Policing shift should begin at the border
Debate about how to tackle rising crime in Samoa has raged recently.
There were reports last year of an increase of a 25 per cent in the crime rate across all categories.
But this has been overshadowed by a recent focus on drugs crimes and reports of drug syndicates of growing size and sophistication.
Raids in the mountains of Faleatiu since 2019 have netted thousands of marijuana plants; another last month provided a close call for inmates on the run and important intelligence about their life on the lam.
A variety of solutions to the problem have been canvassed.
One Member of Parliament, Fa'aulusau Rosa Duffy-Stowers, called, on Thursday, for tougher sentences for those involved in the drug trade.
“A suggestion to the Minister [of Police] if the laws can be reviewed, in regards to penalties for those involved in crimes pertaining to illegal substances (methamphetamine),” she said.
“To put the penalty very high; like other countries, the criminals are sentenced to life imprisonment when it comes to these illegal drugs. It will show the importance this House places on the safety of our children from these illegal drugs.”
Her intervention was largely overshadowed by that of the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, who said Police needed to be more creative with their deployments while they laboured under a shortage of manpower.
“This is why we put special police posts or branches in rural areas to make the police’s work easier together with their headquarters in town,” Tuilaepa said.
“There is a post in Aleipata, Lalomanu and at Safata as well as in Apia, there is a post in Tuanaimato.
“The importance of these posts is to ensure swift responses from police whenever there is an incident whatever time, day and night. “But [the police force count] is very far from being enough.”
We have long called for an increase to the Police budget in these pages, focused mostly on the problem not of the quantity of officers but the quality of those who are attracted to lives in the Police service.
With the starting salary of a Constable beginning at $12,000 it is going to be difficult for the Samoa Police Service to overcome its problem of attracting quality recruits.
This is a problem that the Police Commissioner, Fuiavailili Egon Keil, has himself acknowledged as a major problem for making progress into the Police force.
And neither his desire nor that proposed by the Prime Minister, is likely to be achieved any time soon.
The simple facts are that the national treasury is bare.
Government expenditure is projected to crash by 8 per cent in the coming year.
Government taxation plunged an astonishing 33 per cent in the most recent quarter for which figures are available.
And the economy is further forecast to drop significantly this year before the shoots of recovery start sprouting next year.
So, the Prime Minister’s solution is in fact better cast as an aspiration in the medium-term.
But we must also take issue with his analysis of the causes of crime.
The Prime Minister turned to a favourite target, Western culture, to lament the rising use of hard drugs and participation in unruly behaviour among the nation’s youth.
“They watch things on their phones and on T.V. and it has spurred some unruly behaviour amongst the youth; [it is] westerners’ behaviour,” he said.
“This is why the village councils (Pulega a Alii ma Faipule) are important, the Police relies on them and the women’s committee and essentially, they can be called as the Police.
“Such actions are due to the abuse of marijuana and illegal drugs, including ice (methamphetamine).”
We do not doubt the importance of village councils and we acknowledge and praise them for the role they play in keeping local order. Actions by the council of Faleatiu in the wake of drug raids last year show the willingness of councils to help for the good of the nation and the important role they can play in the fight against crime.
But we part ways with the Prime Minister on his diagnosis of the cause of the nation’s drug problem and unruly behaviour.
To this end we point to two recent seizures of methamphetamine - among the most destructive of all illegal drugs - by the Ministry of Customs and Revenue.
A raid late last year unearthed 500 grams of the drug, while another this Tuesday 900 grams. Both consignments were part of the same shipment.
Together, the Ministry has claimed the combined weight of the seizure is a record interception in the history of Samoan law enforcement.
That is further proof of the rising seriousness of drug crime.
But more disturbingly was the charging of a customs official. He was charged over Tuesday’s seizure while Police investigations into the earlier operation continue.
That reminds of the 2019 case in which a Vietnamese national was accused of smuggling narcotics into Samoa.
Despite the drug charges being dismissed, she was found guilty of attempting to offer a bribe of $50 and then $1000 to Police officers. (The charged Police Officer later has his case dismissed).
But there is mounting proof that those at our borders are frequently presented with rare temptation compared to their inland colleagues.
We believe the greater priority should be to focus on securing our border to prevent drugs entering our country: this means choosing officers who are incorruptible but also proactive in intercepting increasingly inventive smugglers.
Methamphetamine on our streets, recent seizures of high-powered rifles and reports that escapee Patti Chong Nee is armed with a 12-gauge shotgun is all the proof we need that Samoa’s border is too porous.
That it should be is not surprising.
The Pacific Islands are increasingly part of a global trafficking highway, lying, as we do, between central production hubs such as South America and two of the world’s most lucrative markets for drugs: Australia and New Zealand.
As we have seen overseas, drug cartels will stop at nothing in attempts to ensure their product arrives as intended and bribery is among their best known modus operandi. If there have already been integrity tests of our frontline border officials we can expect there to be more.
A sad result of our valuable strategic location is the making of connections between local criminal syndicates and international multi-billion dollar sophisticated drug businesses.
Reviewing the quality and compensation of those whom we entrust to police the border, should be a much greater law-enforcement priority than simply increasing Police numbers.
This will, we believe, will deliver far greater returns in the war on crime than any other action.
After all, intercepting the raw ingredients for criminal behaviour before they arrive onshore is much easier than seeking to contain them after they have arrived.