The disregard of Departure Prohibition Orders worrying

The question of how secure are our national borders would have been on a lot of peoples’ minds, following revelations of a murder accused slipping through the net.

The Supreme Court has issued a warrant of arrest for Junior Vai of Vaitele, after the prosecution advised the Court the accused had left the country, despite surrendering his travel documents to the Court in July last year. 

Details of the case were highlighted in an article titled “Murder accused flees country after surrendering passport”, which was published in the March 15, 2020 edition of the Sunday Samoan.

According to the Prosecutor and Assistant Attorney General, Magele Leone Su’a, the accused surrendered his travel documents on July 17 last year and was given instructions to sign in at the Police station.

However, she said he still managed to leave despite handing over his travel documents, consequently leading to the Supreme Court’s Justice Leiataualesa Daryl Clarke, issuing a warrant of arrest for him.

The ability of the accused to exit the country – despite surrounding his travel documents to the Court – should immediately raise alarm bells.

At a time when restrictions at the country’s air and maritime boundaries have quadrupled, as the Government ups the ante in its bid to keep out the coronavirus (COVID-19), we would have thought that it would have been next to impossible for anyone to leave or get into the country without proper authorisation.

Therefore, we look forward to a response or a statement from the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet C.E.O., Agafili Shem Leo on whether the Immigration Department is aware of a departure prohibition order for the accused, or if he was issued with an alternative travel document which he used to facilitate his departure.

History has shown that some subjects of Departure Prohibition Orders (D.P.O.), issued by the authorities in Apia including the Courts, have over the years managed to get out of the country despite the orders.

In August 2018 the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet began an investigation into how businessman Tui Vaai Jr was issued with a new passport, which enabled him to leave the country despite the existence of a D.P.O. at that time.

The then Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration C.E.O., Papali’i John Afele Taimalelagi, confirmed at that time that the Court had his Samoan and New Zealand passports in its possession at that time. 

In August 2019, mother of three Alasa Ropeti, queried the authorities on how her husband Ropeti Sione travelled to Australia in 2017 despite the existence of a D.P.O. against him relating to child maintenance financial support.

It was later alleged that he created a fake passport with the Immigration Department saying he will face criminal charges on his return. He returned to Samoa a month later and was taken in by the Police for questioning.

The increasing practice by people – who come under the scrutiny of the Court or any other legitimate law enforcement agency – to ignore a lawful order and collude with others to bypass the law is a cause for concern.

The ease at which people – who have come under the scrutiny of the law – are able to find alternative travel documents to facilitate their exit should worry the Immigration Department and the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

It also raises questions about the integrity of Samoa’s travel documents application process, especially after the sentencing in March last year of former immigration officer, David Nomeneta Uaine over illegal passport sales.

With the Government over the weekend imposing more restrictions on incoming travellers to Samoa to ensure the COVID-19 threat is kept at bay, authorities including the Immigration Department should not drop its guard, and must ensure its internal systems are foolproof and not vulnerable to abuse.

We acknowledge the severity of the threat posed by the virus to our people, but keeping a close eye on all immigration operations rather than just our international gateways, would ensure our first lines of defense are protected against predators – including those who are on the run from the law.

Have a lovely Monday Samoa and God bless. 

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