The Pacific Island Law Officers Network ( PILON pronounced pee-lon) brings together the likes of Attorney's General and Public Prosecutors from across the region to work on issues that are common to our countries.
I travelled to Nauru to their 42nd meeting as an observer.
Alongside the official country representatives were various other interested groups as observers, including Transparency International (TI).
We heard reports of their work in three focus areas which provided the key themes for the meeting: Sexual & Gender Based Violence, Cybercrime (mainly child exploitation) and Corruption.
There was an excellent gender balance around the table, and the genuine focus on protecting the weakest members of our societies was heartwarming, with an especially strong emphasis on the protection of children. Many members celebrated the elevation of women to senior roles in their justice systems, including the first female judge being appointed in Tonga.
I was caught out in my assumption that people knew of TI and its mandate. Several members had no knowledge of TI and its work, which I'm sure the Board will consider as part of its strategic planning. We still have a lot of work to do as TI celebrates its 30th birthday!
Access to skills was a recurring theme together with challenges of cultural inertia, including during the session on corruption.
The working group is focused on the public sector corruption offering guidance on key elements of legislation required to enable anti-corruption action. This includes the importance of whistleblowing and ethics training.
There is still a significant capability gap and a broad lack of community understanding of how it is to live in a society not based on corrupt practices. In discussion the topic of gift giving arose. Our regional cultural context often means that an obligation is attached to a gift. I pointed out that the correct term for a gift that carries an obligation is a contract.
Information sharing is also a problem.
As financial systems have globalised, it becomes increasingly important to enable cross-border flows of law enforcement related information.
A particular area of concern is that there is no requirement for banks and other financial entities to consider whether their customers are domestically politically exposed when assessing the risk they present. This is also a serious flaw in New Zealand’s financial system.
Where governments fail to act on this gap, it is critical for the private sector step in - as they have in most jurisdictions. There is nothing to bar a firm from considering domestic political exposure when assessing customer risk; in fact I would argue they are negligent if they do not. Just because it isn't mandated it doesn't mean it's not good practice.,
Unfortunately making the process difficult and dependent on unreliable data sources only serves to further lower trust.
It was a valuable opportunity to get the TI message to a new group of people, especially in the context of growing frustration emerging from younger members of the community in what they often see as a self-serving gerontocracy. Transparency will be key to tackling this generational shift.