Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, was interviewed by the 60 Minutes Australia Television Show on 4 July 2016 for more than half an hour. The story, called Paradise Lost, aired in Australia on 17th July 2016 and less than two minutes of the interview was aired. The Office of the Prime Minister has released its transcription of the entire interview. It is published below in full:
Interview between the Prime Minister and 60 Minutes Australia
60 Minutes: Thank you for meeting with us today, Prime Minister.
What do you say about what happened to the Australian couple here in Samoa?
PM: Well I am sad that it happened to them and my heart goes out to the couple.
I saw the news when I was on my way back from Papua New Guinea, after the Pacific Ministers ACP meeting.
I am very sorry with what happened to them. I remember when I was in Africa in 1999 where I attended a panel discussion on safety of tourists. Tourism being the major foreign exchange earner for many, many countries.Ta I remember exactly what I said on that panel talking about tourism. The security aspect occupied much of the discussion, and I said Samoa is the safest country and I would like to see many tourists come to Samoa. But even in Samoa, I said, if one is in a wrong place, one can have problems. This case you have raised is of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
60 Minutes: Do you think that’s still true?
PM: Let us be realistic. Every place in the world - regardless - if you happen to be in a place where you ought not to be, then problems can happen.
60 Minutes: And you think that’s what happened in their case?
PM: Yes, this would never have happened in a village situation, or town. You have been to the place? It’s very isolated.
60 Minutes: Well Prime Minister, it’s only thirty minutes drive from here, where we’re sitting.
PM: It’s also one hour from the furtherest place, my village. Here in Samoa, distances don’t matter.
60 Minutes: Well it’s not a very big island.
PM: But you have been there?
60 Minutes: Absolutely.
PM: It’s very isolated.
60 Minutes: Well, thirty minutes from the capital city.
PM: Even though it is close to the capital, the motel is in the forest bush and it is very dark at night.
60 Minutes: But it’s in the Samoa tourist bureau.
PM: It is in the tourist bureau, but no one dreamt that this fellow would end up there.
60 Minutes: This is a place that’s featured in the Samoan tourist brochures.
PM: Yes that’s right. But you will never know and can never tell people with evil minds. In any country. Even in Australia where you come from.
60 Minutes: Yes there are criminals everywhere, sir.
PM: I mean it can happen anywhere.
60 Minutes: Are you saying people should not go there as tourists?
PM: Well they should be very careful. One of the things that is absent is...
60 Minutes: But, sorry can I interrupt there?
PM: Excuse me. One of the things that is absent there is security. I have been to the place, when it was opened and I thought it was beautiful. But when it is far, far, far away from the main road and where there is no light in the streets. That’s what I mean. You can have people lurking in the dark.
60 Minutes: But sir you have a much bigger problem don’t you? I mean one of the things that is absent in your security here in Samoa is the security on your prisons.
PM: We have security in the prisons.
60 Minutes: Mr Prime Minister, your jail has more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese.
PM: That is why we have decided to shift and build a new jail. It’s already provided for in the budget which we recently passed in the last days of June.
60 Minutes: But you haven’t laid a brick yet.
PM: We have already started clearing the area. Consider....
60 Minutes: But you haven’t started yet.
PM: ... Consider Samoa and Australia. Even if you had passed a budget, Australia would still not have started. Even now. Australia promised us, five years ago, to release monies to build our Parliament building. We have not started yet. I mean you are thinking that we are in the world where things can move fast. Samoa has just graduated. We also have problems of our own, a newly graduated country from the Least Developed to the Lower-Middle Income level countries and we have problems with capacity too.
60 Minutes: Has the attack by Tualima hurt tourism here?
PM: I don’t know. Really, I don’t know. You must also remember that there are people who know that in any country you visit, it is not one hundred percent safe.
60 Minutes: What are you doing about public safety, not just for tourists, but also for your own citizens?
PM: When it comes to public safety we have the police, the lights at nighttime. You have been around at night time?...
60 Minutes: I have.
PM: ... and also in the villages we have chiefs and orators. Even in some villages, they have curfews, at night time to cut down the amount of trouble. To ensure that there is peace in the village.
60 Minutes: I suppose, sir, I am talking about intent. About motivation of, for example, your prison officers. Tualima has escaped from jail three times.
PM: You are talking about issues that are closely encroaching on to a matter that is before the court.
