HARD TO EXPLAIN GUAM’S CULTURE OF CORRUPTION

Commentary

By Joe Murphy

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Mar. 15) - The latest grand jury indictments, handed down last week in the Urunao case, has again shocked the island. You have to wonder if this epidemic of corruption charges indicate a cultural flaw, or if there is something that indicates that we just aren't ready, on Guam, for a democracy.

Is there any connection between a thoughtful piece in the newspaper, written by Prof. Dirk Ballendorf of the University of Guam, and the current wave of indictments?

Ballendorf, a longtime friend, wrote about Magellan's landing on Guam 483 years ago. His conclusion was that Guam was different than the "Eurocentric" culture of the Portuguese skipper.

The key, the good professor said, is in the interpretation of what really happened during Magellan's unexpected, and short, visit to Guam. According to shipboard historians, the people of Guam were "savages" because they wore little or no clothing. The Europeans didn't realize that the people of Guam already had a highly defined culture based on sharing, respect for elders and family values.

This "clash of cultures" came about after some young Chamorros took a skiff from one of Magellan's ships. The Chamorros saw it as "sharing." They provided the starving crew with water, fruits and vegetables, and expected something like the skiff in return.

So many GovGuam employees, many of them former elected leaders, have been charged with misappropriation of government funds, or equipment for their own use. It seems absurd to try to make excuses for people who are alleged to have stolen from their friends and neighbors on the island.

It must be explained over and over that being accused and indicted doesn't mean that these people are guilty of any crime.

Still, it seems to me that the idea of democracy just isn't the same on Guam as it would be stateside. That doesn't mean corruption doesn't happen in the states. Of course it does. It is just that it has happened a lot more on this tiny island, on a per capita basis.

Those elected to high office here think that, once elected, they own the island, and as owners they are entitled to remarkable benefits and privileges. They look down on the people, perhaps as the Spanish and Navy officials before them. They travel first class, with a hefty per diem.

They don't think they are above the law -- they think they are the law! This is just arrogance of the worst kind.

How else could you explain why a trusted director of education was alleged to have written out a $5,000 check drawn on government funds to a friend to help his daughter win a Liberation Day contest? That money could have been used for books for children, or air conditioning units, or pay raises for teachers.

Or how can you explain a leader building a private house, allegedly using government materials and employees? How do you explain an island leader using a GovGuam credit card to make use of a massage parlor, or at a place that features lap dances?

These might not be big things in themselves, but it truly reflects an attitude that is embarrassing to the people of Guam. These indictments, taken in total, will cause the federal government to look down their collective noses at Guam.

Playing fast and loose with FEMA funds, as has been alleged, will certainly send up warning flags to the federal government, which may not be so eager to be on the next plane to Guam after our next typhoon.

All these corruption cases, from the past to the present, reflect an attitude that has to be changed to enable us, as an island, to progress.

I hope that this doesn't turn into a political thing in the minds of the voters, in that the present administration is going after the leaders of the last administration.

I applaud and support the efforts of the federal government, the U.S. Attorney and the Guam attorney general, in rooting out this corruption. In 483 years, it seems that we haven't clearly spelled out the concept of private property as opposed to government property. They are not one and the same. It is, indeed, time for an attitude shift. It may already be too late.

I can't imagine private investors putting their hard-earned money into an island that has such a black reputation.

Joe Murphy is a former editor of the Pacific Daily News.

March 15, 2004

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

 

 

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