Drugs in Samoa: from the margins to the mainstream
The arrest of the country’s second senior-most acting electoral official came as a shock but not a surprise.
As is chronicled on today’s front page, police arrested Assistant Election Commissioner, Afualo Daryl Mapu, in a Tuesday night raid that uncovered hard drugs, guns and cash.
Another employee from the Office of the Electoral Commission, a woman whose name and position are unspecified, were arrested in the same police bust.
We have been increasingly seeing and heeding warnings about the presence of drugs in Samoa’s society.
The evidence of the cultivation en masse of less potent recreational drugs has been mounting now for some time.
Two years ago we saw the war on drugs in Samoa, under the helm of former Commissioner Fuiavaili'ili Egon Keil, reach what was then a peak.
Fuiava, whose determination to put new technology and large displays of force to work disrupting drug rings in hostile parts of the country is a significant part of his legacy, unmasked the growing and organised face of drug crime in the nation.
A late 2019 raid involving 100 plainclothes and uniformed police officers, members of the force busted a drug ring in Faleatiu.
In what was billed as the largest drug bust in the country’s history, Police, guided by aerial drones, swooped to seize some 10,000 marijuana plants, firearms, methamphetamine and an undisclosed amount of currency.
An armed standoff was eventually defused before six people were taken into custody.
Almost precisely a year later, similar scenes played out when police made off with a slightly smaller haul of 4000 marijuana plants and three suspects following another armed raid in the mountains of Satapuaala and Faleatiu.
These were nobly motivated and well intentioned attempts to kill off the nation’s problem with illicit drugs at its source. And they were commendable and innovative examples of police work, indeed.
But Samoa is today learning the same hard lesson that American authorities did over the last half-century as they led a global war on drugs.
That phenomenon is something that economists call displacement. When demand for a product, legal or illegal is high enough, and the rewards of its production are too, any clamp down on its production in one area will simply result in an increase in another. It is now being alleged that one of the most senior bureaucrats in the nation was using it and doing so indiscreetly.
For this reason, America’s national and global anti-drugs effort was often characterised as like seizing a balloon: raids in one country would simply push production to another; crackdowns in one neighbourhood would push drug sales to another.
Since these enormous hauls by law enforcement, we have seen a steady drumbeat of examples that are proof of this principle in action.
Drugs have not stopped entering Samoa despite the regular drumbeat of news about the arrest of those involved in their consumption or distribution.
Again it was only a year ago that a joint operation by the Ministry of Customs and Revenue and the police foiled an attempt to conceal methamphetamine consignments inside consumer packages on shipments coming into Samoa from overseas.
Despite the size of the seizure, that apparently did little to stop the drug’s presence on our streets.
We saw evidence of as much a little more than a week ago when a raid on a safehouse known to police resulted in (re)arrests of suspects allegedly involved in a conspiracy to distribute it on the streets. Another $20,000 worth of methamphetamine was seized after police raided the same Ma’ali Street property for the second time in a year.
This week’s raid involving Afualo teaches us another two difficult lessons about the drug trade in Samoa.
The first is that no matter how many high-profile raids are conducted by police and paraded before the public, there are undoubtedly many more that are missed.
Even in the best-resourced country in the world, America’s Coast Guard has seldom estimated that it is able to intercept much more than 10 per cent of the illicit substances smuggled onto America’s shores each year. Suffice to say, our police forces are significantly less well resourced.
The second is what the raid involving one of the nation’s most senior public servants and his subordinates symbolises.
There are more facts to be uncovered about this case, to be sure, importantly Afualo’s own testimony or explanation for his alleged involvement.
But comments made to the Samoa Observer by the Deputy Police Commissioner, Auapaau Logoitino Filipo, provide a telling insight that suggests police will allege he was acting with impunity while in possession of illicit substances and weaponry.
“We received a lot of complaints from the public regarding this household and we had to act,” said Auapaau.
“The household has been on our radar for quite some time and when we received the complaints we acted and moved in last night.”
If the above mentioned raids were watershed moments in recent Samoan policing history, then here we have one in the penetration of drugs into our society.
If there is anything to learn from our recent history, it is very difficult to succeed by using force to halt the march of drug consumption.
Our neighbours, Fiji, American Samoa and Tonga, have shown that by dint of our geography we lie at the dead centre of an international drug trafficking highway which carries an immense risk of exposure to drugs and all the social problems that come with them.
Until now, the presence and use of heavy drugs in Samoa has not left the same imprint as it has upon other nations, especially Tonga, where the ravages of the drug trade have become one of the country’s foremost social and political issues.
The use of drugs in Samoa is moving or has gone from the margins to the mainstream. How we handle this change will do much to define us as a nation.