The South Pacific- Zone of Peace or Sea of Troubles?

17-18 August 2000

Defence College Academy - Canberra Corruption in the South Pacific Marie-Noelle Ferrieux Patterson

Good afternoon, Colleagues.

My mandate for this conference is "to examine the role of corruption as a driver of instability in the Pacific".

Perhaps the first question to ask is whether the Pacific is any more unstable than it ever was! If we read the accounts by missionaries and explorers of the last two centuries, it would appear that the "stability" enjoyed was of a fairly, transient nature. Although there is little evidence of inter-island invasion, there is plenty to show that there were frequent feuds between different villages, and plenty of theft and destruction of assets such as homes and crops, etc, as well as lives!

So I think it would be difficult to find evidence that things are basically worse now than they ever were, although of course, occupying colonial powers would assert that they imposed "stability" during their reign, but I think we should be slow to praise a semblance of peace or stability which depended for its sustenance on an occupying military force, whether guaranteed by a resident garrison or the visit of warships!

We are able to have a clearer perspective nowadays about the past "stabilising" role of the Churches on different islands, and to recognise that coercion of one kind or another was common place. Even without the notorious "blackbirding" episodes, it is clear that "stability" had its price.

And so it has today. Much of my experience has been on Vanuatu, but there are similarities in the experiences of all the islands. The road to power (as a writer observed about Hell some years ago) is paved with good intentions, and what may have started with a sound base very often became corrupt in one form or another.

To abolish customs such as Cannibalism seemed straight forward enough as an aim, but the regulation of people's lives extended further even to abolishing nakedness in a hot climate, and "marriage" customs appeared to require the attention of the occupying forces. Old people among the islanders have no difficulty recalling how different things used to be. So what periods are we to use as a yardstick for assessing change as "stability"?

The rate of change was bound to be affected by the nature and the wealth potential of the islands' natural resources, and there is a vast gap between islands like Vanuatu with its basic agricultural resources, as opposed to P.N.G or New Caledonia with extensive mineral deposits.

If we consider Vanuatu against the background of P.N.G and New Caledonia we can easily understand that "developed" nations like Australia and France would see considerable advantage in securing access to these deposits and would therefore invest money, time and effort into securing and maintaining influential footholds there. Vanuatu's few agricultural products are indeed "small bikkies" by comparison.


Countries are no different from multi-national companies in their eager efforts to secure and capitalise on valuable or strategic advantage and will be reluctant to alienate potential partners among the islanders, and in this connection it is interesting to observe Australia's (and New Zealand's) proposed sanctions against Fiji, as opposed to the comparative "courting" of P.N.G.

Pondering over how best to tackle this subject, I found myself removing the words "in the Pacific" and considering what, if any, are the differences between conditions "in the Pacific" and elsewhere in the world.

On the face of it the differences are to some degree obvious. People in some areas pursue the same traditions and customs as their forefathers and grass-skirts and penis gourds and toplessness are not exactly rare.

But these same people sing hymns, belong to Western Churches and attend services, which are indistinguishable from others allover the world.

So, what is remarkable or different about the "factors underlying corruption" in the Pacific - if anything?

There is enormous pressure on politicians in all countries to do nothing to put at risk either existing or potential investment. Therefore we should not be surprised at any reluctance to take unpleasant steps to ensure for example, the maintenance of aid programs or the repayment of loans. It is difficult to act on principles where money is at stake, and as far back as three thousand years ago, the writers of the biblical book of Deuteronomy emphasised, "Thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift (ie:"bribej, for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise and peNert the words of the righteous!"

So bribery and corruption are not new elements in our history and apparent "political stability" is no indication that a regime is honest, let alone democratic. If it is true that" power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely", we need not be surprised that disappointment and disillusion are common accompaniments.

As far as current investigations show, there is no country that can point the finger at any other and declare complete innocence or constant adherence to sound ethical principles. We are all guilty, not just in some theoretical way like "We are all sinners and have come short of the Glory of God" but actual practising offenders either in sins of commission or sins of omission.

Peter Eigen, the Chairman of Transparency International in a recent speech declared "All multi-national companies must, at a minimum demonstrate compliance with national governmental rules regulations and laws. They must go further, however. They must demonstrate by their actions full ethical compliance with the highest standards of honesty and transparency".

There are two desirable standards advocated here, one referring to national laws and the other to the highest standards of honesty or transparency. It would be comforting to think that these two standards always coincide but alas! It is not so.



Time and again, we have seen the highest courts fudge the issues, distort the truth and let the guilty go unpunished. Disillusionment with Government bodies and politicians of every colour is rife.

