Groups where all/most are likely to be involved in corruption, Cook Islands. TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL/23012050
A major report into perceptions of corruption in the Cook Islands and other Pacific Island nations has caused a ripple among agencies. Cook Islands News journalist Matthew Littlewood looks into what is being done to address the issues here.
International report, released late last year, sets out an array of issues and
surveyed 279 people in the Cook Islands. It was publicised in Tuesday’s edition
of Cook Islands News.
A sizable minority
of respondents were concerned with large-scale corruption. Just over one-fifth
(22 per cent) were concerned that companies frequently used their money to
secure government contracts. Also, 18 per cent said the government was
frequently run by a few big interests looking after themselves.
When asked which
groups were most likely to be involved in corruption, Members of Parliament led
the poll with 12 per cent of the votes, slightly ahead of public servants (11
Clerk of the Cook
Islands Parliament Tangata Vainerere says they have established a Code of
Conduct for Parliament, which was adopted in March 2021, but did not come into
force until July 2022.
“We began work on
the Code of Conduct back in 2015. We investigated into what other parliaments
in other countries, in the Pacific and around the world, used for their codes
of conduct. It involved sifting through tonnes of material,” Vainerere explains.
“That was the easy
part, the tricky part was making something acceptable for the Cook Islands. We
didn’t want to create something overly cumbersome. We wanted something that was
simple to enforce and workable.”
According to the
Code of Conduct, MPs must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to
people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in
their work. They must not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or
other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They
must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
Vainerere says the
code has been effective so far.
The report also
raises issues about civil society’s role in combating corruption. Civil society
and the media play a critical role in highlighting and helping to address
corruption in the country.
“The freedom of
speech and the freedom of assembly are guaranteed by the Constitution. Still,
access to government information can be difficult, and the government can be
hostile to the media (According to the International Federation of Journalists,
2020),” the report says.
“Despite these difficulties,
however, over half (54 per cent) of all respondents believed that ordinary
people could make a difference in addressing corruption.”
Control of corruption index in the Pacific. Note: All figures from the Worldwide Governance Indicators database (Kaufmann and Kraay, 2022). TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL/23012048
Commissioner Carl Hunter has welcomed the report.
“Reports like this
are always useful to receive, as it reminds us of the importance of adhering to
the Public Service values of Honesty, Impartiality, Service, Transparency,
Accountability, Respect, being Effective and Efficient,” Hunter says.
“It also allows my
Office to draw comparisons with other Pacific Island Countries in terms of
their situations and how we fare compared to them. In this instance, the Report
clearly shows that when compared to other States corruption in the Cook Islands
is not something that is as widespread or serious.
continue to strive to provide a public sector of excellence to the people of
the Cook Islands, and work towards eradicating corruption in the public
about the study’s respondents concerns about appointments, Hunter says there
are various policies that guide the recruitment of public servants.
“My Office has
been vigilant in requiring agencies to follow the policies, and OPSC will not
authorise employees going on to government payroll without confirmation that
the recruitment process has been followed by the agency or ministry recruiting
a particular position,” he says.
The PSC does have
a whistleblower policy, which Hunter acknowledges “is not perfect” and “it is
therefore OPSC’s intention, with the support of collaboration from relevant
Crown agencies such as Crown Law Office, for the policy to be strengthened in
the foreseeable future”.
encourage and urge anyone who is concerned about corrupt practices in the
workplace of the public sector to stand up, step forward and get in contact
with myself or my Office,” Hunter says.
a member of the public is concerned about corruption in the public sector, they
should approach the Ombudsman’s office.”
Hunter is adamant
that people can make a difference.
“I can assure the
public that corrupt practices will not be tolerated and so any complaints made
relating to corrupt practices in the public service will be taken seriously,
with my Office working with other relevant agencies including the Ombudsman’s
office, and we are prepared to conduct a full and thorough investigation if we
are of the opinion that there are grounds to any allegations or complaints
received,” he says.
Rattle says there needs to be more awareness in the public about the
protections they have if they decide to become whistleblowers.
“I think many
people are fearful of the repercussions,” says Rattle.
“What we need to do
is have a policy that the people are aware of and provides protection. I
understand there’s going to be some work on this policy in the near future.”
Finance and Economic Management (MFEM) secretary Garth Henderson was
unavailable for comment on Friday.
in the week, he said: “I like the report’s independence. The summary findings
are pretty much aligned with my own view. Corruption is not seen as a big issue
there might be perceptions of corruption in the time it has taken to resolve
several court cases, including those involving high profile government
officials and politicians.
“Many of the
perceptions of corruption that were registered in the survey were about things
that were not in our control, such as the Court process, and the delay in
cases. Government has no control over that.”
Government has been working on several anti-corruption
actions, including the upcoming creation of a National Anti-Corruption
Strategy. Henderson is also the chairman of the Anti-Corruption Committee which
is a multi-agency committee featuring members from several Government
departments working on finalising the Strategy.