60 Minutes: Well it’s only sentencing. He’s already an admitted criminal, sir.
PM: Well it doesn’t matter about admitting, but the case is still open and before the court.
60 Minutes: It’s not just about Tualima, there are other criminals who simply walk out of your jail.
PM: Remember that this is one only kind of attack that has happened.
60 Minutes: But after the attack. He managed to escape on two more occasions.
PM: We are talking about one kind of attack in many years. Rape. By a prisoner.
60 Minutes: Mr Prime Minister, with all due respect, we’re not. It was only two months ago that he escaped and he almost killed...
PM: What I am saying is there is only one prisoner who is responsible for these attacks, and he is now in the security cell.
60 Minutes: But he has escaped three times, sir, in the last 8 months.
PM: And he’s been recaptured three times.
60 Minutes: After. After he committed the crimes.
PM: You know, I cannot argue with you on that point. As I said, it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
60 Minutes: Prime Minister, over the last seven years Australia has given you more than 15 million dollars under the Samoa-Australia police partnership. Their remit is to improve security and safety on the ground. That’s 2 million dollars a year.
PM: And we have seen considerable improvement of security. When it specifically comes to the prison, we did ask a donor recently to build a security fence and also the buildings at a new location and it was denied...
60 Minutes: But why didn’t you use any of that money to build the fence?
PM: ... So now we are providing from our own resources. You should ask the Police where the money has been utilised. There have been a lot of reforms within the Police Ministry in General Police. As you know we are talking about general policing and correctional prison services. These are the two different...
60 Minutes: Arms
PM: ... Ministries now, and recently we have separated Prison Services from the charge of the Police Minister. To ensure that the Minister who is now in charge of Prison Services will focus more on issues relating to the prison services.
60 Minutes: That was four days ago. You’ve had a cabinet reshuffle.
60 Minutes: You’ve got now a new Minister for Prisons.
PM: That’s right.
60 Minutes: So is that an admission that things are a complete mess?
PM: Well it’s more....
60 Minutes: Acknowledgement.
PM: ... the plans by the government to improve security in the prison.
60 Minutes: But you’re trying to get it right, now?
60 Minutes: But Prime Minister just coming back to that, I’m sorry I’ve got to come back to it, that’s an awful lot of money. Over two million dollars a year from Australia, just on security and safety, for seven years. Where has all that money gone if you can’t even build a fence?
PM: There’s a fence there. Have you gone and seen the prison?
60 Minutes: Yes the fence is pathetic sir.
PM: Well, that’s a fence. And with prisoners that are better behaved, that fence is good security for them.
60 Minutes: But a proper fence.
PM: Look, in any prison and with any prison fence anywhere in the world - if you have prisoners who want to get out, they can always find a way to get out.
60 Minutes: But a simple, solid fence would go a long way to start wouldn’t it?
PM: What I mean here is that in any country in the world, with a maximum security, if there are prisoners there who intend to get out, they will always find a way out. Regardless of whatever fence you put up.
60 Minutes: What about the other 35 million dollars that’s left over in general aid that Australia gives you. Why don’t you use some of that for the fence?
PM: Remember that allocation of this aid is not solely the decision of the government. It has to be agreed to with Australia.
60 Minutes: Well I’m sure Australia would agree that public safety is very important.
PM: Yes public safety is very important. But you have to agree that it cannot be done on the wishes of one government only.
60 Minutes: No. But, you know, you surely cannot have a situation where maximum security prisoners can walk out when they choose.
PM: We have the plans in place.
60 Minutes: You have the plans in place but no fence in place.
PM: Yes we have plans in place now.
60 Minutes: How long do you think that will take you?
PM: It’s provided for in the budget and the budget has already been passed, so we should start building.
60 Minutes: How many rapes or robberies before then?
PM: You’re asking me like I know all these things. No one in the world knows what happens tomorrow.
60 Minutes: But you do know, what you do know...
PM: What I do know, is that this one case only, of a prisoner that came out and did the crime. One case. And you’re trying to make an issue and say that it will happen tomorrow and the day after. This prisoner is now in maximum security.
60 Minutes: Well I’m sure the Chinese businessman, who almost died two months ago from not only Tualima but another accomplice, would not agree with you.
PM: Yes. But we’ve also taken measures.
60 Minutes: What measures are they?
PM: Preventive measures.
