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Government explains $100,000 bus transfer bill

The Government has defended the $100,000 price tag for an operation to transfer inmates to a new prison by bus, saying most of the money was spent on 'walkie talkies'.

A report on the budget for the operation, which took place across two days in late June, is expected to be submitted to cabinet in coming weeks. 

Ten buses were hired to transfer 400 inmates by bus from Tafaigata to the newly commissioned Tanumalala Prison.

But the Deputy Commissioner for Prison and Correctional Services, Levao Rosa Siaosi, says they were only a portion of the costs, most of which was spent on communications equipment.

Levao said more than one bus service was used on the day in question including Queen Poto Transport and Evaeva transport. 

The Speaker of the House and owner of Queen Poto transport, Leaupepe Toleafoa Fa’afisi, declined to comment when the Samoa Observer visited his residence on Saturday morning, saying Aiono Fa’afisi answered media queries about the family business. 

But the owner of Evaeva buses, confirmed that three of the company’s fleet were used in the transfer operation but only on the first day. 

“We charged $400 tala per bus, per trip,” the company’s owner, Faaolataga Samau, said. 

Some 15 trips were made between Tafaigata and Tanumalala, a distance which police say covers 35 miles, meaning the transport component of the trip, based on Evaeva’s rates, would amount for less than $7000 tala. 

The remaining money, the Deputy Commissioner said on Saturday, was mostly used to pay for communications equipment:

“We also allocated $40,000 plus for the handheld transceiver to use at the new prison; we also provided food and drinks after the operation,” she said. 

"I cannot give you the exact amount spent on the network connection, but the bulk of the [$100,000] was allocated for the walkie talkies”.

The layout of the new prison does not afford visibility, requiring extra communications equipment, the Deputy Commissioner said.

Handheld police radios from Uniden start at US$100 while specialist equipment made by Motorola can exceed US$1000. 

The costs of police manpower to guard the prisoners was not included in the budget, Levao said. 

On the day of the transfer, the Minister for Prisons and Correctional Services, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, said the final costs would likely exceed $100,000 given the safety concerns required by such an operation. 

“I am certain it’s more than that,” the Minister said. 

“We hired 10 buses and we also supplied petrol for police vehicles in the motorcade which consisted of close to ten police vehicles, not including the motorbikes.

“There will also be funds set aside to pay for the overtime incurred not only for the Police Officers and Corrections Officers.”

“Safety is paramount, hence investing $100,000 to the cause."

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