What will it take for our government to action the urgent changes needed to address the seemingly never-ending problem that is the Samoa prison system?
Let’s see what we have had.
We have had years of adverse reports both from both local and overseas sources; we’ve had a revolving-door policy for prisoners who have wandered in and out freely and even committed crimes – at times in the company of prison officers; we have had a Commission of Enquiry - a scathing attack by the Ombudsman and his team and a list of recommendations including a fence (where is it?); we have had questionable deaths and injuries inside cells, cruelty and favouritism allegations; sexual attacks by prison wardens on prisoners – some proven; recently we hit the local, regional and world news media with an horrific story of mismanagement, incompetency leading to a shocking crime of rape which even our Prime Minister could not ignore.
We then got promises.
Come back next year in June, he urged the 60 Minutes reporter - who unlike our local media, was not intimidated enough to be fobbed off with non answers and strange comments.
How astonishing it was to learn about tourists being in the wrong place at the wrong time when it was actually a notorious prisoner who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, again
What have we not had?
We have not had action after all these years and now we learn that Government has only provided one tenth of the budget 10 million tala budget needed to build this new facility.
So with a budget just recently released, we now learn we do not actually have the money to build this structure people are being urged to visit next year.
We do not have an approved plan by Cabinet.
We do not have enough trained staff nor an increased budget to pay for them.
We are relying on prayers and donors, we are told by our ever-hopeful Minister Tialavea Tioniosio Seigafolava.
Quoting the beginning of the National University of Samoa which allegedly was started with five tala, he seems to have missed a small but significant point.
Starting a university is a positive project.
People, donors, graduates, educationalists love to be associated with such an undertaking, they see the value, the future and if you were a the Prime Minister of the day, was it not a wonderful legacy to be associated with?
But a prison? Not so much.
Even if it is derisively referred to as Samoa’s other tertiary institution.
It’s not glamorous, it’s definitely not sexy and it’s way overdue.
So after years of under-funding of a prison and prison system that would not be out of place when measured beside similar facilities of three centuries ago, we are now just starting to look for money for it.
And we wondered why our Police Commissioners over the years struggled and in some cases totally failed and lost their positions, to keep a lid on this open sore?
It makes you want to weep when you think of the millions of tala that have been squandered over the years on ‘pie in the sky’ and defunct wharves, grandiose buildings and then the failure of government to own up and hold the individuals and groups within the ruling party and in positions of power in government departments, accountable.
How sad is it that keeping a political party together and in power is more important than weeding out the thieves and users of taxpayers’ money.
Some of these people should rightfully be in the very institution that we are talking about.