Cabinet's sweeping prisons changes

Cabinet has endorsed monumental changes Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi hopes will help the Samoa Prisons and Services Commission (S.P.S.C.) keep prisoners behind bars.

The first change is the acceptance of the resignation by the Commissioner of S.P.S.C., Taitosaua Edward Winterstein, who offered to resign on Monday following the latest and perhaps the biggest prison escape in Samoa's history on Monday night. 

Different figures on the number of escapees were quoted by authorities on Tuesday the Police Commissioner said that he estimated a total of 36 prisoners had broken free on Monday, not 29 as had initially been reported. As of Tuesday evening four remained at large. 

The second change is bringing back S.P.S.C. under the watch of the Ministry of Police. It means the Prisons is now under the watch of Police Commissioner, Fuiavaili’ili Egon Keil. A 2013 change took charge of prisons away from the Police. 

The Police now also have a new Minister in Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, who was previously the Minister of Prisons.

The changes were discussed and endorsed by Cabinet on Tuesday morning.

“The decision was endorsed by Cabinet on Tuesday after the mass prison breakout at the Tanumalala Prison on Monday evening where [the] prisoners escaped,” Tialavea said during an interview with the Samoa Observer.

“We will amend the law to reflect the new changes. We will have one Commissioner for the Ministry and maybe one Deputy Commissioner for Police and one Deputy for the Prisons.”

The outgoing Commissioner of Prisons did not want to comment when he was approached by the Samoa Observer.  

Taito’s resignation comes one month after he was reinstated following a five-month suspension, pending an investigation in October last year after two notorious prisoners escaped the newly constructed $18.2 million Tanumalala Prison.

On Monday afternoon, Tialavea told the Samoa Observer that while Police Commissioner Fuiava has already been informed, he has yet to meet with them about the details.

Aked for a comment, the Police Commissioner, Fuiavailiili Egon Keil, welcomed the decision.

“I was informed by the Prime Minister and they have decided to have me take over the prison,” he said.

“I don’t have a choice; I’ll do my best, just like I do in everything with the Police to make sure that the prison is up to par and there will be new changes.”

The role at the Prison comes on top of the Commissioner also recently taking on responsibilities for controlling traffic that had previously been under the purview of the Land Transport Authority.

But the Commissioner is optimistic.

 “I have to say that it will not be easy but I think the government has made up its mind that it should come back under the Police,” he said.

“And I will do my best to get the staff trained and well equipped and have refresher course to assure they do a better job.”

The Commissioner said the decision did not come as a surprise.

“This is a matter of National Security and I welcome the challenge and there will be big changes. Its’ going to be challenging but it’s doable,” he said.

The Commissioner commended his Deputy Commissioner and his team of Superintendents who are behind the new changes within the Police Services.

“We are a much stronger organization now and in the build up we already have my management team on board, we should be able to manage both," he said. 


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