Tafa’igata Hilton, sumo wrestlers and prison escapees

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Orlando Huaman*

Is the Tafa’igata prison, a prison or a hotel? 

It looks more like a hotel, where the inmates (customers) are forced to check in, but the check out time is up to them. 

Some stay for their terms but others decide to take a break outside and pick up their goodies since it is delayed receiving them at the “hotel”. 

Welcome to Tafa’igata Hilton!

It is alarming not only the “early release” of some inmates, but also the plain inefficiency of those running the facility. To say that they are short of personnel is never an excuse. It is like saying the baker burned the bread because they did not have enough help. Their internal corruption caused that seven officers were suspended and not replaced, even temporarily. 

670 is the current population of the prison manned by less than a hundred officers. Now called “sumo wrestlers” by our P.M. That makes about one officer for every six inmates.  Just imagine; a teacher can handle up to 40 students. A good management can do more with less. 

Robots are highly sought, in advanced countries, to run prisons. Why? They don’t get tired, they don’t smoke, they are not bribed, they are immune to corrupt practices. Most of all, they don’t need letters of recommendation.

To say that the prison does not have a security fence is highly ridiculous. Whoever planned that prison lacked common sense, and those running it have gone along without that fence as it does not matter. Ten inmates decided to escape, no big deal for them. 

Somebody from the inside have to have provided the necessary tool(s) to break the cell wall. No big deal either, since inmates and officers are buddy –buddies. Corruption is the name of the game. That takes time and makes noise. Where were the so called vigilant? To add insult to injure; one slim inmate goes out first, the obese ones could not make through that hole, so, he enlarged the hole from the outside. Nice job. 

That also takes time and make noise. As in the case of the inmate that was found drown in his cell: and his cries for help never were heard, same was this time. How often do they patrol the premises? Probably when they feel like it. Just suppose, among those escapes some decide Saturday night to, rob, assault or rape somebody.

And very probably could have happened, who knows? While we the people of Samoa think that those criminals are in a secure prison, the reality is something else. Just like we don’t have safe food, we do not have safe prisons. So this is an example how badly the prison is run. 

A compound fact is that people to run the facility are not the right ones. As it is well known, we in Samoa, are very weak in the hiring department. The principle is: They have to hire somebody and they do regardless of fitness for the position. Numbers won’t do, quality of people to run an operation is what counts. A  good manager can do more with less.

When a new Prison Commissioner was appointed I thought that thing swere going to change, even slowly but a change nevertheless.. Taito and I worked for the now SROS, and it surprised me that a man in Renewable Energy position would jump to run a prison. Because it was “the best job available “ for him.

 I am not entirely unfamiliar with Tafa’igata prison because I was there. 

Now, hold your breath man, not as a prisoner but I was invited to give a lecture on finances to the soon to be released women. That was 2010.The women then, seemed to me so happy, relaxed, as if they were in a village meeting.

 In fact I was surprised when one of them showed up at my office in Mulivai. She claimed that some “friend” at the prison allowed her to be in town for a day. Wow, that simple! Even some  “favourite” inmate can work at the house of the big shot at the prison. Just imagine corruption as it best. 

The prison have even a church, Just in case somebody want to get marry regardless of gender. 

Plans are being made to move the prison elsewhere. Good thinking. Let us make sure that the first thing to build is a security fence around the premises. And most of all choose the right people to run it. That is: young, athletic, no “beer belly” guys. Army veterans (from A.S.) would be fine Take your time, the lives of the population is at risk if break outs are not stopped, period.

Just a few days ago some prisoners escaped, one still at large. Rightly so, it was attributed to bad management. 

No doubt about it. Meaning we have to be very weary who are the prisoners but also who is running the prison. Common sense went out the window when thinking how to punish bad people. When prisoners realized that “nobody is minding the store” meaning guards not be trained to be people chasers; so they figure those sumo wrestler guards can easily be outrun.

So it is easier to outrun the sumo wrestlers than make a hole. Besides the hole have to be big enough and takes time and noise.

The Ministry of Prisons, by the nature of the term, have to realize that he is running a prison not a nursery. Imagine let one of the worst criminals of all time go out to get his matai title! The moral of the story is that the prison is run, from the minister down by softhearted people. 

It is all blamed in the way people in all levels of responsibility in Samoa are not hired the scientific way but the buddy, buddy mode. If the hiring method is not changed the country will not move forward. 

Take agriculture-supposedly, one of the pillars of our economy, now run by Chinese farmers, who will teach us how to plant watermelons and the like. Don’t we have capable youth who can be trained abroad and come back and help the poor farmers be more productive? Now what would happen when the Chinese leave at the end of Phase IV? 

The farmers will revert to their old ways of doing things. Why? Because what we need is permanent “consultants” and that would be our own youth-trained abroad to implement the new technologies in agriculture. Does it make sense? 

 The key question here is: When are we going to start helping ourselves? 

China is obviously taking advantage of weak leaders everywhere. And Australia is jealous of their manipulations. Are we sure Samoa is an independent and Christian country?

 

*Orlando Huaman is a freelance writer. Malololelei.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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