Prisons and priorities

It was mid 2016, when an horrific story flashed around the world about a prisoner who had escaped multiple times from Tafaigata Prison in Samoa. His victims were a young couple visiting from Tasmania, Australia.

As well as committing robbery, assault and then raping the young woman, he also taunted them and threatened to kill them.

A subsequent television programme followed, featuring an interview between a persistent ‘60 Minutes’ journalist, Liam Bartlett and our own Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.

The programme, like the story it was based upon, did not make pleasant viewing whether you lived in Samoa or anywhere else in the world.

And for Australians viewing the programme, it would have been even more difficult to accept the situation, given they had donated about $15 million over seven years to a Samoan-Australian Police Programme. 

And while there were claims by our Government of the Prime Minister being unkindly portrayed and his dialogue being unfairly edited, the facts remained Tafaigata Prison did not have a fence and this career criminal had escaped on more than one occasion.

At that time, July 2016, the Prime Minister invited Mr Bartlett to return to Samoa this year in June (2017) to see the brand new prison which would hopefully boast a fence.

But now here we are in August, only to be told that the new Tanumalala Prison is not only not finished; but it has not even been started.

“The aim is to have the groundbreaking ceremony in two weeks time,” we were told by Assistant Commissioner of Prison and Correction Services, Ulugia Niuia Aumua. 

The delay in starting the project he said, was because the Government was waiting for help from overseas, which presumably means getting other countries or organisations to provide funding.

When there was nothing forthcoming, Government then borrowed from the Unit Trust of Samoa (U.T.O.S.) the 10 million tala needed so the project could begin.

Again, despite an obvious need, Samoa’s 2017 budget was also unable to cover any of the costs which begs the question, what are our priorities?

How about a Safer Samoa for our citizens and visitors being put on the wish list when millions are handed out at budget time? 

In the meantime, we await the news of the name of the successful tender and look forward to seeing the project actually becoming a reality preferably with a secure fence included in the costs.

And while we agree with Ulugia that it will be a happy moment when they finally “relocate to Tanumalala very soon” it was slightly disturbing to hear that his reason was, “to avoid the issues of prisoners escaping.”

We are all hopeful that he does not mean that after all this time, and after everything that has occurred, Tafaigata, in the meantime, is still not secure enough for us to assured that people who are sent to prison will stay there until after they finish their time. 

Please may we be wrong on this.   

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