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Ko hai koaa 'oku corrupt and what is corruption?

Auckland, New Zealand

Dear Editor

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?

‘Ofa atu

Sailosi Finau

Auckland, NZ

sailosifinau [at] yahoo [dot] com [dot] au



Leaders in corruption - Feleti S., Suva, Fiji:
I agree that corruption exists at all levels of society and it varies in degree, however, shifting the focus from the royal family into one’s backyard will not help to dissolve this problem at all.

Although culture and tradition is often used to shield corruption, it still has its valid application in our globalized world. I am sure nobody wants to be in an identity crisis. Culture and tradition should be used as a basis for development and progress for Tonga.

Tonga has exported squash to Japan yet it has failed to learn how Japan manages to maintain its culture and tradition and yet still manages to become the world’s second largest economy.

Finally, in order to kill corruption you need to kill the head and the whole body dies. The royal family represents the kingdom and its people at various forums abroad and so do the government ministers. If they are corrupt then how can you expect the people to stop, when the people who are supposed to lead the kingdom are the biggest culprits of all? Isn’t nepotism a close relative of corruption? How can people not talk about a government whose Prime Minister was the eldest son of the King and then later passed over to the younger son. Isn’t the title of HRH enough or do they have to feed on poor taxpayers who are struggling to survive? People as such cannot wear two crowns. It seems that the struggle to survive has made the poor taxpayers resort to corruption as an alternative because those in leadership are already consuming more than their bellies could hold.

It is sad to say that a group of islands once labelled as the “Friendly Islands” by Captain Cook has now turned into a playground where only the fittest survive.

What will donor countries say when they see that intensive preaching on corruption seems to stop with poor taxpayers, why not those at the top? After all they are the face of Tonga to the outside world. Corruption can only be dissolved if those in leadership lead the way by example, then perhaps the people might follow.

I can only hope that the grace of God keeps Tonga afloat till the next millennium. - Feleti S., Suva, Fiji

A more balanced look at corruption - Sailosi Finau:
Feleti’s remarks are a bit out of the mark and deserves this clarification.

My letter was not to shift the focus of discussions on corruption from the royal family into one’s backyard, but perhaps to have a more balanced look at the issue of corruption. What I am saying is “kuo akafia pe e faihala ia ‘i hotau kainga” regardless of whether they are in Tonga or abroad and whether you are paipa tongi, paipa piko, paipa lekeleka, ta’e paipa, paipa pelesitiki, etc.

While I respect Feleti’s suggestion that we kill the head and the whole body dies, there is obvious evidence that there is no clear connection between the head and the corrupt practices by the body. I have used many local examples of corrupt practices like the kumala tunga. Are people knowingly putting in 2 or 3 kumala tunga in the basket because they are striving to live? No! The basket can still be sold at the same price without those bad kumalas. But why put them in? It is just a sickness of the mind and heart!

For the Tongans abroad, I have used the ‘a maka construction practices in Auckland, the ‘iate in the US and the false completion of government forms in order to qualify for government benefit schemes and other support programmes. Here in NZ, Immigration is currently after bogus firms doing job offers for companies/jobs that don’t exist. I know Tongans who are giving away these half a page letters for a handsome NZ$1000+ each. Does the Tongan government or the royal family have anything to do with these corrupt practices? Absolutely not! Are these Tongans abroad doing corrupt practices because Clarke, Howard and Bush are consuming more than their bellies could hold?

We are just a kaka, loi and mohu faiva lot! Century-old education and Christianity teachings have not been that successful in that respect. I have therefore suggested that instead of finger pointing, we (royal family, Feleti, Sailosi and everybody else) start building a corrupt free society from our respective families. We all have a part to play. The solution, I believe, needs to be embedded in our third millennium education, religious and cultural practices rather than a mere cheap shot of killing the head.

Speaking of cultural practices, I am not saying that we totally do away with our culture when fighting corruption. For we can be honest and still proudly wear our ta’ovala. There are some things that need to be taken out completely. Takitaki…‚ in its bribing context is an example. The comparison to the squash export and Japan is therefore not only out of the mark but out of context too.

Feleti has, however, helped to drive my message through by wrongly stating that the eldest son of the King became PM and later passed it on to the younger son, i.e, we should correct ourselves first before attempting to correct others!

‘Ofa atu - Sailosi Finau

Corruption in a basket of kumala - Feleti S., Suva, Fiji:
I with all respect accept Sialosi Finau’s response however, I wish to draw attention to the following paragraph of his response:

“Are people knowingly putting in 2 or 3 kumala tunga in the basket because they are striving to live? No! The basket can still be sold at the same price without those bad kumalas. But why put them in? It is just a sickness of the mind and heart!”

The respondent used the above paragraph as an illustration. The idea of putting bad kumala in the basket is just a sickness of the mind and heart. For me, the answer is a “maybe”. Sometimes circumstances are beyond people’s control. These very circumstances force people back in Tonga to lose appreciation for what is good and worth practising.

Although I do not reside in Tonga anymore, I still receive sad letters about how the situation is deteriorating back at home. Poor taxpayers pay consumption tax apart from the hefty price for basic food items. For most low-income earners in Tonga, the quest to survive is more important to them than looking at corruption as a sickness of the mind.

Although I agree with Sailosi’s statement about learning to correct ourselves before pointing at others, the fact remains, how are we going to correct ourselves when our very own leaders practise corruption right before our eyes. I guess, their boldness to do such things in the eyes of the people has actually blinded or stunned the people blind.

As for Tongans living abroad, their corrupt practices will catch up with them one day. As for our families, friends and relatives back in Tonga, I can only say that if putting two bad kumalas in the basket is what it takes to survive or perhaps to earn money to put children to school then I for one wouldn’t mind at all. - Felet S., Suva, Fiji