60 Minutes: You see, if we talk about what we do know, what we do know from the Ombudsman’s report from the United Nations, is that the current prison is infested with rats and cockroaches and has not got enough clean water and...
PM: I like that report because it draws our attention to what we need to do and improve upon. I don’t take that report as a kind of report that shows a government is ignoring what needs to be done. What is good about the report is that it draws our attention to what we have to do.
There were many times that we were told we should build our prison to be like the prisons of your country, like a hotel. You must remember that Samoa has just become a country graduated out of the Least Developing Country list. You cannot just come and expect us to be like Australia.
60 Minutes: But what has that got to do with basic security?
PM: Basic security, we are taking care of that now.
60 Minutes: We are not asking you to put flat screen TVs and coffee machines in the cells, we are just asking you to keep the prisoners inside.
PM: That’s right. That’s our concern too.
60 Minutes: Well I’m pleased to hear that. It doesn’t seem to be working.
PM: That’s our concern. What I am saying is that everything you do to be a developed country costs money, so you have to relate it also to the amount of money you have in your..
60 Minutes: In your kitty.
PM: ... In your kitty. And there isn’t just one. You have hundreds and hundreds of different priorities. It’s not just one priority.
60 Minutes: So it’s a work in progress.
60 Minutes: So should tourists stay away in the meantime? Before that prison is finished?
PM: I don’t think tourists will stay away.
60 Minutes: Do you think they should for their own safety?
PM: Some may stay away, but others will continue to come. My message is, stay where it is safe.
60 Minutes: So that business, what’s happened to the businessman who’s put his neck on the line financially to support Samoa?
PM: I think he is learning. And all he has to do is employ a couple of securities. That will help him.
60 Minutes: Well why wasn’t there a warning on the Samoan tourist brochure, saying look don’t stay there it’s unsafe.
PM: Look, many times, you only become wise after an event has happened.
60 Minutes: It’s a hard mistake to learn.
PM: Well it’s an expensive way to learn. But this is the world. We are not in heaven. Have you learned something about the Bible, it’s the world where evil and good go together.
Even in Australia there are a lot of bad things happening.
60 Minutes: Sir, you describe your own country as paradise in the Pacific…
PM: You can also describe your own country as Paradise in the Pacific. We are all in the Pacific.
60 Minutes: I’m not sure I can go on with that.
PM: You have come all this way. And you should be thankful I have given you the opportunity to talk to me.
60 Minutes: Well we are thankful, and I said at the start of the interview. Can I just ask you.
This goes to the very heart. Tourism is important in Samoa, yes?
PM: Yes, very important.
60 Minutes: It’s crucial, in terms of income for a developing country such as this one.
(At this point, the 60 Minutes Interviewer’s microphone failed, so the interview stalled as the equipment was adjusted)
PM: How many of you have come for this story?
60 Minutes: Sorry, my microphone is off. There are four of us.
PM: This is your first time?
60 Minutes: To Samoa, yes.
PM: And you see it’s a beautiful country.
60 Minutes: No doubt about it, you’ve got a lot of assets.
PM: I want you to come back in one year’s time.
60 Minutes: I’ll take that as a personal invitation.
PM: Oh yes, and I’m now inviting you to come before the 1st of June next year. Around the time of our Independence. I will take you to the villages and see our village councils and women’s councils in the villages, which also act as para-police, that lay down the rules of behaviour in the village.
60 Minutes: Are you talking about the matai system?
PM: The Matai system. In areas where there is a breakdown of the matai system, these bad things tend to happen. It’s a part of our culture too that we have been looking at our prison system, and perhaps see what elements of our cultural traditions will help in discouraging our prisoners from evil acts. We have the rehabilitation programmes now and that is why we changed our laws several years ago, because we realized that we have concentrated too much on general policing and we have tended to overlook the need for greater reforms in our prison system. It seems that we have continued on from the old perceptions from the colonial times - that prisons are there to keep prisoners and protect society from them - more than the current concept worldwide of a correctional institution that works on programmes to rehabilitate. That was the oversight we had prior to the separation of the two institutions a couple of years ago.
60 Minutes: You have the Samoan weekend parole system, don’t you, which is unique. So you let prisoners out on weekends to go to families or to go to church. But this seems to have been abused.
