Citizens in Small Pacific Nations offer their views on corruption

By Mariam Mathew
Pacific Advisor>
Transparency International Secretariat

In December 2022 Transparency International published a report that presents the perceptions and experiences of corruption of people in seven small Pacific countries. It examines views gathered from Tuvalu, Niue, Tokelau (an island territory of New Zealand), Palau, Cook Islands, The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) and Nauru.

The findings are drawn from research undertaken in early 2021 as part of the Global Corruption Barometer conducted in the Pacific, the first survey of its kind in these countries. Owing to the difficulties of surveying smaller nations (particularly in interviewing a sufficiently large sample of their smaller populations), these seven countries are analysed separately in the present report. This offers important insights on corruption and its effects in countries where there is very scarce data on this harmful problem.

The report summarises that Pacific Island countries face particular corruption risks given their relatively small populations, dependence on natural resources, vulnerability to natural disasters and recent transition to democracy, and that evidence about levels and patterns of corruption is still limited.

It shows that, across the board, most respondents associated corruption with politicians, while respondents from the four Polynesian countries in the group were also concerned about corruption in the police.

Government corruption was of particular concern in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Experiences with corruption varied, although respondents from RMI and Nauru were more likely to say they had experienced requests for bribes during elections or had themselves or knew someone who had been subject to requests for sexual favours.

While corruption is often associated with elites, the findings show that reciprocity plays an important role in the public’s understanding of and response to corruption and informal transactions. Indeed, across the region, patronage relations between politicians and voters (who may demand unofficial favours from their leaders) can exacerbate the potential for corruption.

Respondents from the RMI, Cook Islands and Tokelau were most likely to have drawn on personal connections to receive a government service. Most respondents were positive about their government’s overall efforts to fight corruption (with the exception of Nauru); however, few believed that officials who engaged in corruption frequently faced the appropriate consequences.

Recommendations (Summarised)

  1. Further efforts are needed to address corruption in politics including strengthening state-based anti-corruption and integrity organisations.
  2. Stronger processes are needed to support and monitor elections and of responding to the gendered dimensions of corruption particularly in RMI and Nauru
  3. Policymakers should learn from past successes when seeking to address corruption.
  4. Awareness-raising measures will be required in countries where perceptions about corruption and informal giving do not match experiences.
  5. Anti-corruption reforms need to be tailored to each country’s unique context. 

Follow this link to the full report PERCEPTIONS OF CORRUPTION IN SEVEN SMALL PACIFIC ISLAND COUNTRIES - Findings from the Global Corruption Barometer authored by Grant Walton, an Australian academic with more than a decade of experience engaging on anti-corruption issues in the region and elsewhere.

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