are in the same business too. It is therefore correct that when one Tongan is pointing a finger at someone else who is alleged to be corrupt, the other four are pointing back at him or her.
Do I have a volunteer to throw the first stone?
sailosifinau [at] yahoo [dot] com [dot] au