Exercising caution in proposed ministry restructure

By The Editorial Board 21 November 2023, 10:00AM

The Government is going ahead with plans to split the Ministry of Police, Prisons and Corrections Services with the process now at an advanced stage.

An article (Ministry of Finance looks at Police and Prisons split) in yesterday’s edition of the Samoa Observer gave an update on the government proposal with the report quoting the Cabinet Minister responsible.

The Minister responsible for Police, Prisons and Corrections Services, Faualo Harry Schuster confirmed the advanced stage of the process and indicated that the proposal is being reviewed by the Ministry of Finance.

"The separation of the Prison and Police, we are working through financial issues with the treasury so once those are finalised, then the treasury will advise the Cabinet and then we will set a timeline," said Minister Faualo.

Samoan taxpayers, who will ultimately get to foot the bill for this government-led process, will be keen to hear the position of the MOF after it works through the financial issues. 

We think the key challenge for the government proposal – in the current financial context with the country’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic on track but not there yet – is the overall impact of running a new government ministry with added staff and associated operational expenses on the government’s annual budget.

This proposal and its potential budgetary constraints should also be considered against the current government’s annual SAT$1 million District Development Project grant, which translates to SAT$51 million every year for the next two and a half years before the 2026 General Election. The Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) administration appears keen on maintaining the grant, conscious of its positive effect boosting their return to power after the next general election.

But politics aside technocrats within the MOF should ask hard questions about the financial viability of having a new ministry to add to the government’s recurrent budget from 2024 going forward.

Perhaps revisiting the history of the ministry and how the management of prisons got merged with the Police, following a mass prison breakout at the Tanumalala Prison in 2020 saw 36 inmates dash for freedom, might help. 

Nonetheless, the key issues remain unanswered. Will the creation of a separate ministry overseeing prisons and corrections services make the job of prison management and by extension prisoners’ health and welfare more effective? 

Has the ministry’s merger in 2020 initiated by the former Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) administration made prison management more effective or have there been problems experienced in Samoa’s prisons due to the merger three years ago which now warrants a change?

Based on previous press coverage of this particular issue by this newspaper, Minister Faualo has confirmed that there will be a separate Commissioner for Prisons and Corrections Services after the separation of the ministry is approved by the Cabinet, and the necessary legislative amendments are passed by the Parliament.

We accept that the role of the rehabilitation of criminals remains a mandate of Prisons and Corrections Services while investigation, detection and prosecution are the core functions of the Police which Minister Faualo has correctly highlighted.

But again what has gone wrong with the merger over the past three years to warrant a change now and what guarantee is there that the next government will not subject these public officials – who work tirelessly and often for meagre remuneration to keep families and the community as well as public assets in Samoa safe – to another merger after this proposed one?

Perhaps, the problems within the Ministry of Police, Prisons and Corrections Services do not lie with the governance structure under which both law enforcement agencies have worked. But rather how successive governments including the last one were quick to jump the gun and point the finger by forcing the merger – after the record 36 inmates breakout in 2020, just months after the SAT$18 million Tanumalala Prison was officially opened, embarrassing the administration at that time.

Frequent changes in the governance structure of a key government ministry such as Police, Prisons and Corrections Services don’t help anyone, let alone the public servants who work for the entities. The absence of stability and continuity in government agencies can become an obstacle to effective service delivery. The timing of the proposed restructuring is crucial at this juncture, especially with the country starting to host international events where security is and should be paramount. 

By The Editorial Board 21 November 2023, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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