New Zealanders think of the South Pacific as their backyard. In our thousands we go to Fiji, Rarotonga, Samoa and Tonga each year. Still more head for Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, whilst others head for Tahiti. The culture they say is easy going, the weather great (except in the cyclone season)and the beaches are magnificent.
But against this backdrop, there are some quite disturbing aspects to law and order in these nations – or rather a lack of law and order. Many might remember the Solomon Islands intervention last decade, where the archipelago southeast of Papua New Guinea was subject to lawlessness and roving gangs. New Zealand and Australia put together a task force of police units to tackle the core problems before the nation became a failed state.
The Solomon Islands case is just one example from a region where organized crime takes on many forms and is growing both in sophistication and scale. A toxic combination of money laundering, drugs, shell businesses among other crime types means that the south Pacific is not the paradise portrayed in the media.
The Governments of these nations are among the weakest in the world when it comes to dealing with organized crime. Part of the problem is that their population base is small, meaning the available tax paying base to fund law enforcement is tiny. Fiji has a population of 800,000 people, a bit more than half the size of Auckland. Samoa has a population of around 190,000 or about half the size of Christchurch, whilst Tonga’s population is about 105,000.
Another part of the problem is a distinct lack of transparency in the Governments and law enforcement agencies of these nations. New Zealand might be in the top five most transparent nations according to Transparency International, but Kiribati, Tonga and the Solomon Islands perform quite poorly. The latter is ruled by an absolute monarch, who also controls the treasury and the judiciary in what is the only remaining absolute monarchy on the planet. It was highlighted brutally in 2006 by violent riots with looting and arson burning down the central business district of Nukualofa in protest at the lack of democracy in the country.
Outside influences such as China do not help either. Whilst the Chinese offer to develop infrastructure and provide jobs, the companies that do the work are all based in China and nearly all of the profits made from the projects carried out go back there. The details of the deals done between politicians and company executives are rarely made public. Thus little is known about what international and local laws might have been breached in the deals.
So, what could New Zealand do to assist South Pacific Island nations in dealing with organized crime? Find out in the next article.