$20m on a prison? What about poverty, hardship and people struggling with cost of living?

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

We know this much. This country needs better prison facilities for reasons that are obvious. Apart from the fact that the prison population is growing rapidly, the idea that two more prisoners escaped from Tafa’igata yesterday is further evidence something needs to be done urgently to improve the way they are locked away.

But does the need justify the Government’s plan to spend $20million of taxpayers monies for the project? And can the Government guarantee that the $20million facility, which could very well cost more, will really keep prisoners like prolific prison escapee, Tualima Lauititi, behind bars? 

These are relevant questions we need to be asking ourselves today for the simple reason that the $20million the Government plans to spend on a prison facility seems a bit over the top. 

We need a better prison and a secured fence for sure, but couldn’t it be done at a cheaper price? 

Interestingly enough, the Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti, believes the investment is justified. That’s what he said on the front page of your newspaper yesterday.

“I think to me if it’s $20million or $25million, it is a great investment,” Sili said. Again $20 or $25 million is sufficient, however if we delay for another five years, it will cost more than $30million.”

Let’s pause here for a second. An investment in a prison facility? Seriously? 

The idea sounds ludicrous. 

Who in their right mind – apart from the Samoan Government - would invest in a prison facility? How does one plan to recover money from investing in a prison facility unless you are planning to charge prisoners for their rooms and room service?

Perhaps this is what the Government is not saying. 

Maybe they are thinking of making the Tafa’igata Prison a five-star facility with a swimming pool so that more and more people would like to visit the place and stay there. Even more so, maybe all those millions would include air-conditioned rooms, massage parlours, chefs and even a golf course to ensure prisoners don’t get bored. While at it, why not provide a bus to shuttle prisoners around the island for trips to the beach and to town for weekly shopping.

Again, don’t get us wrong. 

We agree that this country needs a better prison. 

But isn’t it cruel that as ordinary citizens are crying out for help every day for basic things like water, electricity, clothing, education needs and more, this Government has just gone ahead and announced such a crazy plan?

We talk about priorities a lot; someone in this all-powerful Government sure has their priorities in the right order, alright? How does a prison facility stack up against basic needs like water, hospitals, schools and the growing number of people struggling with hardship and poverty?

Now those Government Ministers need to pay attention. 

You can have a $100million tala prison facility with all its whistles and bells, but if you don’t fix the system that is allowing prisoners to run away at will; it will be a waste of money and time. 

The problems we are seeing today at Tafa’igata are more than the result of a bad facility. It has everything to do with a system that is rotten and needs to be fixed. It involves getting more prison guards – and ensuring that any hint of collusion and corruption – is done away with completely.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is not normal for prisoners to run away just about every day and yet that is precisely what is happening in Samoa. One prisoner ran away during the Christmas holidays and he is still at large. Two more ran away yesterday. Absolutely pathetic.

This reflects badly on the people running the prison. Heads should roll and an inquiry should be launched. If people start to think that this is an inside job, can you blame them?

Now going back to the $20milllion cost of that prison, someone told this column yesterday that an infrared perimeter can be easily set up for the less than $50,000. What this does is that when a prison tries to escape and the infrared laser is crossed, it would set off the alarm system which would stop so many of these escapes.

Why on earth hasn’t anyone taken up the offer and the initiative to do this? 

Sometimes you wonder. 

And with this $20million plan, you really have to ask what on earth is this government thinking? 

What do you think? 

Have a safe weekend Samoa, God bless!

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