How wonderful it would be if we were to hear some of our leaders declare with the Psalmist David "I acknowledge my transgressions and my sin is ever before me", for it is not national rules or agreements that will help our present parlous situation. Only a spirit of humility, shame and contrition can correct our ways, and this is hardly likely to develop in the present climate of permissive standards for our children, when children's opinions are alleged to be as valid as their elders, when "positive reinforcement" of the most feeble performances robs them of the desire to pursue excellence.

As we contemplate the looming disasters, which are likely to befall our planet, we have I little cause for complacency. No doubt you may hear or read my words as those of a demented evangelical, but it is not so. My position on ethics, if I have one, is that of a lapsed and disillusioned Catholic, but I know that the wounds in our society will not be healed by the application of more and more comforting plasters.

Perhaps we each need to echo in our hearts the words of contrition uttered by that shamed Psalmist "Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me".

"A right spirit"! Does that sound like what we need in the year 2000? We are all guilty.

So it is not only the Pacific, but also the entire world scene that is evidencing instability and corruption. The disease is the same wherever we look, and there is as yet no apparent genuine will to tackle it. The current "Guardian Weekly" sums up its assessment of the G8 summit - one of the most "prestigious" of committees - by saying "seldom in its 25 years history has the meeting of the world's most powerful politicians been greeted with such cynicism and contempt".

If that is true at this high level, there is little encouragement to believe that we are capable of effective intervention in the Pacific. A sense of personal and political humility will not be out of place.

The terms "Developed" and "Undeveloped" should not be equated with "ethical" and "unethical". The diseases of personal greed and hypocrisy are world - wide and it is not at all certain that the "developed" world will - or can - bring healing stability to the undeveloped world.

Much of what the "Developed World" calls "generosity" is perceived by the recipients as a subtle preliminary move to gain access to the needy countries' resources and it is true that it is not difficult to find examples of this.

One thing that different about the Pacific and other developing countries is the

use - or the abuse - depending on your viewpoint - of "Custom" to explain or justify

what most countries Penal Codes would define as crime.





However, even what I unearthed during my years as Vanuatu's first Ombudsman does not cause me to believe my adopted country is any more corrupt than my country of birth.

Perhaps then it is only the small size of Pacific countries and their economies that makes them seem unstable because they are so easily affected by corruption. For example, the Credit Lyonnais scandal was much easier for France to recover from than the loan abuses in the Fiji National Bank and Vanuatu Development Bank were for these two countries.

Because of what came to light in more than 70 public reports during my 5 years as Ombudsman of Vanuatu, it is easy to characterise Vanuatu as among the most corrupt countries in the Pacific

However, many of my fellow speakers and members of the audiences attending this Conference will have their own areas of expertise and experience and will know that much of what I published about Vanuatu, could easily have been said about many other countries in the Pacific.

It seems absurd to think that Government Ministers, MPs and civil servants who have robbed pension funds, sold passports, sold off government property to themselves cheaply, abused tender procedures, awarded government contracts to political cronies, "compensated" themselves with public funds for alleged political grievances the Courts had already denied, entered into international financial scams, and so on, can still be in power.

Yet, what of Suharto, Mobuto, Marcos, Helmut Kohl, Edith Cresson? Have the complaints against them over the years not been the same?

In the highly topical matter of money laundering, is Nauru or Port Vila more important and more used by Russian mafia than banks in London, New York or Tel Aviv? Of course not!

The more sophisticated veneer of Western, North American, European and Australasian "Developed" society hides many a similar sin.

The United Nations "unable to account" for its funds; betrayal of one country by another within the EEC; FIFA's recent debacle over the choice of the 2006 World Cup host where the real winner was the deutschmark - not Deutschland; the IOC where drugs and bribery seem to be routine facts of life; political fund raising scandals in the United States; money for parliamentary questions in Great Britain; Church sex scandals; radio talk show hosts receiving "cash for comment" here in Australia. I could go on all afternoon quoting examples without mentioning the Pacific.

In fact, where do we not find corruption? And worse, we now expect to find it everywhere!

There is also what might be termed "passive corruption", or the act of overlooking or turning a blind eye to wrongdoings. For example, when the second Ombudsman



was appointed in Vanuatu last year (and I must say here that I put my name forward for another term), the President of the Republic chose the least qualified candidate - directly contradicting the advice he had been given by the Selection Committee. The result of this was of course obvious, namely a loss of respect and reputation for the President, which was clearly expressed in the independent media.

Despite the fact that this occurred after the aid-funded Comprehensive Reform Programme was implemented, there was no protest from anywhere "official".

Apart from several strongly worded "letters to the editor" criticising the President, there was not a squeak. Silence from the Selection Committee. Silence from Aid donors, which they of course usually term "diplomacy". Nothing said in public, which is the only place where it really counts.

