Pacific News Spot: Capturing Corruption in The Pacific

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Photo by Daniel Fisher from the Cook Islands, depicting the inability of youth to speak out against corruption.

The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in partnership with The Pacific Youth Council have held a photography competition called the “Capturing Corruption Photo Contest”. The competition called for youth between the ages of 18-25 to take images that they believed symbolized corruption within their communities. Three winners were chosen; Daniel Fisher from The Cook Islands, Jared Kolivangana from the Solomon Islands, and Roweena Wemahanua also from the Solomon Islands. Their reward was that they were able to attend the three day Pacific Youth Forum Against Corruption which opened on Sunday the 22nd of February in Nadi, Fiji. They joined 45 other youth leaders from countries around the Pacific including The Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of Marshall Islands; Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. The aim of the forum was to encourage youth leaders to speak out against the corrosive effect of corruption on society. Whilst all three of these images are striking and provokes thought, there has been limited or shallow discussion, at least publically on the web, about the stories and/or contexts behind these photos. This article will provide such context behind these images to try and come to an understanding of what they could mean, and how their takers might view corruption in The Pacific. By context, I refer to historical instances of corruption in these countries and how corruption is generally thought about in The Pacific. I try to relate these contexts to their photos, however I cannot pretend to know how exactly these photographers view corruption. This article will conclude by analysing whether the United Nations Development Programme’s “Phones against Corruption” is an appropriate technological platform for youth to speak out against corruption.

The header image was taken by Daniel Fisher and has been the only photo of the three to have been described by its taker in publically available media. On Pacific Beat on the 24th of February, Fisher explains that the young Pacific woman in the photo is depicted as Justitia, the Roman God of Justice. She holds in her arms unbalanced scales representing dishonesty which creates corruption. The use of a young Pacific Islander indicates that it is the youth of the Pacific are the ones most adversely affected by corruption. The bank note over her mouth represents that even though corruption is witnessed in front of youth, they feel as though they must remain silent. Fisher hopes that the photo will encourage youth to cast off the barriers that prohibit them from speaking out against corruption in their communities, and at public events such as The Pacific Youth Forum Against Corruption. 6229218-3x2-940x627[1]

Photo by Jared Kolivanga from The Solomon Islands, of a settlement blaze in Honiara

No such commentary has been available on Jared Kolivanga’s photo (shown above). In Kolivanga’s photo, we see a settlement blaze in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, in August 2014. Unfortunately no more information is given and how this relates to corruption. The image, for me at least, is a reminder of the large scale burning of the Asian district by large mobs in Honiara in April 2006. The businesses and properties targeted in those 2006 riot were those whose owners were suspected of being involved in long term and large scale corruption in the Solomon Islands. It is claimed that throughout the 1990s up until the riots of 2006, licences for logging and fishing in the Solomon Island were over extended much past sustainable levels. This is because Asian business men were able to bribe public officials for these licences. These bribed officials also turned a blind eye to illegal tax evasion by the Asian logging and fishery industries. The environmental degradation that resulted has harmed the earning potential and sustenance lifestyle of Solomon Islanders. The large sum of lost tax revenue could have also been used on the development of the country. Solomon Islander’s were impelled to carry out such a violent act as the Asian immigrant’s long involvement in corruption was abetted by public government officials. The very government that was supposed to be the higher authority to tackle such issues were part of the problem. To the general population, the destructive 2006 riot was therefore the only solution. It must be stated however that some Asian businesses owners were beloved by Solomon Islanders and were absolved of all suspicion of corruption. The businesses of this segment of the Asian population were consciously (and quite miraculously) spared. If Kolivanga’s photo of the settlement burning in Honiara in August 2014 has any parallels to the 2006 burning of the Asian district, it provokes the thought that corruption has only led to physical destruction in the Solomon Islands. It potentially presents the case that a more constructive means of speaking out against corruption needs to be established. From the example above this needs to be done with participation and greater effort by the government of the Solomon Islands. 6229222-3x2-940x627[1]

Photo by Roweena Wemahanua from The Solomon Islands, depicting bribery and nepotism in the wantok systemm

There has also been no publically available commentary on Roweena Wemahanua’s photo either (shown above), however we can more easily depict what is occurring. The perspective is from a person in a position of power at his desk, perhaps a government official. He is reading an application for a scholarship or training position. Next to the application we can see the transfer of a bribe, corruption at the monetary level. However this image also deals with the form of corruption known as nepotism. This term refers to favoritism such as hiring candidates or helping someone in formal processes who are family and friends, or in island terms, “wantok”. In wantok relationships, it is expected that you help each other out, and that this is reciprocated. This is done in village environments where reciprocal exchanges of food occur or looking after another’s children. In the Wemahanua’s photo we can see that the wantok system is crossing the boundary of the village into formal bureaucratic systems. The applicant is trying to draw upon the wantok relationship in the message “Thank You Wantok”. Wemahanua is potentially trying to portray that nepotism in formal processes based on wantok relationships is not ok. I believe it is perhaps the image that will most likely to connect with Pacific Islanders as the navigation of where wantok relationships stop and where formal relationships begin is one that is still being established. In a recent 2013 article by Grant W Walton called “Is all corruption dysfunctional? Perceptions of Corruption and its Consequences in Papua New Guinea”, the very scenario above was discussed in a focus group of Papua New Guineans. In this article respondents were sympathetic to the official put in such a position as “to help a wantok is good”. However all recognized the implications. It prevents the due process of hiring candidates making it difficult for those without influential wantoks to gain meaningful employment. They also claimed that it could led to increased wantok rivalry and fighting if found out about. The article shows that the focus groups knew such nepotism was wrong however, sympathies caused the line to be blurred. The line was not stark.

On Wemahanua’s photo we can see the icon of a speaker that we can all find on our computers. The speaker looks as though it has maximum volume, and has the words above “SPEAK UP”. The use of this icon to me shows that their needs to be medium to speak up against corruption, and perhaps it should be a technical one. The photos by Fisher and Kolivanga have elements that refer to “speak up” which I have discussed, however I focus on Wemahanua’s due to its reference to technology. Could the United Nations Development Programme’s campaign of “phones against corruption” launched in Papua New Guinea (PNG) be this tool that youth need to speak up against corruption? The overview of this campaign is shown in the video below. In this video it is encouraged to anonymously report fraud, bribery, nepotism, and extortion via a text service. All texts are then followed up by the PNG Department of Finance. Since starting in July 2014, up until September 2014, 1,538 text messages were received from 384 different users, showing its initial popularity as a tool to speak out against corruption. I do still have concerns however. As discussed, the issue of corruption is not easy to define for Pacific Islanders especially in the context of wantok. In the scenes of the “phones against corruption” advertisement, the scenarios of corruption are clearly and obviously portrayed. In the Pacific it will not be so easy to determine in this wantok context. I believe a more useful strategy would be to encourage discussions that help clearly define what corruption is in The Pacific. I believe events such as the Pacific Youth Forum Against Corruption, and the photos displayed in this article, does just that and that similar events should be encouraged. These discussions could then filter out through social media, be part of political platforms, or media campaigns. Only after properly disseminating what corruption is and means to Pacific Islanders can it be policed properly in a manner that “phones against corruption” envisions.

lucaswatt

lucaswatt

Lucas Watt is a PhD candidate with the school of Media and Communications at RMIT University. His project title is “The Domestication of Mobile Money in Fiji: An Ethnographic Study”.