Prison Work Scheme In Cook Islands Being Investigated

Misuse of workers, corruption, mismanagement explored by Audit Office 

By Florence Syme-Buchanan 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, May 31, 2016) – The SCOPE of the Public Expenditure Review Committee review of Arorangi Prison Service has been widened. 

The examination of events, management, prison activities and finances now goes back to 2012. PERC chairman Geoff Stoddart, who is heading the investigation, says the Audit Office, which assists the committee, is waiting on documents relating to 2012 and 2013 “in order to cover the appropriate scope for the audit review.”

He says the Audit Office is still conducting its investigation into the prison workers scheme and has made it a priority.

The Arorangi Prison Service investigation was initiated over six months ago following allegations of widespread corruption. Inquiries by CI News led to sources alleging years of misadministration, systematic abuse of government processes and prisoner exploitation.

The Arorangi Prison Service falls under the ministry of Justice. Justice secretary Tingika Elikana confirmed he’d received a report from prison superintendent Henry Heather which had been copied to Justice minister Nandi Glassie and Public Service Commissioner Russell Thomas.

Elikana says Heather’s report does not give any reason for concern and that the prisoner work scheme is operating “normally.” Allegations have been made that the prisoner work scheme is being abused by prison officers, including Superintendent Heather, for financial gain. Prison labour is said to have been used for a number of years to operate a catering service from which Heather and other officers are alleged to have made considerable financial gain. Officers are also said to have used prisoners to work on their own properties without payment.

Elikana says Heather in his report claims that officers do have inmates working on their plantations and homes and all are paid and fed “better than what they would be in jail.” He added that people who see prisoners at the homes of officers probably arrive at the misconception that prison staff are abusing the system and working the inmates without payment.

He says in discussions with Commissioner Thomas, what has emerged is the need to establish better communications between prison staff and inmates, so that prisoners are better informed about what is required of them.

Elikana doesn’t think Heather’s report is prejudiced nor is there a conflict of interest, irrespective of the fact that the superintendent is himself under investigation by PERC.

CI News has reported that since 2013 the Justice ministry rating in the PSC annual reports has remained poor. With 68 staff, the ministry of Justice has one of the smallest budgets in government despite being a key government ministry with 68 employees. This includes the 18 prison officers at Arorangi Prison.

The ministry operates on a budget of $1,676,779 providing court and tribunal services, prison services, land information, probation services, survey, registry and corporate/ICT services. Public Service Commission annual reports since 2013 show the ministry has failed to meet its outputs.

By comparison, the Prime Minister’s Office with 38 staff has an annual budget of $2,588,556 funding divisions such as Climate Change and Renewable Energy.

In addition, the Prime Minister’s Support Office manned by seven staff has been budgeted $422,382.

Minister Glassie has not responded to any questions from Cook Islands News on the problems at Arorangi Prison.  

Cook Islands News
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