How organized crime is exploiting South Pacific nations

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.


Armed offences spiralling out of control: A snap shot

Rather than write an article, I have decided to show a snap shot of armed offences that have occurred in New Zealand in the last few months. The number, the boldness of the offences, the ages of the offenders and their distribution across the country shows that no part seems to be spared. All of the offences mentioned below have happened since 01 January 2017.

There have also been a spate of dairy robberies in south Auckland.

What do you think needs to happen to offenders who are caught? I would like to see several things happen with convicted offenders:

  • Seize their passports, as why would other countries want convicted violent offenders from another nation visiting them?
  • Ask victims what they would like to see the offenders do if restorative justice is not an option
  • Assets confiscated in order to pay for damages if financial means to pay up does not exist

Given the lack of action by the Government in dealing with this spiralling violence the state of violent crime in New Zealand may become an election issue. This becomes particularly concerning with the increasing costs of cigarettes and other tobacco products, as well as drugs fuelling crime. Frustrated and fearful business owners trying to ensure that they are able to cope in the event of an attack on them, need to know that someone will help them.

Growing societal pains pressuring New Zealand justice system

It is quite fair to say that the New Zealand sentencing laws have multiple flaws to them that undermine not only the course of justice, but in some respects actually cause new injustices to occur. The cracks in the social net designed to keep people out of crime are so numerous that systemic failure is a real possibility and would occur when a critical mass of issues comes to a head causing a large scale collapse of services and functions.

Among these problems are:

  • A failing of the socio-economic conditions necessary to discourage criminal activity in the first place
  • A failure of the justice system to punish convicted offenders appropriately
  • Offenders occur because it suits the lifestyle that they have become accustomed to
  • Massive growth in the market for illegal substances – a seller can make $4,000 a week selling illegal substances in Whangarei
  • Break down of the family unit and a lack of role models for boys
  • Underfunding/scrapping of social welfare programmes causing them to fail or be wound up
  • Systemic underfunding and resourcing of the mental health sector

So how do these factors cause the sentencing regime to fail? There are numerous reasons.

  1. Whilst most New Zealanders are working, tax paying, law abiding people, there is a section of society that have no empathy with or understanding of societal norms. They come from broken families that have no had proper jobs, or have been involved with drugs or criminal elements – to them the law and the people who enforce it are suspect
  2. Despite legislation passing through Parliament in 2010 called the Truth in Sentencing Act, which was designed to make offenders do the full sentence handed down, sentences are becoming increasingly erratic and are rarely suitable for the crime/s committed
  3. It is obvious that the War on Drug has failed when drug dealers can make more money in a week than many New Zealanders do in a month – flow on effects from drug use can include being not suitable for a wide range of jobs
  4. A lack of role models for children with absentee parents or from a family where education and work are low priorities. They might be constantly working, or disinterested in their children’s development
  5. Welfare programmes have suffered from funding not keeping pace with inflation, but also constantly tightened criteria to eligible for assistance in the first place, with the result being more people are either getting cut off or finding the proverbial goal posts have shifted
  6. Mental health issues create highly unstable people whose symptoms may range from acute stress to being prone to physical violence or even killing – several cases have occurred in the last few years where either people not being treated have turned violent; caregiver gone to jail for mercy killing

New Zealand is going to have to address these issues collectively and individually in the near future or risk this nation becoming something other than the tourist friendly paradise many non New Zealanders believe us to be. Soon there could be significant costs to tax payers and companies alike fixing a problem that in some respects everyone is partially to blame for, but which nobody wants to come up with a comprehensive solution.

The case against the death penalty in New Zealand

When I was a child I watched programmes like most other children did about good and bad; justice and injustice. The good guys always won, which sometimes made me wish for a programme, where just every once in a while the bad guys would win at least briefly. You would see the bad guys being incarcerated and the good guys being seen as heroes.

As I grew older I began to become more interested in the actual meting out of the justice. After the mother of the owner of a school uniform shop that I purchased my high school uniform from (and Mum says also my intermediate school uniform), was attacked in broad daylight, there was palpable anger at my school. Students were debating what to do with the offender if he got caught. All were in support of a long spell in jail. Some also wanted to make the offender attend a restorative justice programme.

And a few wanted the death penalty (capital punishment).

By the time I left high school I was of the opinion that the death penalty was a good thing, that there are people who need to be put to death because of the extreme nature of their crimes – terrorists; mass murderers; treasonists. To me the death penalty was to be the last resort, or for crimes so severe a jail term would not suffice.

