OPINION: We cannot be silent on corruption

Tuesday 27 April 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Editorials, Opinion


OPINION: We cannot be silent on corruption
Opposition Leader Tina Pupuke Browne. PHOTO: CI NEWS

As a lawyer, a wife, mother and grandmother, too often I have seen the unpleasant side to our culture where we have quietly or silently given permission to or allowed behaviour to simply go unchecked and unchallenged, writes Opposition leader Tina Pupuke Browne.

There is little that brings us more joy as a nation than to see our tamariki, our mapu, embrace and celebrate our culture. Our peu Maori – to tatou akono’anga Maori.

Watching last week so many of our children – our next generation – keenly celebrate who they are in dance and song, stands out as the highlight for many of us. Especially at a time when there are so many challenges that could cause us to not celebrate at all.

I personally really enjoyed watching the tamariki of St Joseph’s representing the island of Aitutaki for their theme this year, Te Tama 'u'a a te 'Ui Ariki, Te Evangelia. Seeing our little ones dressed in their rauti and coordinated by a team of dedicated teachers and voluntary tutors, warmed my heart, as I’m sure it did the hearts of many others. Puma’ana te ngakau – the heart is gratified.

Culture is something we celebrate and culture is something we all experience at many different levels. Mahatma Ghandi, a gentle, kind world leader of his time and leader of a peaceful revolution in India which overthrew the British Empire, said culture resides in the hearts and the soul of its people.

And for us as Cook Islands Maori, our culture has kept us safe, has encouraged us, has reminded us and has defined us since our forefathers and tupuna sailed across unchartered vast oceans to the shores of our many pa enua, our ipukarea that came to be the Cook Islands.

But culture is not just who we are, it is also who we are in the storm and in the quiet – in times of plenty and in times of famine. It is why we remain resilient no matter what season we as a country and a people find ourselves in. But it is also a double-sided coin. It also has a face that we must be wary of and must keep in check.

This side of our latter-day culture is not like the Pe’u Maori we celebrate; more, this has become what we now give permission to, what we say yes to – either quietly or in silence – and it is often a side to us that we would rather not confront.

As a lawyer, a wife, mother and grandmother, too often I have seen the unpleasant side to our culture where we have quietly or silently given permission to or allowed behaviour to simply go unchecked and unchallenged.

We as a nation have allowed violence against women and children to go unchecked for far too long. We have permitted this behaviour to flourish in our society because of our silence. This is not a part of our culture but there have been times when we have been silent or quiet and, in that silence, we have permitted behaviours that have negatively impacted our families, communities and sadly, our government.

We should never be silent, for remaining silent gives those – and let alone a government – permission to do as they please, and without proper process or the legislated checks and balances. Checks and balances that keep us all safe and accountable.

It should be of great concern therefore that lately, this government has been exposed by its culture of what can only be called corruption. If we understand culture to be not only that what is celebrated but also that which we give permission to, then this government has given itself permission on a number of now public fronts to do exactly as it pleases.

Giving itself the licence to waste your taxpayer money, your God-given resources and use so many government positions and power for its own benefit. This in itself is corrupt practice because the public purse, the public accounts, positions and resources, are not for personal use or the use of a party to benefit itself and its supporters and members.

It is disheartening therefore to see a head of ministry and a staff member stood down with police now involved and the situation under investigation; to see proper process not followed with $274,000 of taxpayers’ money spent on the Punanga Nui Market asphalt, without proper approvals and processes.

A decision met in the newspaper today with a “the means suffice the ends” response from the CIIC Chairman and board. To see $100,000 of taxpayers’ money spent on the new Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet room, right down to a former executive officer of an island administration who tried to use government money to buy $177 of personal alcohol. 

Whether it be exceedingly large or very small amounts of your money, public resources or positions in government, its abuse is never ok.

This current government has a long-standing tradition – if not culture – of permitting corruption to go unchecked and in silence. It is the role therefore of the Opposition and of the Fourth Estate – the news and media – to keep this in check.

And we will not be silent on these matters, and we have raised these in Parliament, despite the few days we meet each year. For it is our solemn responsibility to speak up whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Simply, we must never allow a culture of corruption to permeate the governance and use of resources in our country. More importantly, we must never allow a culture of silence to be our response.

Because by being silent we become complicit with the deceitful decisions and actions, or inactions, of this current government.

It is our continued position and response, not just as the Opposition or Democratic Party, but more importantly for us all as Cook Islanders, that we have a God-given duty to manage and care for our country and its people and resources as citizens and tiaki of our beautiful Ipukarea and iti tangata.

Because as the saying goes, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.