Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has defended his decision to front the 60 Minutes interview where he was questioned about security in Samoa in light of the behavior of the country’s most dangerous criminal, Lautiti Tualima.
Critics of the government in Samoa and overseas believe the Prime Minister should never have fronted such an interview.
They say that someone of a lower ranking should have been delegated by Tuilaepa to be interviewed.
But Tuilaepa disagrees.
In an interview with the state-owned Savali Newspaper released by the Office of the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa said it was important for him to be interviewed.
“A leader who does not face the problems head on is no leader at all,” he is quoted as saying. “It's easy to just ignore and not say anything. But you can't just take the good and ignore the bad. It's life.
“I agreed to the interview because it's important for government to share its perspective and provide updates on what we are doing to improve our services.
“With these interviews, there is always the hope that reporters will provide a balanced story and report ethically without trying to sway the audiences towards one side or change the context of your answers. But there is no way to control that because we don't control the media.
“All we can do is answer the questions and trust that the reporters are responsible and fair.”
According to the Prime Minister, his government is not afraid of the bad because in it are lessons for the future.
“We can only do better from here,” he said.
Tuilaepa said the online responses from overseas have been quite negative.
”In any case, the story was not about me, it was supposed to focus on the Australian couple who suffered at the hands of a criminal.”
Here is part of the interview:
Savali: A lot of the criticisms leveled against you are because you appear to be unsympathetic to what happened to the couple. Is this true?
Prime Minister: As I told the 60 Minutes people, my heart goes out to the couple from Australia. It was a terrible thing to happen to anyone, and for a guest of this country to be treated like that, it's a very bad way for a visitor to experience what Samoa has to offer. That's not what Samoa is about. This country is built on respect and faith in God. But we all know that there is good and bad in the world, and sometimes the devil gets the better of us.
Savali: Is Samoa safe?
Prime Minister: Yes. You live here. I live here. We all know Samoa is safe. One of the safest destinations to visit and holiday. Every year our tourist numbers go up. What happened to the Australian couple was terrible, but it was the first time something like that has happened and it was as shocking to us here as it was overseas. That kind of thing doesn't happen every day.
Savali: What about the prison? Why don't you build a big fence, like the prison fences overseas?
Prime Minister: We are building a new prison and fence at a new location. The recent budget has allocations for the new prison project. We have started work on it already with clearing the land and other preparations for construction.
Savali: And the Australian government assistance for police and security projects?
Prime Minister: If you talk to the Police and to any of the relevant agencies about that, you'll know that the funding is being utilised for what it has been earmarked for. It's very simplistic to point the finger at a sum of money and then naively demand why it hasn't been used for something it was not meant for.
You have to remember that governments have many priority areas, and there is no government in the world with too much money to spare. We have only just graduated out of Least Developing Country status. Capacity and funding takes time to build and implement. This is the reality of any government, and Samoa is no different.
Savali: What about the fence, why not just use some of that AusAid money to build it?
Prime Minister: Donor funding is spent on projects that have been agreed to by both sides. And there are long, long lists of priority areas that need funding. We had previously requested with one of our donors for assistance to improve prison security but it was denied. This is why we have tried to provide for it ourselves, in our budget this year.
Savali: What will happen to Tafaigata in the meantime?
Prime Minister: We have taken measures to ensure that our most dangerous criminals, like Lauititi Tualima, are kept in maximum security. For the most part, the rest of the prisoners in there are peaceful and respect each other enough to accept that they must serve their punishment and follow the rules.
You can never predict the future, but the Prison services are making the necessary changes and improvements to ensure we do what we can to avoid anything like this happening again.
Savali: So what did you think about the 60 Minutes interview?
Prime Minister: Look, the media is the media. Maybe it was a little disappointing because we talked for more than half an hour, and in the end they decided to use only about two minutes of our conversation in their entire story, but I've come to accept that the media will do what the media wants to do. It's all about business and sales these days.