Vaia’ata prison a top priority: Minister

The $800,000 tala Vaia’ata prison in Savai'i is on the priority list of the new Minister of Police and Prisons Faualo Lefau Schuster. 

The Minister said he is planning a visit to the prison facility on the big island after the completion of the new Government’s transition into office.

“That is on top of our priorities and we will definitely conduct a site visit after all the busyness of this week and then will focus on the issues pertaining to the prison in Savaii,” said Faulalo.

The new Minister did not divulge further information but noted that this will be the first project he will look at following concerns on the project’s specifications and the fact that it was built by inmates.

It was opened in March this year in a low key event attended by the then caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, Minister of Police and Prisons Tialavea Tionisio Hunt and the Police Commissioner Fuiavailili Egon Keil. 

The opening was closed to members of the public and the media were not invited to cover the occasion. 

Initially, the total cost of the project as announced by Tuilaepa during the groundbreaking ceremony in March of 2019 was $600,000.

However, it was revealed in September last year that the cost of the project had ballooned to $800,000 and would be done entirely by inmates.

The project raised a lot of concerns by members of the public, following the admission by the Minister of Police and Prisons that work at the building site began without the Planning and Urban Management Agency [P.U.M.A.] issuing a development consent as part of its certification process.

Tialavea told the Samoa Observer at that time that  he did not think it was illegal for the prison construction work to start without a permit.

“I made the call for the project to proceed without a permit," he said in an interview. 

The then Minister of Works Transport and Infrastructure, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, confirmed that his Ministry had stepped in to stop the work at Vaia’ata Prison due to the absence of a permit.

The then Minister of Finance and Chairman of the Tenders Board, Sili Epa Tuioti, also told the Samoa Observer that the Vaia’ata Prison Project would be put on tender and the plan to use prisoners to build the extension will be scrapped. 

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