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'Acting for change’

19 July 2022

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Political corruption erodes trust

Monday 23 May 2022 | Written by Ruta Tangiiau Mave | Published in Opinion

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Political corruption erodes trust
Ruta Tangiiau Mave. Photo: CI NEWS

Political corruption erodes trust, it wastes countries’ taxes earmarked for important community projects, meaning people have to put up with poor quality services and infrastructure while politicians on inflated incomes dine out large at taxpayers’ expense, writes Ruta Mave.

One bad apple spoils the whole barrel says the 1340 proverb. Scientifically, ripening apples produce ethylene gas which advances aging and increases ethylene production in other nearby apples thereby spoiling them all because an environment is created that eventually corrupts the good apples to be like the bad apple.

Nowadays wax coating allows fruit to travel and be stored weeks and months after being picked to be available out of season across the other side of the world. It makes them look pretty and shiny. If Eve found the fruit from the tree of knowledge attractive, no doubt she would be completely seduced by the apples we have in stores now. I remember the USA red delicious apples we would get for Christmas; they were absolute perfection on the outside, but often spoiled rotten on the inside just like in Snow White.

Recently, it seems Prime Minister Mark Brown is an apple that has not fallen far from the tree of political dubiousness. When Deputy Prime Minister Robert Tapaitau was first formally charged with conspiracy to defraud, two things happened that showed a possible new leaf being turned over in the Cook Islands government. First, Tapaitau removed the name suppression admitting he was the person of interest, showing he wasn’t going to hide, that is worth a public point. Second, Prime Minister Mark Brown immediately said: “I have advised the QR to suspend Mr Tapaitau from his duties as a minister of the crown pending the outcome of his court case”. Compare this to 2016 when Henry Puna was prime minister, there were reports that the Financial Intelligence Unit had conducted investigations of Puna, his then Finance Minister, Mark Brown and then deputy prime minister, Teariki Heather. Puna refused to stand Heather down as deputy or Minister of the Police. In 2014, former government MP Moana Ioane was found guilty of bribery under the Electoral Act, however, no charges were ever brought against him by the police despite public outcry. Then and now outer island Parliament members hold the key to the CIP government majority.

Now seven months later after suspending Tapaitau, PM Brown has presumably changed his mind, “I have decided that we cannot leave someone suspended indefinitely, he needs to get back to work” right before election time, which coincidentally occurs before the court date.

Brown says Tapaitau is innocent until proven guilty. Tapaitau’s original charges have now increased from two to three charges of conspiracy to defraud and two additional charges of theft as a servant have been added. An audit at NES (National Environment Service) uncovered many anomalies and resulted in a former deputy director going to jail for theft of $12,755, she pleaded guilty to avoid a trial. Tapaitau was quick to say ‘I am the person of interest’ but has not entered a plea. The Solicitor General Graham Leung said: “He is yet to enter a plea to those charges. A trial date cannot be allocated until pleas are entered.” PM Brown stated “knowing that Mr Tapaitau will be defending his charges very vigorously in court…”  If this is true then why is Tapaitau delaying announcing he is innocent by entering a plea of ‘Not Guilty’?

Corruption is the dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power who often don’t have a desire to better society but rather better one’s own status and group. Studies show power heightens pre-existing ethical tendencies, Abraham Lincoln phrased it as “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” It’s not that power is inherently evil and it isn’t inherently bad to seek power, because without power you can’t accomplish anything good or evil. Even those who want nothing more than to make the world a better place can’t do so without exerting the influence of personal power.

Political corruption erodes trust, it wastes countries taxes earmarked for important community projects, meaning people have to put up with poor quality services and infrastructure while politicians on inflated incomes dine out large at taxpayers’ expense.

Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Singapore and Sweden are perceived as the least corrupt nations in the world, ranking consistently high among international financial transparency. All of these countries have female leaders. Maybe it’s time for the Cook Islands to dress the top with new leadership, because like Donny Osborne sang “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl”.