But in 2004, I had a sea change on the death penalty. One day my Amnesty International group at the University of Canterbury had a free screening of Dead Man walking, about a convicted murderer in the United States who is sentenced to death. A Sister acts as spiritual guidance for the convicted man, and meets with the families of the victims. She agrees to help file an appeal and get his sentence commuted. After it fails, she tells the condemned that the only way to redemption is to show remorse. He admits culpability.

The film made me start to question the viability of the death penalty. It made me start to do research around the individual methods and find out about the cost of administering it, and how well justice is actually dispensed.

There is no justification for murder. But there is not justification for “an eye for an eye” type justice where one must die in order for the other to have justice. Very often the case against the condemned person is flawed and not beyond reasonable doubt. As this is an essential threshhold in determining culpability, the accused should not be found guilty, let alone condemned to death. Sometimes the condemned are found to have mental stability issues, and in some cases known to Amnesty, are not actually able to comprehend what they have done.

First world nations have the money and the economic resources to develop non lethal methods of inflicting justice. Third world nations do not necessarily have the money or the resources. That does not justify their use of the death penalty any more than it does in a third world country. And it certainly does not justify the gruesome methods – stoning, beheading, lashes, among others that are applied. Iran and China are the leading employers of the death penalty, with 977+ and 2,000+ respectively known to have been executed. Many did not have fair trials and in many cases confessions were made under duress.

But the case against the death penalty goes deeper than this. To be effective, the methods of execution in carrying out the death penalty, must be able to kill within seconds or a couple of minutes maximum. Evidence suggests to the contrary:

  • Execution by firing squad is typically carried out by a number of people pointing rifles at the condemned person, but only one gun will have a live round in it – if the round fails to kill, then the condemned person may suffer barbaric injury
  • Execution by the electric chair was stopped because aside from being an unusual and cruel way to inflict the execution, if the chair had an electrical fault, the executioner could be liable for torture
  • Execution by lethal injection is dependent on the drugs being administered being able to do their job – typically one induces unconsciousness, the second shuts down the breathing and the third stops the heart which is something that has not always gone to plan and the condemned is still alive, albeit seriously ill
  • Execution by hanging

In essence the death penalty is a barbaric form of justice that makes the countries that use it no better than third world despots (though as mentioned, no first world countries use lashes, stonings or beheadings). New Zealand is right to not have it on our books, and any move to reinstate it would be a massive leap backwards.

New Zealand’s road toll problem

To anyone who has driven down a section of State Highway One in Waikato there are two depressing things that stand out. One is the large number of white crosses, each symbolizing a life taken in a road accident. Some sites have recorded multiple fatal crashes, each one devastating a family and upending lives in ways only the victims and their families will understand.

The causes are often speed, alcohol or some horrible combination of both. A failure to drive according to the conditions and fatigue may also be factors. Officers who have the grisly job of scraping bits of people off the roads and piecing together what happened will also have an equally horrible job of having to tell someone that their loved one is not coming home, ever.

So, why are we – after years of steady progress – going backwards again? This Christmas period, despite having a few days still to run is deadlier than the whole equivalent period in 2015-16. What can we do about it?

The adverts on television regarding the road toll are as blunt as the topic matter is hard. New Zealand has a road toll that is disproportionate for a nation of four million people. There is much emphasis on making sure people do not drive drunk, but not so much about people driving under the influence of narcotics. Making roads safer will only go so far, when there should be stronger emphasis on making people drive to the condition of the road on the day.

One idea could be to overhaul the demerit point system to include residual points that are permanent and the only way to avoid them is not earn them in the first place. The idea behind them would be to assign – I am not by the way trying to make a death simply something with a quantitative value, because there is none that can be realistically assigned – certain types of offences a certain number of demerit points, of which only a portion ever dissolve. An example could look like this:

A person is allowed 1,000 demerit points before they lose their driver license. A fatal accident where murder was the intention might be worth 1,000 demerit points; and manslaughter is 700 points of which 200 dissolve. For the sake of this example we will say a person committed murder using a vehicle as a weapon, thus 1,000 points are initially applied. The demerit points are applied at the end of the sentence handed down, and 200 points will eventually dissolve. However 800 remain and another event involving death – murder or not – will result in the permanent loss of license, thus right to be driving, with any breach being one for which the offender can be arrested.

Another suggestion, which would go some distance towards addressing driver behaviour, could be to institute a “driver insurance”, that anyone holding a New Zealand license is required to obtain. Either that or tipping the balance in the law so that the the onus of responsibility is on the driver in the first instance and individual passengers after that.

There will be about 90-95% compliance, but just as with all laws there will be a select few who think that the law does not apply to them. They will have no remorse or understanding of the consequences or any empathy with the victims. For them jail can be the only option.