Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Demographics of Corruption

Since it seems that yet another Korean "university" scam is in the news, I figured I'd post a few thoughts on the common perceptions of corruptness among different nationalities.

Haoles: Yes, I can call them that because I am one! Just like African Americans can call themselves the "N" word! Well folks, let's face it, there are plenty of corrupt haoles in the CNMI. A few have gone to jail. A few have probably been responsible for the biggest scams ever - such as the Bank of Saipan scam, and but of course, Jack Abramoff. But we all know that the vast majority of Haoles are innocent, hardworking "technicians" who come here to do a specific job, and then leave. But not without first letting everyone know how they feel about the corrupt practices of the other nationalities. Mostly non-corrupt, but in desperate need of a reminder of the corruptness among their own kind.

Koreans: These guys seem to get the worst rap. And with good cause. Although many of the "local" Koreans are good citizens and have raised exceedingly smart and ethical offspring, there is a well-known, obnoxious minority who flaunt the law on a regular basis, seemingly with impunity. Not only the well-publicized and embarrassing "Saipan University" type scams, but also numerous other cases which anyone who has been here long enough will have had personal, or at least second-hand experience with. Myself, I have personal experience with a number of scams involving long-established Korean businessmen on island, both in giving bribes to local government officials, and in scamming (apparently) fellow Koreans into questionable investment schemes in the CNMI. Anyone remember the Lake Susupe water company scheme? I don't think it ever went very far, but quite a bit of money was sucked out of some seemingly legitimate Korean businessmen, while some of the local "consultants" bragged openly about their ability to bypass the permitting and licensing systems, encouraging the doubtful investors to pour more money into their dubious scheme. Or how about that Judo university down in As Lito, built in the middle of a well-known flood plain? Just a bunch of rebar and weathered block, now. Doesn't anyone ever wonder what happened to these investors?

Oh wait, did I just say "local" consultants? Why, yes I did! And that reminds me of a common factor in many of these schemes - the local "consultant" or "local representative". I've run into more than my fair share of these folks. A few seem to be good-hearted and well intentioned. Many seem to just think it is a quick and easy way to make a buck, and their worst crime is simple negligence. But a significant few seem to be true criminals, intentionally inflating their estimates of feasibility, profitability, and permissibility of crazy projects, with no further intention than just bilking their investors out of more fees.

And then there's the corruption within the local government which allows these embarassing situations to come about. Sure there's the bribe takers and con men, but there's also a more subtle and insidious villain - I won't call him the yes-man, but let's just call him the "I can't say no man" or "ICSN man". ICSN man has been instructed by his boss, who has been instructed by the governor, and often certain legislators, to never discourage an investor. Even if ICSN man knows of a specific roadblock to the proposed project. Nope, ICSN man has direct instructions in this situation to say things like "please submit your application, and we will review it." Never "I'm sorry, but Commonwealth Law would prohibit you from engaging in that activity" or "We currently have no internship program for Korean nurses at the hospital." This has predictable results, and some folks take "not no" to mean "yes."

And so we end up with situations like the nurse "scam", which I have no doubt was a scam, but come on CNMI government - do your jobs and just tell people "no" to begin with, before they spend their hard earned money and cause yet another public embarrassment.

I know I left out a number of other nationalities, but I feel I made my point: Saipan is chock-a-block with corruption, and while there are many guilty parties, there is ultimately only one responsible party - the CNMI Government.

Feel free to add to the list in the comments section.

Have a nice weekend!

The Value in Anonymity

Saipan is a small place. A small place that has suddenly learned the excitement of expressing opinions in a venue where anonymity can be had. Opinions which were previously kept private, perhaps not even discussed with one's closest friends, for fear of both offending, and of retaliation.

Some Saipan bloggers have taken great offense at the practice of posting anonymously. They contend that it is a coward's way, and something that has only sprung up in the age of the internet.

Not so.

Benjamin Franklin posted anonymously, if you will, throughout his lifetime in many famous and worthwhile ways. His first well known nom de plume was Silence Dogood, penned to letters to the editor through his brother's newspaper in Boston. Posting as Silence, Franklin was able to call attention to the hypocrisies of the Mathers and their religious establishment, which had opressed the people of the city for generations. Had he posted such opinions under his own name, he would likely have been run out of town, to never become the man he did. America might still be an English colony!

Perhaps most famous was Franklin's pen name "Poor Richard". Here we see not only the continuation of Franklin's use of anonymity to allow himself to publish material that his contemporaries might not have approved of, but also anonymous personal attacks on rivals. At one point this even escalated into Franklin posting an obituary for the publisher of a rival almanac, to convince his readers that the man was no longer in business, so they would stop buying his product. Yes friends, one of our most famous founding fathers gave in to temptation occasionally!

Franklin continued the practice of publishing anonymous letters to newspapers and political pamphlets while in London as Pennsylvania's representative, for many years, as tensions grew and the revolution formed. Although ultimately unsuccessful, his anonymous letters served many valuable purposes, such as delaying certain actions by Parliament and educating the citizens of London as to the plight of the colonists.

During these troubled times, Franklin posted under many aliases. One of those was Benevolus.

I will never claim to be anything close to a Franklin, but I will unashamedly post my opinions and suggestions anonymously, with no intention of ever letting anyone know who I am. There may be a few people on Saipan who can claim they would never stoop to anonymous posting, and that they would never say anything they were afraid to sign their own name to. I say these people are therefore not posting truly honest opinions, at least not on every subject. I know some of these people who make such claims, and I know that while they may post such things in public, in truth they talk a different story in private, and complain about the very politicians they attempt to woo by defending their actions in their blogs and posted comments. Hypocrites all!

Saipan is a place, as we all know, where freedom of speech is still just a figure of speech. Until the day comes when the monopolies of government and the market are broken, such anonymity is the only way to truly have free discussion. Much as it was in Boston under the control of the Mathers and their church, or in London during the anti-American hysteria of the 1770s.

So I'm sorry, Bruce, but you're wrong. And now that you are working for the CNMI government, you will very likely learn what I mean.