Construction of Vaia’ata Prison to begin

Construction of the $600,000 Vaia’ata Prison in Savai'i is expected to be underway this week after it was halted by the Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure (M.W.T.I.) last year.

The prisoner-built project, which did not go to tender or involve a private company, was also overturned by Tenders Board chief and Finance Minister, Sili Epa Tuioti last year. 

Sili said it should never have been approved and instead been put out to tender; but that decision was overturned by the Cabinet. 

“Construction should be up and running as of this week and we will conduct a site visit soon,” said the Minister of Police and Prison Tialavea Tionisio Hunt in an interview with the Samoa Observer.

The Vaia’ata prison encountered problems when the M.W.T.I. issued a stop work notice on project after it was revealed that work on the project had commenced months before its development consent was issued in November 2019. 

Not long after Sili told the Samoa Observer that plans to make use of prisoner labour, without a company or tender process would lead to it being scrapped. 

The arrangement, involving having prisoners build a prison building without the involvement of a tender process or a private company led some critics to describe it as a “highly unusual” project.

“It should have been tendered in the first place,” Sili said.  

“The [project] will be available for tender as soon as possible.”

However, the Cabinet overturned the Minister's intervention. 

“Cabinet has decided against the decision of the Tender board [to put the remaining works for the Vaia’ata prison to tender] and that works for the prison will resume,” Tialavea said earlier.

Tialavea said there was a logical reason that the Cabinet allowed prisoners themselves to build the Vaia’ata prison. 

“The blueprint that we have indicates that for one block it [would cost] $1.7 million for the materials and the labour [through a company] , versus the $600,000 [...] that was approved for this project [as it was structured],” the Minister said. 

“There are certain aspects of the prisons that I changed a little bit, such as the sinks. 

“At Tanumalala they use all stainless steel, but at Vaiaata they are using [clay] sinks; also the ceiling. 

“Over at Tanumalala, security is a huge factor therefore, the ceiling is solid and [two years later] for Vaia’ata the ceiling is plywood. 

“Only low-risk prisoners will be housed in Vaia’ata to assist with the farm that has been feeding the prisoners. 

“Also keep in mind the Vaia’ata while it is a prison, while concrete walls with metal bars, but it is still treated as a family home.”

Tialavea said at the time that he was confident in “experienced” workers currently building the prison. 

“As I told you before, that prison in Vaia’ata is built by someone who has experienced under my supervision,” the Minister said. 

“I am a certified builder and while the Tenders Board is concerned about policy with all due respect, we are trying to save public funds, by allowing me and the prisoners to complete this project.

“The Tanumalala prison [is] a huge project and it was locally funded; the Government did not receive any financial assistance other than the Japanese Government partly funding the high-security gate. 

“We need to build a prison in Savai’i [that does] not necessarily have to be costly, hence proposing that we will build the prison, free of labour. 

“Low-risk prisoners will be able to have on-hand training [and] at the same time some rehabilitation of what it feels like to get out in the community.” 

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