A ground-breaking new study reveals how Pacific Islanders experience corruption in their daily lives
When it comes to corruption, the Pacific has been one of the most under-studied regions in the world.
This has now changed, with the release of Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer – Pacific 2021.
We asked over 6,000 Pacific Islanders across ten countries and territories what they think about corruption, if they have directly experienced it, and whether things can change. The result is the most extensive public opinion data on corruption ever gathered in the region.
What do the results say?
The survey reveals that Pacific Islanders believe corruption is a big problem in both their governments and the business sector.
Despite more than half of respondents reporting a “fair amount” or a “great deal” of trust in their government to do a good job and treat people fairly, 61 per cent believe corruption is a significant problem in their government and 56 per cent think it is getting worse.
Around a third of interviewees across the region think that most or all members of parliament and staff in heads of government’s offices are involved in corruption.
Impunity also appears to be a problem, with less than a fifth of respondents (18 per cent) believing that corrupt officials frequently face appropriate consequences for their actions.
Added to this, only 14 per cent feel their government regularly considers them when making decisions.
Around one in three paid a bribe
One of the most significant results was how often ordinary people in the Pacific directly encounter corruption in their daily lives. Thirty-two per cent of interviewees recently paid a bribe to receive public services – a higher rate than any other region surveyed by Transparency International.
However, rates differ widely by country.
*Percentage of public service users who paid a bribe to get a service in the previous 12 months
Across the region, receiving a quicker or better public service was the most common reason given for bribery.
Which institutions are the biggest problem?
Bribery appears to be a problem across a range of government services, from applying for official government documents to dealing with the police.
Bribery rates by services
Only 13 per cent of those who paid a bribe for a public service reported it. This rises to around 30 per cent in Fiji and Kiribati.
Even more worrying is that 38 per cent of respondents say they or someone they know have personally experienced “sextortion”, where an official requests sexual acts in exchange for an essential government service.
Corruption in elections?
Across the region, around a quarter of respondents have been offered a bribe for their votes. This has serious consequences for the integrity of national and local elections.
In addition, 15 per cent of people have received threats of retaliation if they did not vote in a specific way.
Businesses viewed as a major part of the problem
It is not only their governments which Pacific Islanders are concerned about. A majority of people interviewed feel that corruption is a big problem in business, too.
A corruption hotspot appears to be government contracts, which over two thirds of respondents believe businesses secure through bribes and connections. Almost half of the people we surveyed think there is little control over companies who extract natural resources, which is of particular concern given that this is one of the largest industries in the region.
Change is possible
The good news is that over 70 per cent of respondents say that ordinary people can help to fight corruption. More than 60 per cent also think their government is doing a good job at combatting corruption.
This new data reveals for the first time the high levels of corruption directly experienced by people in the Pacific, which points to a pressing need for reform.
The Global Corruption Barometer – Pacific has raised many worrying red flags, especially given increasing corruption concerns in relation to COVID-19 responses in the region. Any abuses in rolling out pandemic measures could cost lives.
By listening to the voices of Pacific Islanders themselves, leaders can make meaningful reforms for a fairer and more sustainable region:
- strengthen accountability of political leaders, by requiring all high-level officials to publicly disclose their income and assets, tightly monitoring discretionary public funds, and empowering the police and courts to properly investigate and punish corruption
- clean up the relationship between government and business, by monitoring companies’ involvement in electoral campaigns and policymaking, and by ensuring that all public contracts are awarded fairly and competitively
- slash bribery opportunities by investing in clear and uncomplicated systems for accessing public services
- ensure elections are fair and free of vote-buying or threats, by strengthening independent electoral commissions and anti-corruption agencies
- introduce and enforce right to information and whistleblower protection laws, so that citizens and journalists can hold power to account without fear of retaliation
- put communities at the heart of positive change, including by supporting community groups to participate in decision-making, monitor extractive companies and investigate the worrying levels of sextortion reported in this survey