'Worlds in Collision': An Inquiry into the Sources of Corruption within Vanuatu Government and Society

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This seminar will present findings from a study of corruption in the context of Vanuatu government and society, which asserts that international models of ‘good governance’ do not adequately acknowledge the role of culture and entrenched social practices in shaping relations between the governed and the governing. It finds that certain sections of Vanuatu’s elites have used kastom authority, kinship networks, and the power of the state to entrench their interests and those of their clients. There is, however, an aspect of kastom authority that offers a means to break down these power structures through processes of deliberation and reform. This research considers ways in which traditional ideas and practices and the modern world can be better reconnected in order to effectively engage society in national governance and reform processes. It also maps out layers of customary practice and authority in Vanuatu and highlights the ways in which their absorption into the modern structures of government has led to serious problems of official corruption.

The findings illustrate that the clash between traditional ways of doing things and the expectations of international institutions about how things ought to be done creates a gap in which corrupt practices emerge. As such, what looks like corruption from a legal-rational point of view is actually perceived as normal behaviour by local communities. Understanding corruption as a consequence of tension between different social obligations and authority in a localised context, this research argues that addressing corruption in Vanuatu is not a matter of stamping it out, but rather of unravelling and addressing the social expectations and practices that have allowed corruption to evolve. Hence, this research proposes a collaborative and deliberative governance framework, using traditional authority structures in Vanuatu, to help guide Vanuatu through the process of social change that is necessarily to become resilient and independent state.

About the speaker

Mr Gregoire Nimbtik (Greg) completed his doctoral thesis at RMIT University that examines corruption and governance in Vanuatu. Greg began his career in Vanuatu’s public service as Deputy Director of the Vanuatu Comprehensive Reform Program (CRP). In July 2004 he was appointed as the Director of the Department of Strategic Policy, Planning and Aid Coordination at the Ministry of Prime Minister. In 2012 he was awarded an Australian Leadership Award to do his PhD at RMIT University. Greg holds a Masters of Development Administration from the Australian National University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of the South Pacific.

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