The Minister of Prisons, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, has downplayed concerns about a conflict of interest in having the wife of his Associate Minister, So’oalo Mene, as an Assistant Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Prisons and Correction Services (M.P.C.S.).
“What conflict of interest?” Tialavea responded to a question from the Samoa Observer about the relationship between the Associate Minister and the A.C.E.O, Levao Rosa So’oalo.
“Levao had been an Assistant C.E.O. before me and my Associate Minister were appointed to the Prisons,” said the Minister.
“A conflict of interest arises in the workplace when an employee has competing interests or loyalties that either are or potentially or can be, at odds with each other. In this case that does not happen. So’oalo is one of the few people I trust with my life and his management skills are why I depend on him.”
When So’oalo was contacted for a comment, he referred all inquiries to the Minister.
And according to Tialavea, So’oalo suits his position.
“So’oalo is loyal, trustworthy and honest and in this lifetime, you hardly come across these types of people anymore,” he said.
“So I will take on the criticism but I stand my ground with the decision I made for So’oalo to remain as my Associate Minister.”
Tialavea said the perceived conflict is not their fault.
“We were appointed to the Ministry of Revenue in March and in June, the Prisons and Correction Services was added to our profile.
“At that time, So’oalo the honest person that he is, told me that he does not feel right about being the Associate Minister for the Prison where his wife works.
“But I told him that his expertise and assistance is needed at the Prisons, but this is So’oalo, an honest man and I couldn’t have got this far in fixing the problems with the Prisons without him by my side.
“He’s well educated with a master’s degree and I will not remove him as my Associate. It was approved by Cabinet and it’s those orders that me and my Associate will live by, in serving our beloved Samoa.”
The Minister expressed full confidence in So’oalo and his wife being professionals in doing their jobs.
“Conflicts of interest can cause an employee to act out of interests that are divergent from those of his or her employer or co-workers,” he said.
“They are as diverse as the work settings in which they occur and involve people interaction, employee actions, and personal benefits taking precedence over what is in the best interests of the employer and that does not happen with So’oalo and his wife.”
He added that Levao is doing a “phenomenal job” as A.C.E.O. for Corporate services.
“She is in charge of the finances at the prison and she’s managed our books very well,” he said.
“The funds we get from the government is never enough to cater for more than 700 inmates, but with people like Levao in place, we have managed to pull through in our darkest times.”
And there is a lot of work to be done, the Minister said, more important than paying attention to unfounded complaints from people.
“Since we came on board, the first thing me and So’oalo did was to fix the fence.
“We did not have enough money, we received $40,000 from aid and then we proceeded with completing of the fence.
“We submitted our invoices to Treasury for payment but it was denied but me and So’oalo did not stop there, we took it to Cabinet and they approved Treasury to pay for the completion of the fence.
“This was the first mandate by the Attorney General Lemalu Herman Retzlaff, and we made it happen.
“The concern was the government’s liability, with a prison not having a secured fence and again, I couldn’t have done it without So’oalo’s persistence and commitment.
“That is why I value my Associate Minister and his input, he has the heart to serve the people.
“Nothing will change at the Prisons and Correction Services, I stand by my decision to have So’oalo as my Associate Minister.”