Brand new $18.2 million prison, one sleeping guard

Let’s see. After all the hype about how a brand new $18.2 million prison of “international standards” would align Samoa’s prisons with “some of the best and most secured prisons in the world,” here we are today with that all too familiar feeling of deja vu.

That’s right, contrary to all the promises, feel good speeches and the assurances from the Government on the safety of members of the public from escaped convicts, it has taken two of the most notorious prisoners in Samoa just over two months to work out how to break out of a brand new multi-million-tala jail.

In case you are not aware, we are talking about something that is on everyone’s mind today; the fact that extremely dangerous criminals Lauititi Tualima and Aniseko Vaelei have escaped from prison once more.

As we speak, they could be anywhere. It’s gets worse of course. The latest prison break means there are three extremely dangerous convicts at large in Samoa, since they still have not captured Pati Chong Nee who has been on the run since the beginning the year.

Why should you and I be concerned? It’s simple really.

Firstly, Tualima has proven to be one of the most dangerous criminals in Samoa, with a string of criminal offences to his name including the abhorrent international embarrassment he perpetrated by raping a tourist at the Treesort in 2015. How can we forget that 60 Minutes episode?

Vaelei on the other hand accompanied Chong Nee when they broke away from Tafa’igata. They went on to commit a series of thefts and robberies. In one of those cases, they netted $60,000.  

And now that we have these three men at large again, how are members of the public supposed to feel?

Imagine the victims of these men’s previous offending. They would be shaking in fear knowing that they could be victimised all over again, no thanks to this Government’s inability to perform a very simple task of keeping prisoners behind bars.

So what happened? And who is responsible for this latest major embarrassment?

Well the Minister of Prisons, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, has not attempted to hide the truth, which is good. That is, even an $18 million piece of infrastructure cannot do the job on its own if officials are lazy and unreliable.

In other words, you can have the best looking prison costing up to a hundred million tala but if guards are slack and the systems are found wanting, all that investment becomes an utter waste.

Which is precisely what happened on Sunday morning when Lauititi and Vaelei, who were kept in the same cell, hatched their grand plan to escape.

The first question is, how could they keep Lauititi and Vaelei in the same cell, knowing what they are capable of? You don’t need to be a rocket scientist or an expert in prison security to know that these men should have been kept in separate cells.

Another disturbing fact is that the prison was severely understaffed and the one guard responsible for the cell was sleeping. Again, this just boggles the mind.

How can one guard be responsible for an entire prison population? This has got to be the height of being irresponsible.

Listen to the Minister once again. He said: "One was on duty that night, but up there is really secure, even without a guard it is still secure. It’s all because the guard on duty opened the cell gate, that’s all."

What is the Minister saying? Is he suggesting that even without a guard the prison is secured? Really? Well look at what has transpired Mr. Minister.

This is why the Prison needs enough prison guards. They serve a purpose.

Here’s another extremely disturbing fact.  As of today, the four-metre high perimeter fence on the outside of the prison remains unfinished. What that means is there is absolutely no guarantee that there will not be another prison break soon.

And what does the Minister have to say about this?

"It depends on the contract,” he said. “[The] only thing left is the back area with some cement poles that have recently been erected. The contract ends in October. But inside the perimeter of the prisons is already secured, and in the cell blocks it’s all still secured, unless someone opens it.”

Let’s settle something right here and now. The Minister cannot say that the prison is secured. It is not. Why? Isn’t it obvious? If the prison was secured, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today, would we?

The fact is, and this is perhaps the most disappointing part, is that you’d think with all the millions of taxpayers monies spent on the facility, the Government would have done its donkey work first and ensured there was enough manpower to run it. An $18.2 million prison facility with a chronic shortage of prison guards is a recipe for disaster. It’s like having a brand new Moto’otua hospital without doctors.

The point is that you’d think with all those laui’a in there and the millions they’ve spent on this project that they would have come up with a solution to such a fundamental problem at the prison? Or do we need to throw in another $10 million tala to find a solution?

Here’s a free suggestion: perhaps its time for the Government to open a facility to train prison guards and correctional officers. 

That’s what we think anyway. What do you think? Share your thoughts with us!

Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!


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