PM: We have also tightened that up and prisoners themselves are taking responsibility to ensure that those who go out do not breach their weekend leave privileges, because it means the others will suffer. And it has worked out.
60 Minutes: Well your crime rate has gone up in the last twelve months. So clearly it’s not working so well.
PM: We have also tightened the regulations.
60 Minutes: What worries me, what would worry me as a tourist or a local, Tualima, he’s the worst of the worst.
PM: We used to keep the worst of the worst in a tight security prison cell.
60 Minutes: But you can’t seem to keep him in. He was doing twenty years, and then he escaped. And then he escaped again.
PM: No one can escape when we put them in the security cell.
60 Minutes: Why was he not in it nine months ago?
PM: You know, we too have taken up a drive for reforms. That we should look at these people not as prisoners, but more as human beings.
60 Minutes: But Prime Minister, this is your worst home-grown criminal.
PM: Every country has worst, home-grown criminals.
60 Minutes: But you haven’t got a maximum security cell?
PM: We have maximum security cells, but you see even in Samoa, we do have people with very liberal views who feel we should stop using those maximum security cells and we should treat prisoners as human beings. After all, when we face some of these prisoners, they may look perfectly normal. I think that’s what’s happened. You know this impacts also on our police officers in prison. They have been accused of treating prisoners very harshly, and they have been under great restraint - particularly with our strong drive for human rights. I have received numerous correspondences from our Ombudsman and from the Police, where they differ greatly on the ideal treatment of the prisoners.
60 Minutes: Are you saying the police have been too harsh on prisoners?
PM: They have been in the past. But I’m sure it happens also in Australia where today you have people who shoot other people and then when the police move in and kill them, many complain that the police should never have done that.
I mean, we are living in the kind of society where we have to try to look at balancing the kind of acts that we should do to ensure that we do not overstep and treat prisoners as animals.
60 Minutes: The Ombudsman says that the Samoan Prisons and corrective services says one thing and does another.
PM: That’s one of the reasons why there is a change of Ministerial portfolio.
60 Minutes: So was the previous Prisons Minister not good?
PM: No, it’s not a question of that. It’s a conflict of priority. You remember the very wise saying in the Bible, “if you serve two masters, you tend to honor one and forgo the other”.
That’s what happens when you have the General Policing and Prisons under one Minister.
60 Minutes: Well that’s not a very good sign because the Police Minister is now the Minister of Tourism and Police. That’s two big masters. How’s he going to be able to handle that? Police and tourism.
PM: Tourism and police, there should be no conflict.
60 Minutes: So. So, let me get one thing straight. From today, what confidence can any tourist or local have that they will be safe from prisoners free to roam the island?
PM: You know we have much better prison facilities right now, compared to ten years ago and tourists continue to rise in numbers.
60 Minutes: Prime Minister I have been out to the prison. It is woefully inadequate.
PM: And we are doing something about it. One of the worse things in any government is to have a problem in its police and prisons, and nothing is done.
60 Minutes: But until you build the new prison, sir, what are you doing right now?
PM: We continue to improve our methodologies. We have to give the new Minister time to put in place the needed reforms. I spoke to him last night.
60 Minutes: Will he be building the new fence?
PM: Yes. As I said, that’s exactly why we provided funds in the budget.
60 Minutes: And in the meantime, can Tualima get out? Again? For the fourth time?
PM: Well he is not out. He is in.
60 Minutes: For the time being.
PM: He could be there forever.
60 Minutes: With the way he’s going, he will be, won’t he?
PM: I cannot speculate on that. Obviously you don’t believe me.
60 Minutes: Well, as Prime Minister, you cannot influence the judge to sentence. So let me ask you this, what would you like to see him get. Purely for the rape and robbery of Angie and Tom?
PM: That is the prerogative of the judge.
60 Minutes: But what would you like to see?
PM: That’s why I like you, the media. You always want to put Prime Ministers at a wrong step. You see, I cannot control the judge. I trust the judge.
60 Minutes: You can’t be seen to be influencing him anyway, under the Westminster system anyway, but I’m asking you a question about what’s in your heart. I’m not asking you about him, I just want to know..
PM: What’s in my heart is that no prisoner will get out again. And that we provide funds to continue to improve our new prison security. And that we will continue to put in place the appropriate policies of rehabilitation, to take care of the prison security and the needs of the prisoners.
60 Minutes: In the meantime you hope the tourists are safe?