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Company denies Olo's prison allegation

The Owner of Schwartz Construction Ltd., Alai'asa Schwartz Hunt, has flatly rejected claims their company is in any way involved with the Vaia'ata Savai'i Prisons project.

"My company and I have nothing whatsoever to do with the Vaiaata prison nor am I aware of any Construction work on at the moment," Alai'asa said.  "I have never set foot on Vaiaata. Whatever decision was made regarding that prison, it has nothing to do with my company or family." 

Alai'asa was contacted for a comment after Salega Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, raised questions of transparency with the Ministry of Police and Prisons. The M.P. asserted that the company which had constructed the Tanumalala Prison ended up building contract of the new facility in Savai'i. Schwartz Construction built the Tanumalala Prison facility which was commissioned late last year.

Last week Thursday, Olo claimed that what had begun as an inmate-constructed project has turned into a direct awarding of an $800,000 project bypassing the tender process.

Alai'asa said a video clip of what Olo and Faumuina Wayne Fong said during a live interview on the E.F.K.S. TV2 station has been "virally circulated."

"The video clip alleges that my company is involved in some sort of collusion regarding the Construction of the Vaiaata Prison to the value of $800,000 and that such a project wasn't tendered in accordance with government policies and that skilled Prisoners are being used under our company supervision," Alai'asa said. 

"The allegations by both Olo Fiti and Faumuina published on the E.F.K.S. TV2 station are false and fabricated. It is defamatory, libelous and scandalous and it has tarnished our company's reputation causing much distress."

And because of that, the businessman said he is exploring his options.

"I am very concerned that these fabricated lies is misleading the public especially those using social media. So it's important to me that I clear the name of my company from these false accusations," he said. 

"The last thing I want is to sue anybody especially the Church as it's their TV station which published it. 

"But Olo Fiti and Faumuina should be careful with the malicious comments they throw out there as part of their political campaign to ensure they have the evidence rather than basing their allegations on gossip and lies. I hope they retract what they said and apologize to alleviate the harm on me and my company." 

Alai'asa is the brother of the Minister of Police and Prisons, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt.

Last Friday, Tialavea denied the claims saying the new prison is currently being built by prisoners, and not by a contracted company.

"The [new] prison is being built by inmates and not by a contracted [company], the prison continues to be built by prisoners, using their time," Tialavea told the Samoa Observer on Friday.

The Minister was adamant no contracted company was involved in the construction of the prison.

"There are inmates who have the appropriate skills and knowledge in building, but [this is] not a company [proiect]," he said.

"That's why it wasn't tendered, because there are skilled and experienced inmates in the area of carpentry who are able to build it and train the others; now other inmates have the expertise [...] too."

The inmates are not receiving wages in return, the Minister said.

"That's the money that goes into their food and all, there are no wages or anything,” the Minister said. 

Ti'alavea said the design of the building, which is expected to house 100 inmates, was taken from the Tanumalala Prison.

"The same blueprint of Tanumalala is being used [in the ongoing project], it's the same," he said.

The project plan includes a prison block with a capacity to house 100 prisoners and a new administration office building. The old administration building will be developed into living quarters for the Police officers and the open fale will be turned into a chapel. 

The previous holding facilities were overcrowded with just 40 inmates.  Last year, Tialavea said the building was like a "family home" with barred windows and a door. 

The Vaiaata prison 300-acre plantation growing taro, banana and cocoa crops caters for the provision of food for all three prisons in Tanumalala, Oloamanu and Vaiaata. 

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