Jail woes and holding leaders accountable

It is only the second month of a new year and the wheels that make up Samoa’s law and justice sector have switched into first gear.

Last Friday the Cabinet decided to reinstate the Commissioner of Prisons and Correction Service, Taitosaua Edward Winterstein, who was suspended for five months last year over the jailbreak of two notorious criminals.

Yesterday Police Commissioner Fuiavaili'ili Egon Keil confirmed the recapture of 60-year-old prison escapee Suitupe Faamoe, who was on the run for nine months before the Police cornered him.

The Minister of Prisons and Corrections Service, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, said Cabinet’s decision to reinstate the Commissioner was based on an investigation’s findings. The inquiry found no connection between the Prisons and Correction Service management and the actions of a security guard to open the cell which led to the prisoners’ escape.

“It was clear [from the investigation] the prison guard was solely responsible for opening the cell for the prisoners and led to their escape,” he told this newspaper.

“We still don’t know the reason why he [prison guard] did it but it was clear that the prison was understaffed on that shift.” 

Asked about the outcome of the investigation into the Prison's Management, the Minister said the Management had no control of the prison guards action. 

“The Management includes me as the Minister and the buck starts from me,” he said. "It doesn’t matter how many trainings are done [for staff] if the guard opened the cell we had no control over that.”

It is perplexing that the Minister and the Cabinet did not see the link between the understaffing of a multimillion tala prison facility, the jailbreak by inmates, and the need by the Prison's Management to be on top of things. From our perspective, the understaffing of a prison facility housing criminals should be a priority for a Prison's Management at all times. 

The fact that the guard made a unilateral decision to open the cell, which enabled the escape of two criminals, confirms that the understaffing issue is already having ramifications on the overall security of Samoa’s maximum prison.

If the Minister thinks the issue of understaffing doesn't warrant the attention of the Prison's Management, then he is in the wrong job as the buck stops with him as the one with ministerial oversight. 

While it is good to know that the offending jail warden was sacked, but the continued employment of his superior, who left him unsupervised in the first place and placed him in a position to make those decisions, should also come under scrutiny. 

His superior should also be sacked for failing to ensure his unit was effectively supervised that night, and the reinstated Commissioner should be put on notice by the Cabinet, for failing to address these underlying issues.

Amidst the challenges currently facing Prisons and Correction Service, serial prison escapee and notorious criminal, Pati Sonny Chong Nee, remains on the loose. He will clock 12 months of evading arrest on January 19 this year. The criminal’s ‘freedom’, of course, comes at the expense of law abiding citizens – and remains a blight on the record of Prisons and Correction Service.

Having only commissioned the Tanumalala Prison seven months ago, which has so far cost taxpayers up to $18 million tala, the public would want the custodians of this facility to give the job their 110 per cent.

Citizens would feel cheated if prison guards were caught sleeping on the job, are lacking supervision in carrying out their roles, which would ultimately call into question their own responsibilities as prison wardens. 

Having ushered in a new year, perhaps, it is time to set performance benchmarks for the country’s top public servants who occupy critically important positions. This includes the position of Commissioner of Prisons and Correction Service.

The Public Service Commission, as the body charged with oversight over the performance of Samoa’s civil servants, should set annual key performance indicators for the country’s top bureaucrats and conduct reviews at year end.

Performance based on their KPIs should determine their longevity in their management positions within the various Government ministries and agencies.

Public servants’ salaries continue to cost taxpayers millions of tala, hence we want to ensure we have the best men and women for the job. Having a monitoring system such as KPs will ensure they are held to account for the benefit of the people.

Have a lovely Friday Samoa and God bless.

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