Address the real problems

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 19 July 2016, 12:00AM

The behavior of a lone prisoner who has become the talking point among Australians and anyone else anyone who would have watched the 60 Minutes programme has done Samoa’s reputation a lot of damage. That much is undeniable. 

But here is the chilling truth ladies and gentlemen; he is a small part of a bigger problem. Not taking away from the seriousness of what he did to this poor Australian couple who did not deserve what happened to them, it must be said that Lauitiiti Tualima has become the face of an issue that deserves a lot more attention, urgently.

We’re talking about the recurring problem of prisoners waltzing out of Tafa’igata at will, causing irreparable damage to the community.

They rob innocent members of the public, they rape unsuspecting young girls and mothers, they beat up business people for their money and the list of their heinous offending goes on. It’s horrific. We know this. It’s been happening for so long. It’s a miracle that no one has died yet but then it might not stay this way for long.

We did not need a 60 Minute programme to remind us this ugly truth. The fact of the matter is that it has been happening for such a long time the unwanted exposure Samoa has received today could have been avoided had the relevant authorities acted sooner.

Sadly, they turned a blind eye so that the offending became regular and every time there was a story on the pages of this newspaper – or in any other media for that matter – about prisoners breaking away and wreaking havoc out there; it was treated as if it was normal. 

Of course it wasn’t normal. It should never have been accepted and the alarm bells should have been taken a lot more seriously. 

Alas, Samoa today has become the laughing stock of the world in our day of shame. And down the drain with it are efforts to promote Samoa as a tourism destination and all the hard work being done to attract visitors to this country.

As Samoans, it’s hard not to feel embarrassed about the way our proud nation has been portrayed. Of all the wonderful things about this country and our people, in the eyes of people who don’t know anything about us, we are not better than a country of rapists, a people who live in a paradise where criminals run around freely, doing whatever they want.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We are a much better country than that. We are a nation of caring souls who for the most part love and embrace visitors to our shores. 

But as they say, one bad apple is all it takes to ruin that image. The condemnation and the outrage from members of the community in Samoa and abroad is understandable. 

But the anger directed at 60 Minutes exposing the light on the issue is misguided. 

Folks, let’s not be irrational about this. And let’s not allow our silly pride to blind us from the truth. For such a long time now, we have been saying that the government’s attitude towards security at Tafa’igata Prison is unacceptable.

And they should feel responsible for what has happened, knowing how much money has been wasted through “corrupt practices” that could have been better used to at least build a fence at the prison. 

But that is just one issue. Then there are of course the more serious issues of rape, incest, petty crimes, robbery, violence against women and the list goes on. These are equally unacceptable and in terms of the bigger picture, they are issues which require all of us to come together so we can start working on ways to solve them. 

Getting back to Tafa’igata Prison, let’s be reminded here again that the idea of jail is not just to teach prisoners a lesson. 

One of the most important elements of sending them to jail is to protect members of the public from them. They are criminals and they should be kept away from us.

Over the years, we’ve had some many innocent members of the public hurt by these prisoners.  The Australian couple in the 60 Minute story has become the most high profile case of many cases that are swept under the carpet and ignored.

Suffice to say, this couple did not deserve what happened to them. They - and many locals who have suffered every time these prisoners break out - should have been protected by the authorities, making sure that criminals like Tualima, are kept behind bars where he truly belongs. 

When will this government wake up and say enough is enough? When will it stop making silly excuses and do something about it?

Here’s the fact, as long as prisoners continue to walk out at will, no one in this country is safe - including tourists. And we might not have seen the last of programmes such as 60 Minutes. 

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 19 July 2016, 12:00AM

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