And what about events in Germany this month? Surprise and indignation is often expressed at how Pacific leaders, however much discredited, retain their positions or are appointed to other important national or regional posts. Yet the German Social Democrats have come up with a very "Melanesian" solution for how to "forgive" Mr. Kohl (despite his total lack of admission or apology) and welcome him back into the fold. Welcoming Mr. Kohl back into the party elite as a foreign adviser, say the party mandarins, is the best way to heal the party wounds.

As to whether it is possible "to develop positive suggestions" to counter this, as I have been asked to address in this talk, it seems difficult to say.

Since we haven't solved this problem in the Western or Developed World - we have only learned to be more clever in concealing it - how realistic is it to expect we can solve this in the Pacific?

For small countries like Vanuatu, with limited natural resources, dependant on aid for half of its budget, it would appear that the opportunity exists to start an experiment, and genuinely make aid dependent on serious measures being taken against corruption. However I do not believe this will happen, and it is difficult to be optimistic about finding any solution for the corruption in the Pacific.

Normal viewing of any nightly news programme or documentary in most countries simply provides evidence to support the view that this problem is world wide and there seems to be no solution to it, and worse, no apparent will to end this


Even the increasing use of jargon and euphemisms by officials and academics is a mild form of corruption. Why are we so afraid of offending people! Perhaps if we cared a little less for people's so-called finer feelings and a little more for what is actually the right thing to do, we would see some genuine change.

These days someone who "calls a spade a spade" is often regarded not as someone reliable and upright but rather something of a "loose cannon" and a threat to the delicate balance of the political house of cards.



The irony is that wrongdoers are the most thick-skinned of creatures and practically impossible to offend or shame!

It will be difficult to find or create "stability" anywhere in a world which appears highly .\;,ill.stable wherever we look, so perhaps the sensible attitude is to avoid expecting dramatic improvements, and for us to "put our own houses in order" as best we can.

Vanuatu did not need the Comprehensive Reform Programme. It simply needed its existing laws to be adhered to by officials and properly enforced by Police, Prosecution and the Courts. It needed the statutory bodies, Government departments and Ministries to function in the way the law intended. Today the Reform being imposed is not welcome. It is resisted by reluctant participants - many of whom are the same people who were the cause of the political and economic collapse in the first place.

There is no single answer to this problem. As individuals we must no longer accept what we have previously found acceptable. Aid donors and agencies must be seen less as employment agencies for foreign

advisers and more as a development partner with the right to criticise without thinking this somehow insults the sovereignty of recipient nations. Much worse things can happen to a country than to have its leaders criticised!

Parents and teachers must teach our children that there are consequences to their actions.

Officials within each country must stop being so passive when faced with misconduct, political interference and corruption.

Hypocrisy at all levels must stop.

What more can be given to small developing countries in the Pacific?

We have the laws. We have democratically elected Parliaments. We have Courts

and judiciaries. We have foreign aid. We have advisers. We have foreign scholarships. We have the Internet!

So what is missing? What do we still not have?

Perhaps it all comes back to something as simple as a change of attitude and perspective.

One thing seems certain to me. I believe we must all accept that we will not change the present generation of leaders, and perhaps not the next generation either.

Today's children is where I would concentrate my efforts. Unfortunately, even with that group - which includes my own two under-10 children - it is difficult to be optimistic.



The present generation of children is arguably the least disciplined - and self- disciplined - in history, at a time when our increasingly complex world requires these traits more than ever before. So-called modern parenting methods are teaching children a regime of "laissez-faire", no shame, no guilt and no consequences.

I see the confusion in mothers - and fathers - my own age and younger, as they grapple with the thorny problems of parenting today as they are bombarded with conflicting advice from that huge modern day army we call "experts".

We all know about peer pressure among children. But what about the adult peer pressure which frowns on discipline and punishment, and makes it only the most confident of parents who can with any consistency impose their authority on their children and create an atmosphere in the home that makes youngsters feel secure and cared for? An atmosphere, I would argue, the children themselves would prefer to the currently fashionable vague environment where "right" and "wrong" are rarely defined with any clarity.

You may be thinking this woman is crazy - parenting has always been difficult! Which of course it has been. My point is simply that we have succeeded in making a rod for our own backs - and it will not help our children as they try to make their own way in our rapidly changing society.

Perhaps all this seems far away from the much larger issue of Pacific wide security. But we should remember that we think and act as individuals, not groups. And it is as individuals that we change and bring about change. In other words, reform of whatever type is at the heart a personal matter, and it is our personal views that will determine how we act and react, not what we have studied or what jobs we may have done.

So perhaps if we go "back to basics" for lack of a better term, and in our own individual ways teach our children differently, teach them the honour and integrity to be gained from "doing the right thing" - we may succeed in laying a new foundation for creating a different and better world - not only in the Pacific.

If anyone has a better suggestion, I will be your most ardent listener.