Daily we read and hear about corruption in our government. In fact we are considering impeaching our governor in this matter. But let me tell you about how one politician made his millions and tried to justify his actions.
The following is a speech given in 1905 by New York City's infamous Tammany Hall politician, George Washington Plunkitt. He candidly explains how his party doled out patronage jobs and contracts in return for votes, power, and money.
Tammany Hall was a Democratic Party machine that virtually dominated New York's city politics from the 1850s to the 1930s. Plunkitt flaunted his ability to use the system for his personal gain and saw nothing wrong with what he called “honest graft.” If anything we may have improved on his system. Here is his actual speech.
“Everybody is talking these days about Tammany men growing rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawing the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There's all the difference between the two. Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I've made a big fortune out of the game, and I'm getting richer every day, but I've not gone in for dishonest graft-blackmailing gamblers, saloon keepers, disorderly people, etc. Neither have any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics.
There is honest graft, and I'm an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by saying: I've seen my opportunities and I took 'em.
“Just let me explain by examples. My party's in power in the city and it's going to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I'm off, say they're going to lay out a new park at a certain place. I see my opportunity and take it. I go to that place and buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Than the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for before. Ain't it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? Of course it is. Well that's honest graft.
“Or supposing it's a new bridge, they're going to build. I get tipped off and I buy as much property as I can that has to be taken for approaches. I sell at my own price later on and drop some money in the bank. Wouldn't you?
“I've told you how I got rich by honest graft. Now let me tell you that most politicians who are accused of robbing the city get rich the same way. They didn't steal a dollar from the city treasury. They just seen their opportunities and took them..
“Another kind of honest graft: Tammany has raised a good many salaries. There was an awful howl by reformers, but don't you know that Tammany gains 10 votes for everyone it lost for salary raising?
“As a matter of policy, if nothing else, why should the Tammany leaders go into such dirty business, that is dishonest graft, when there is so much honest graft lying around when they are in power. Did you ever consider that?
“Now, in conclusion, I want to say that I don't own a dishonest dollar. If my worst enemy was given the job of writing my epitaph when I'm gone, he couldn't do more than write: George W. Plunkitt. He Seen His Opportunities and He Took 'Em.”
Plunkitt died in 1924 at 82, an esteemed and very wealthy man. But he taught many students the fine art of “honest graft” or let's call it by its real name: government corruption. In fact we have a few good students even here in the CNMI. Don't you agree?
A subtle form of government corruption we have here is by some of our citizens getting away with money that was given to them for travel expenses and never accounted for. In some cases some people were overpaid for work and never returned the excess. Or they simply dipped into government coffers and helped themselves to the money.
Let me explain. We have a great OPA whose job is to investigate wrongful doings. When they finish their investigations, they send their reports to the Attorney General's Office to pursue this wrongful taking of money. But would you believe it, the Attorney General's Office is very, very lenient.
Because of limited space here, I strongly suggest you go to your computer and spend a bit of time opening up CNMI OPA.com. Play around with different inputs until you find the host of agencies and individuals who have so far successfully cheated you and me out of money. There you will read about all the many cases of corruption that the AG never pursues or simply pretends to. There is over $6 million that is unaccountable!
A few years back a local news article stated that over $3 million of local funds had been found to have walked off with the last change in administration. To date it seems to have become a forgotten item. The OPA has shown where and how it was done, but no one seems to care. Its findings have fallen on deaf ears and blind eyes. “Honest graft?”
An interesting question I ask is why is it that only people who misuse federal government funds ever get prosecuted and go to jail? Do you recall the name of our former lieutenant governor who is now serving time in federal prison for misusing government money? And there are several others. I guess the general rule is: be careful and steal only local funds and you won't be touched. Misuse federal funds and you will have a major problem like going to jail.
When will we, the general public, become sufficiently outraged to demand cleaning up the corruption and mismanagement that soaks up so many of our valued dollars that could be used to improving our lives? Oops, I almost forgot!
We are seeking impeachment of our current governor! Wow! We do have guts and courage. Let's go for it! This is a classic example of our first sign of a strong desire to correct and improve. Let's continue the movement and watch the tremendous improvement our community will make.
There is no honest graft-only graft and corruption. These people have betrayed our trust! It simply means that they have played us for fools and betrayed us. To me the most important word for any person to uphold is “trust to himself and trust from his fellowmen.” Anything else is secondary. Without trust we are hollow men.
If we want to improve we will have to get off our “buts”-no excuses-and stop all corruption. Congratulations to the men and women who are showing a strong spirit and heart in doing just that.
Enough is enough. We want a clean community. Whether the governor is impeached or not, it should put the fear of God in his heart and others that we trusted him and the others. Do not betray that trust.
Despite all this turmoil keep smiling! It makes all of us feel good. Happy smiling! And have a great week!