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Prison deputy's future hanging in balance

Cabinet is awaiting a legal opinion from the Attorney General’s office on whether the Assistant C.E.O. of the Prison and Correction Services , Maiava Vi’iga Fuimaono, can have his contract cut early. 

After last Monday’s massive escape of 36 prisoners from the more than $18.2 million Tanumalala facility, responsibility for the prison’s management was handed over to Police on Tuesday. The Police had been in charge of the prison since a legal change in 2013. 

In one of his first acts after taking charge of the facility, Police Commissioner Fuiavaili’ili Egon Keil moved to terminate the contract of Maiava. 

But the Minister of Police, Prison and Correction Services, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, in response to queries from the Samoa Observer, said that the move to cut short Maiava’s contract needed legal clearance. 

“We have to follow the legal process for matters in this calibre and in doing so a [legal] opinion has been sought from the Attorney General’s office,” he said. 

Maiava is in charge of the prison’s Programme Development Service Unit. 

He declined to comment when contacted on Friday.   

Tialavea told the Samoa Observer that the final decision on Maiva’s termination was yet to be reached. 

“We will not act until we have received a report from the Attorney General’s office,” he said. 

The Samoa Observer sent queries to the Acting Attorney General, Noumea Loretta Teueli for comments but did not receive a response by press time.

Minister Tialavea said the matter was sensitive, coming on the heels of perhaps the largest prison break in the country’s history last Monday, but the law must be followed. 

Asked whether he supports the move by the Commissioner, the Minister said the prison had encountered challenges and, as such, their management has been pushed back to Police, reversing a decision to split the two services in 2013. 

“In my view the Commissioner is a straight shooter,” Tialavea said. 

Asked whether there were legal grounds to terminate the services of the A.C.E.O.  Tialavea said the final report from the Attorney General will paint a clearer picture on the legalities of Maiava’s potential firing. 

Fuiavaili’ili was handed overarching control of the prison last Tuesday and has set about making major changes at the facility, from which prisoners have escaped on two separate occasions since its inauguration last July. 

“These are part of changes that we’re making at the prison,” the Commissioner said. 

“We conducted a visit at the [Tanumalala] prison [last Friday] and there were things that were not right; and due to the nature of the takeover I will not hesitate to make the necessary changes.” 

Fuiavaili’ili told the Samoa Observer last week the announcement of an intent to terminate his position was the first of what will be many changes to come for the administration of prisons in Samoa. 

“I am inheriting the prison and their many problems and therefore, I will make the changes that see fit and lawfully,” he said.  

“Part of my job is to protect the rights of the prison guards and the prisoners and I am trying my best to address the issues here at the Prison”.

The Prisons Commissioner Taitosauā Edward Winterstein resigned the day following the massive breakout. 

Fuiavaili’ili Egon Keil said that while he cannot “sack” an A.C.E.O. - only Cabinet can do that - he was able to initiate proceedings to end his tenure at the organisation. 

When first informed of the decision to move to terminate his contract early on Thursday Maiava said he was deeply disappointed by the news and even foreshadowed the possibility of challenging the decision, saying he was undecided on whether he might take legal action. 

“I am collecting my thoughts and see where I go from here,” he told the Samoa Observer at the time. 

“I don’t deserve this,” he said. 

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