Transnational Crime in the Pacific Islands: Real or Apparent Danger?

Article excerpt

Transnational crime constitutes a challenge for even the most advanced industrial nations. The Pacific Islands are culturally, educationally and socially diverse, geographically isolated and sparsely populated. There is a degree of heterogeneity in their respective levels of governance, corruption and law enforcement capacity. Economic weaknesses and their impact upon infrastructure, poverty and general instability may increase the attractiveness of the islands to transnational crime. This paper explores the nature and quality of the available evidence concerning the issues of trafficking in drugs, people, arms and wildlife, corruption, money laundering, identity and electronic crime and terrorism. It concludes that the development of effective law enforcement and criminal justice infrastructure must be achieved within the broader context of continued improvements in economic, social and governance issues. To be able to respond in a timely and informed manner, it remains crucial for further research on transnational crime in the region to be undertaken.

Toni Makkai



The UN Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change (United Nations 2004: 23) maintained that transnational organised crime was one of six key global security challenges. It is likely that there may be tangible differences between the nature and scope of global and regional transnational crime and that any debate concerning its presence at a regional level should be supported either by examples of infiltration or at least evidence of viable criminal opportunities (Boister 2004). It is important to examine the nature and scope of transnational crime at the regional level and more importantly to ascertain with requisite certainty what evidence, if any, exists to support the assertions made in relation to transnational crime infiltration.

A variety of sources (Urwin 2005a; Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat 2003 and 2004) suggest that the Pacific Islands region is an actual, or potential, transnational crime hub. Equally, centres such as the Pacific Transnational Crime Coordination Centre (PTCCC) in Suva and law enforcement agencies such as the Australian Federal Police are dedicated to tackling such crime. Overall, however, the level, range and quality of information on transnational crime in the Pacific Islands region are, in terms of availability, quality and reliability, variable. This paper summarises the key issues reported in these sources and assesses whether they constitute sufficient evidence of a significant presence of organised criminal networks and the commission of transnational crime.

Vulnerability of the region

Transnational crime networks tend to follow a well-established and logical pattern of activity. Simply stated, they target areas of least resistance. The Pacific Islands are culturally, educationally and socially diverse, geographically isolated and sparsely populated. They are typified in whole or in part by poor governance, corruption and a lack of law enforcement capacity. It is arguable that the islands' economic weaknesses and their attendant consequences in terms of infrastructure, poverty and instability may increase the attractiveness of the islands to transnational crime networks (RentonGreen 2002; AusAID 2004).

Transnational crime is enterprise-based which requires the presence of existing or prospective market opportunities to justify and sustain its presence. It is arguable that in terms of political, economic and social development, the Pacific Islands are not homogeneous in nature (May 2004) and that accordingly the nature and degree of transnational crime infiltration is likely to be heterogeneous.

In terms of the broader Asia-Pacific region the presence of transnational crime networks is well documented (see UNODC 2005; US State Department 2005; Emmers 2003). The facts that the Pacific Islands fall geographically within this broader region and that they lack (per se and relative to that broader region) the capacity to deal with the threat effectively, suggest that a degree of transnational crime within the islands is likely. …