Erik Pacific

JUSTRAC is pleased to work with Mr. Erik Pacific, who leads the Governance and Rule of Law (GROL) Division at USAID, focusing on anti-corruption, legislative strengthening, local governance, public financial management, public administration reform, justice sector strengthening, and security sector reform. Mr. Pacific brings a wealth of experience in rule of law and governance reform programs, both from the donor side and implementer side. Prior to his role with GROL, he was the Peace and Democratic Governance Office Director at USAID’s Mission in Mali, in which capacity and he designed the agency’s first rule of law program and oversaw a variety of programs in rule of law, human rights, sub-national governance, civil society, and countering violent extremism (CVE). He also served two tours in Afghanistan, where he managed the public administration reform and sub-national governance portfolio, with a $350 million annual budget, and designed USAID’s largest ever local governance activity. Other foreign service tours include South Africa, Macedonia, and Washington. Mr. Pacific also brings a decade of experience working for USAID contractors, in Armenia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and the West Bank and Gaza. In those roles, his projects focused on such issues as media development, human rights, and conflict mitigation. He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia, where he started the first independent radio station outside of the capital.

If Mr. Pacific has gleaned one key lesson from his combined experience as a donor and implementer, it is that effective change in rule of law requires a pragmatic approach. As an implementer, he worked primarily on good governance and rule of law from the demand side: civil society actors and human rights advocates. While he appreciates that bottom-up approach to strengthening rule of law, he acknowledges that sometimes there is a temptation for civil society organizations to view governments as the enemy. When that happens, in his own words, “you’re only working on one side of the equation. You need supply and demand. You don’t have the resources or time to help every single person, but if you work to improve the governance system in the country you are working in and are able to identify and support the reformers within the system, that’s a practical approach.” Now designing programs at USAID, his attention has expanded to include realistic scopes of work, measurable indicators, and realistic timelines. He acknowledges that it might take years to see meaningful change, and that change might be modest. When spending two or four years in a country, Mr. Pacific makes it his first priority to invest time building relationships with actors in the host country, identify who the change agents are, and allocate the resources necessary to support those people. He cites an example from his time in Mali. In seeking to address weak access to justice and slow processing of cases in the formal justice sector, Mr. Pacific learned that many people in Mali went to independent “paralegals” who may or may not have formal legal training. He focused on training more paralegals, connecting them to the formal justice system, and establishing mobile courts in rural areas to increase access to justice, and he is proud of the positive change that he saw these efforts produce.

He also makes a pragmatic case for the importance of rule of law itself. Rule of law, he notes, affects nearly every sector that USAID works in, from democracy, rights, and governance to private enterprise. If people in any sector believe they have been treated unfairly, trust in government erodes. If the problems are far-ranging enough, trust in government erodes in enough sectors that the government faces a crisis of legitimacy, and people with grievances might organize or even use violence. With that dynamic in mind, Mr. Pacific views rule of law from a systems standpoint and tries to make systems of governance more open and transparent, decreasing incentives for corruption and other behaviors that harm rule of law.

Mr. Pacific recognizes the importance of effective interagency communication and coordination in rule of law programming. In his role in USAID, he regularly works with counterparts from other USG agencies, most often INL and DOJ, and he notes that his interaction with DHS is increasing. He argues that there is a lot of value in an interagency approach to rule of law, but that it needs to be managed from a practical perspective. For example, in his view, the biggest obstacle to effective interagency cooperation is that many USG rule of law practitioners are often overstretched. In his words, “Everyone is busy, so coordinating communication and meetings can be difficult. Agency focuses are different, and it’s hard to stay focused on any one issue, because people are always having to put out fires.” He also acknowledges that overlap in the portfolios of different agencies can blur the lines of responsibility, all the more reason that good interagency communication is critical. At the same time, he notes that different agency approaches can complement one another to produce better outcomes. For example, he notes that USAID tends to take a long-term view of change, but that working with agencies whose programs have shorter timelines can help produce short-term gains that catalyze more effective long-term outcomes.

Mr. Pacific lauds JUSTRAC for bringing in-depth, substantive knowledge to USG practitioners, as well as for fostering candid dialogue in an interagency setting. While USAID offers a broad range of training opportunities, Mr. Pacific notes that JUSTRAC offers comprehensive training in specialized topics that he has not seen elsewhere, for example modules dedicated to different legal systems of the world. He also appreciates JUSTRAC’s online resources for their breadth and relevance. JUSTRAC is privileged to work with experienced professionals like Mr. Pacific, who can offer their perspective on justice sector and rule of law reform based on an impressive breadth and depth of experience.

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