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Pacific chapters and Transparency International call for democracy strengthening efforts across the region as US visits

10 February 2022 - As the United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken meets with Pacific leaders this Saturday, 12 February, Transparency International and its Pacific national chapters call for urgent action to strengthen democracy and roll back corruption across the region. As the Pacific faces existential threats from the pandemic to climate crisis and other natural disasters, good governance is critical to open up opportunities for prosperity for Pacific Islanders.

Pacific governments must prioritise anti-corruption efforts by holding leaders accountable, opening up civic space, supporting whistleblowers and clamping down on corrupt businesses. As the U.S. engages further in the region, it can help these efforts by prioritizing governance measures in the Pacific in its aid.

Transparency International’s 2021 Pacific Global Corruption Barometer found that Pacific people see corruption as a growing problem in government and business. The region is facing one of the highest bribery rates worldwide in accessing public services. Two-thirds of those surveyed believe government contracts are secured through bribes and connections and see little control over the dominant extractives sector. 40 per cent believe that governments are often run by a few big interests, and over a quarter have been offered a bribe for their votes.

Pacific people believe they can be part of the solution, but they aren’t meaningfully engaged in key decision-making processes. Women and other marginalised groups are particularly left out, as the region with the lowest level of female representation in politics worldwide. With 2022 elections in four countries in the region, there is great opportunity for improvement but also an imperative to guarantee that they are free and fair.

Transparency International urges Pacific leaders to address governance gaps to tackle corruption and resource and implement the region’s anti-corruption commitments laid down in the Teieniwa Vision, with support from development partners. A vision without sufficient budget will just be another document that gathers dust. The U.S. must support such measures in its aid and relations and highlight them in this week’s talks.

Mariam Mathew, Pacific regional advisor of Transparency International, said:

“Pacific governments must urgently strengthen democracy and tackle corruption to hold power to account for Pacific Islanders. But they need assistance and support to open up civil society and strengthen accountability mechanisms and integrity institutions. As the U.S. focuses on the year of action following its Summit for Democracy, it can support these measures to build up good governance across the region.”

Pacific leaders and development partners like the U.S. should prioritize the following areas for democracy strengthening efforts.

  • Civil society: opening up civic space allows for more responsive governance, so the public can collaborate to ensure policies and decisions are transparent, accountable and advance the common good. Governments must support effective access to public information, media freedom and strong whistleblower protections so the public can report without fear of persecution.
  • Business: Corrupt business practices can and do lead to regulatory and state capture, and threaten security and livelihoods across the region – exacerbating inequalities further as they withhold money from public services. Pacific governments are urged to strengthen national governance and regional cooperation to ensure sustainable responsible business conduct in the Pacific and prevent the illicit flow of finance throughout the Pacific.

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