Norman George: Our Ministry of Incorrect Services

Monday November 25, 2019 Written by Published in Opinion
Cook Islands prison. 16031836 Cook Islands prison. 16031836

The Prison Superintendent has been made redundant with just one month’s notice. Now he’s lifting the lid on alleged failings in prison administration.

OPINION: In the dark alley of maladministration lies a government ministry created by thin air with no legal foundation or roots.

Here is your fact check. Our Prison Service was created by the Cook Islands Prison Act 1967. In 1981 it was changed to the Ministry of Corrective Services. During 1995-96 it was changed again to be a part of the Prison Act 1967.

In the original 1967 Act, the prison was administered by the Ministry of Justice, under the Minister and Secretary of Justice. The 1981 Amendment changed the title to Ministry of Corrective Services administered by a Minister of Corrective Services and Director of Corrective Services.

Then in 1995-96, it was reversed back to being administered by the Minister and Secretary of Justice. There it sits unchanged to this very day.

Then along comes the cowboys from the wild west! Late in 2018, it was announced that the Prison was being split up into separate Ministries with the “operational” part of the prison being transferred to become the Ministry of Corrective Services under Minister George Maggie Angene.

The actual changes took place in January 2019. No legislation was put in place to give the new ministry a legal status. It therefore became a de facto incoherent set up.

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The new Director of Corrective Services was Tai Joseph, former head of the Probation Service. It would appear the Probation Service was also transferred to Corrective Services, adding to the confusion and disarray.

The prison proper remained under the administration of the Ministry of Justice, headed by the Minister of Justice Rose Toki Brown and the Secretary of Justice Tamatoa Jonassen.

From the time Minister George Maggie took over, things started to administratively go wrong. Direct visits and giving orders removing prisoners to go out on work schemes was introduced by the Minister.

Sometimes he would uplift a prisoner of his choice and drive away with the prisoner, with no paperwork involved.

This places the prison work roster system into confusion. Senior Prison staff operate a well programmed roster system days before. The Minister’s unwarned regular interventions tore the system apart.

Like all uniformed disciplined bodies, reports by prison officers were filed and went up the chain to the Superintendent, Henry Heather, with 39 years in the Prison Service.

It would appear that regular complaints sent up the chain of command displeased Minister Maggie, his chief executive officer Terry Rangi, and the director Tai Joseph.

Sometime between August and September 2019, without explanation, Henry Heather was advised that the position of Superintendent of Prison was vacant and if he wished, he could apply.

On the first of this month, Henry received a letter signed by Tai Joseph and Tamatoa Jonassen. advising him that he was unlucky with his application and that he was to pack up, hand over Prison property and remove himself from the prison service on 2 December 2019.

He was given a month’s notice of dismissal. No reasons, grounds, wrongdoing or even an explanation was given. This is after serving his country for 39 years.

Henry has instructed me to take legal action. For that reason, I will confine myself to the general patterns of events.

It begins with Minister Maggie signing release work scheme warrants for inmates to work for certain people of his choice, which include his chief executive Terry Rangi. He signed all his documents under section 19 of the Prison Act 1967 as “Minister of Corrective Services.”

This is an outrageous claim! Only the Minister of Justice can authorise work release. Minister Maggie in the last 10 months signed over 20 of these.

The charge-out rates for him was $12 a day, while the public pays $30 a day for the use of prison labour. (After a huge ministerial pay increase which adds insult to his actions).

We are studying the law to see if George Maggie has committed the offence by allowing inmates to escape from custody, by removing them from Prison custody without authority.

This offence is punishable by seven years’ imprisonment. If we are able to prosecute, I will do so privately if I have to.

These actions have a huge impact on the work of the police to bring the prisoners to justice, the Judges and JPs who try the prisoners, the victims of their crimes, and the work of the Ministry of Justice.

Kua rava teia, ka kite.

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