Inmates to build $800,000 prison, Minister denies claim

The Minister of Police and Prisons, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, has denied that an $800,000 project for building the new Vaia'ata Prison had been granted directly by the Government to a private company, bypassing the tender process. 

The Minister instead said the prison will be constructed by skilled inmates and no companies will be involved in its construction. That means the tender process is not required. 

Tialavea denied claims made by Olo Fiti Vaai, the Member of Parliament for Salega, who said the contract has already been awarded.

"The [new] prison is being built by inmates and not by a contracted [company], the prison continues to be built by prisoners, using their time," Tialavea told the Samoa Observer on Friday.

The Minister was adamant in stressing that no contracted company was involved in the project.

"There are inmates who have the appropriate skills and knowledge in building, but not a company," he reiterated.

"That's why it wasn't tendered, because there are skilled and experienced inmates in the area of carpentry who are able to build it and train the others; now other inmates have the expertise [...] too."

The inmates are not receiving wages in return, the Minister says. 

"That's the money that goes into their food and all, there are no wages or anything,” the Minister said. 

Ti'alavea said the design of the building, which is expected to house 100 inmates, was taken from the Tanumalala Prison.

"The same blueprint of Tanumalala is being used [in the ongoing project], it's the same," he said.

The project was initially estimated to be $600,000, said Tialavea, but changes to the design of two separate buildings led to the increase in costs to reach a total of $800,000.

On Wednesday, Olo raised the issue of Government projects that exceeded a cut-off threshold of $500,000 not going through the proper channels, citing the prison as one of them.

"The way this Vaiaata prison project came about is quite funny,” Olo said on E.F.K.S. TV. “The Minister supposedly requested for the prisoners to build it, they say there are builders amongst prisoners, to save Government money," Olo said. 

"But what they had said, in order to avoid the project being tendered was that the prisoners were going to build it. It is above the $500,000 tender threshold of the Government [for projects requiring Cabinet approval]."

Together with fellow independent Member of Parliament, Fauimuina Wayne Fong, Olo has challenged the Ministry of Police to reveal statements proving that a company was not contracted to construct the new prison.

"We want to see a statement of the Prisons to see this $800,000 paid if it is true it was the prisoners who built it. Who knows?," Olo said.

"[Whoever] this money goes to [...] as soon as it passes half a million dollars, it should go back into Government to go through a tender process just like what the policies say. That way the prisoners can also bid to build it if they do have the skills and knowledge required."

The project plan includes a prison block with a capacity to house 100 prisoners and a new administration office building. The old administration building will be developed into a living quarters for the Police officers and the open fale will be turned into a chapel. 

The previous holding facilities were overcrowded with just 40 inmates.  Last year, Tialavea said the building was like a "family home" with barred windows and a door. 

Other developments at Vaiaata include: cocoa, taro and banana plantations.  When harvested, these crops will cater for all three prisons – Tanumalala, Oloamanu and Vaiaata. 

The banana and taro crops are intended for export. Revenue generated from these exported crops help boost the food budget for all three prison facilities.


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