Speak up, don’t be afraid!

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The writer was invited by the Samoa Umbrella of Non Governmental Organisations and the United Nations Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption agency to address a two-day meeting about Corruption at Hotel Millennia yesterday. He was asked to talk about “The role of the media in Corruption prevention.” This is what he said:

 

Greetings. I want to say thank you very much to the organizers of this two-day workshop for inviting me to speak today. I am deeply honoured.

Allow me to congratulate you all for this wonderful initiative. Thank you to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (U.N.O.D.C), the United Nations Development Programme (U.N.D.P), Samoa National Youth Council (S.N.Y.C) and the Samoa Umbrella for Non-Governmental Organisations (S.U.N.G.O) for taking the lead in opening the discussion about an issue the powerful and the mighty would rather not have you talk about.

What I find especially exciting is the involvement of young people in such an important discussion. You see, as future leaders of this country, this is a vital step towards building them up for what is up ahead.

 Now when it comes to corruption and its impact on people, we believe it stifles development and breeds hardship and poverty. There is no doubt about that. 

At the Samoa Observer, we believe there is an undeniable link between acts of wrongdoing in the public and private sector that go unpunished and the growing number of poor people in Samoa – or any other country for that matter. 

That’s because every time public funds are misused and unaccounted for, the chance for a boy or girl getting an education, a mother or a grandmother to receive better health care, is denied. 

There is widely available evidence cautioning us that corruption grows if it is not contained. That’s to say that once a pattern of wrongdoing becomes institutionalised and legitimised; there is nothing to stop corrupt officials from inflicting more harm – pinching more money from you and me, the silent submissive taxpayers.

This is the curse of corruption as we know.

Now this afternoon I’ve been asked to talk about “The Role of the Media in Corruption Prevention”. 

Corruption can simply be defined as the abuse of public power for personal gain or for the benefit of a group. Let me say that corruption is not new. It has been around before we were born and it has been with us since. 

To be truthful with you, I am unsure whether it can be prevented at all given mankind’s yearning to keep abreast with the changing world that involves material wealth, positions and money – lots of it.

In the media, our job is to provide a forum for public debate, which functions to inform, educate, and entertain. But our most important function – and one that I feel is particularly relevant to this gathering today – is our role as a watchdog of the government. 

In circles of democracy, we are referred to as the Fourth estate. We exist as ears and eyes of members of the public to report accurately, ask the hard questions, and not be intimidated in an effort to determine whether our leaders keep to their promises to be transparent, accountable and govern in accordance to the principles of good governance.

Indeed, we believe the media plays a critical role in promoting good governance and controlling corruption. 

Media stories, commentaries and analysis not only raise public awareness about corruption, it puts corrupt officials on notice that they are being watched.

In some cases, such coverage have led to key decisions – including Court cases, resignations and changes to legislations – for the better.

But the impact of the media’s role goes further. Reporting, for example, may prompt public bodies to launch formal investigations into allegations of corruption. 

Furthermore, news accounts that disseminate the findings of public anti-corruption bodies – such as the Controller and Chief Auditor’s Office, the Officers of Parliament Committee, Ombudsman and others - thus reinforcing the legitimacy of these bodies and reducing the ease with which interested parties who hold power can meddle in their work.

Conversely, when journalism exposes flaws and even corruption within the various bodies of the state (the courts, police and anti-corruption task forces) corruption is put on check. The resulting public pressure leads to a reform of those bodies, the long-term effectiveness and potential of the media to act as a counterweight against corruption is strengthened.

The problem with some leaders, we’ve found that sometime after they have been in office – especially if they have been in office for too long - they tend to forget the promises they had made. 

So that even though the private media has been religiously directing the spotlight on those issues over the years, they are still being virtually ignored.

You see, in Samoa, the Samoa Observer is now nearly 40 years old, and in all that time, we thought we had played quite an aggressive role in putting the spotlight on corruption, with the idea of eliminating it once and for all. 

And yet today, despite everything, corruption is still here, still staring us in the face. It simply refuses to go away. Sometimes it feels like we are banging our heads against the wall. It feels lonely especially in a small country like Samoa where everyone knows everyone.

While we’ve been told countless times that there is strong moral support for the cause out there, there are times when you want to see the face of it. At the end of the day, we are human and we want assurances and reassurances about such support because the silence is certainly deafening. 

What’s scares us is that when we find ourselves at the crossroads, when our minds doubt us, we wonder whether that silence can be interpreted to mean that perhaps people have succumbed to the thought this is a corrupt world and there is no other way. That truly sends shivers down the spine. 

So what do we do? 

Where do we go from here?

Is there hope?

Ladies and gentlemen, there is always hope. In Samoa where we believe in an Almighty God who is alive and all knowing, we know that his justice is the best form of justice. It might not happen when we want it to happen, it might not be the way we anticipate or the time when we expect it, but he is faithful and he will deliver in his own way.

Let me assure you today that as long as the Samoa Observer exists, we are committed to fulfil our role in efforts to prevent corruption from hurting our people. It’s hard work, unpopular, and dangerous but this is our commitment to our readers. That is why we will not give up the fight to hold our leaders to account for their decisions – especially in matters where corruption, collusion and abuse of power are clearly evident. 

Having said that, I want to use this opportunity to call upon everyone – the coalition groups within the government, private sector, the opposition, donor groups, churches, villages, civil society, and private businesses - to stand up and make an habitual contribution to the effort to prevent corruption. We all have a role to play. 

Speaking of roles, it must be said that the effectiveness of the media depends upon access to quality and accurate information upon which we can base our work. When we talk about dealing with corruption, sources are our lifeline.

Without sources and informers, journalists and the media will struggle.

If you see wrongdoing and corruption wherever you are, don’t be afraid. Speak up and do your part. We are only an email, a phone call, or maybe a coffee away.

Ladies and gentlemen, I must say that the political feeling in Samoa today speaks about a climate of fear. Our people are afraid, paranoid and many of them know the truth but they are scared.

In moments like this, the words of Martin Luther King come to mind and I’ll leave you with these words: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” 

Soifua and God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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