Minister says sorry in prison break fallout
The Minister of Prisons, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, has publicly apologised for the failure of the Samoa Prisons and Correctional Services staff, which allowed two dangerous criminals to escape on Sunday.
While the apology comes after Lauititi Tualima and Aniseko Vaelei have been recaptured, the Minister insists it has to be done.
The fallout from the incident has seen the Commissioner of Prisons, Taitosaua Edward Winterstein, suspended.
The Corrections Officer at the prison on Sunday night has also been sacked, the Minister confirmed.
“Members of the public were troubled when they received the news that Lautiti and Aniseko’s had broken out of jail given their criminal history,” he said.
“I want to make it clear this was only possible for the prisoners to escape when the Correction Officer opened the cells.
“In saying that, a full inquiry of the Prisons will be conducted. The Attorney General is currently working on the terms of reference and a special committee will be selected.”
The latest escape has become a major embarrassment for the Government, especially when it has happened merely two months after the $18.2 million facility was opened.
Member of Parliament for Salega, Olo Fiti Vaai, said the incident is a major failure on the part of the Government, especially the Ministry of Prisons.
“The Minister failed in his role. At the end of the day, he’s at fault,” Olo said.
He added that the Commissioner Taitosaua should not take on the blame by himself.
“The Minister should do the honorable thing and step down,” Olo said. “He has failed; if not the Prime Minister should reshuffle his Cabinet.”
Asked for a comment in response to Olo, Tialavea said the call to suspend him from his Ministerial portfolio is entirely up to Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi.
“In my Ministerial role, I have fulfilled my obligations,” he said. “We have relocated the prison to further-in-land and the government funded a brand new facility. One can only do so much.”
The Minister said he couldn’t do everything.
“The operation and carrying out the core function of the prison was left to the staff and the management. I cannot be there 24 hours and seven days a week to monitor the security of the prison.”
The Minister added that he also has other government work and ministries in his portfolio. This includes the Ministry of Revenue and Customs.
Asked if he does not feel that he has too much on his plate, Tialavea said no.
“I am not under pressure,” he said. “The staff (at Tanumalala Prison) failed to do their job.
“Up until this day, I cannot get fathom how the two prisoners were placed in one cell,” he said.
The Minister concluded by acknowledging the assistance of the public and the Police in recapturing of Tualima and Vaelei.