The Pacific’s corruption problem

Bribery appears to be playing a significant part in daily Pacific life, further leading to perceptions that corruption is rife across several island states.

That snapshot over the last five years has been supported by one official of an anti-graft watchdog, who believes traits of deceit and dishonesty are worse in the Pacific than other regions in the world.

According to the landmark poll of 6,000 respondents from Transparency International, one in every three people say they felt compelled to bribe a government official for a better public service, while among the stunning consequences another one in four have been offered a bribe to buy their vote.

corruption pacific islands
Transparency International released the results of a global corruption survey that revealed the opinions of 6000 Pacific respondents. Picture: Transparency International

The analysis has formed the basis of the Global Corruption Barometer – Pacific 2021 report, which is not only the first recognised expose of its kind, but also the “most extensive public opinion survey on corruption ever gathered in the region”.

Transparency International, a registered voluntary association, is made up of former World Bank employees leading a movement to fight against corruption.

The survey was conducted earlier this year throughout the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu, but responses were only released this week.

“This new data reveals for the first time the high levels of corruption directly experienced by people in the Pacific, which points to a pressing need for reform,” Transparency International chairperson Delia Ferreira Rubio said.

“Governments need to listen to their people and address their corruption problems to ensure they can vote freely and access quality public services easily, regardless of who they know and what they can pay, rooted in fairness and accountability.”

Transparency International is most concerned for Kiribati, Papua New Guinea and the Federated States of Micronesia where the practice of both giving and receiving bribes is the most prominent.

Only five per cent of Fijians are reportedly involved in bribing government officials, nearly 13 times less than Kiribati, and just four per cent over exchanging money for their vote, more than 14 times less than the Micronesians.

Around 900 people within the 10 Pacific nations surveyed have additionally said they have been threatened with “retaliation” should they vehemently not accept bribes while voting in elections.

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Nearly two in every five respondents also said they have experienced or know someone who was held to sexual extortion.

The highest number of sexual favours occurred in France’s two overseas territories, New Caledonia and French Polynesia, in locations that subsequently had the lowest cases of bribery in the Pacific.

The majority surveyed believed there is corruption and little control involved in governments that sign undisclosed contracts to companies willing to extract natural resources of a country.

The strongest examples of this are from the 97 per cent of Solomon Islanders and the 96 per cent of Papua New Guineans that believe corruption is embedded in government.

While 54 per cent of respondents do applaud their governments for handling the Covid-19 crisis in a “transparent manner”, others have alleged some governments have excused the ongoing pandemic to expand their powers, misuse emergency funds and increasingly restrict media freedom.

The most positive response was that 70 per cent polled are backing ordinary citizens to encourage leaders to prevent further corruption.

This comes after some leaders and other government officials agreed to clean up kickbacks at the inaugural Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption Conference in Kiribati.

Transparency International – Pacific lead Mariam Matthew said the stance was encouraging after witnessing on the ground significant levels of bribery that is beyond just the perception of everyday Pacific people.

“Pacific leaders have made several positive steps by making public commitments and national initiatives to tackle corruption,” Transparency International – Pacific lead Mariam Mathew said.

“By putting communities at the heart of positive change, governments can ensure they achieve meaningful reforms.”

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