People of the Year: Deputy Police Commissioner Papalii Monalisa Tiai-Keti

"Sometimes, the gender equality card is used as an excuse to avoid doing the work that needs to be done."

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Papalii Monalisa Tiai-Keti will celebrate 20 years of service to Samoa’s Ministry of Police this year, having joined the force in July 2004. The 41 year old Deputy Commissioner of Police has dedicated half of her life to the Samoa Police Service.

We celebrate Papalii as one of Samoa Global News’ 2023 People of the Year, for being a pioneer of Samoa’s Law Enforcement, a trailblazer for women in the Service, and a true leader in keeping the public informed through transparent and timely engagements with the media.

As Deputy Police Commissioner, Papalii is never a phone call or a text message away to confirm vital information on cases for public awareness, or to discard misleading reports, which is becoming more common in today’s social media setting.

Papalii is the first woman to attain an Executive Position in the Samoa Police force. During reforms under Police Commissioner Su’a Egon Keil, Papalii Monalisa was appointed the sole Deputy Commissioner. She held this position on her own before the more recent appointments of Deputies and Assistant Commissioners in today’s SPPCS structure.

In that time, Papalii led major operations for the Samoa Police. During Samoa’s hosting of SIDS, Papalii led as Commander over a team of over 100 Officers including police from New Zealand. During Samoa’s Constitutional crisis, Papalii Monalisa often led as Acting Commissioner, upholding the rule of law amidst the uncertainties of the national political and constitutional crisis that faced Samoa.

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Behind the scenes, Papalii has led many institutional reforms within the Samoa Police including the important review of Training Curriculums that has ensured quality controls and proper processes are followed for internal promotions. Today, there is a vigorous screening process and higher recruitment standards imposed by the Samoa Police Service.

Papalii has always advocated for women to join the Samoa Police and today, women graduating as police recruits has become a new norm for Samoa. Papalii Monalisa has proven that advocating for gender equality is best achieved by doing. By entering male dominated spaces, and then apply hard work to participate as an effective, respected member of the team.

Giving a speech during an International Women’s Day event, Papalii Monalisa advocated for wisdom to discern boundaries when leading change.

“Have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you are going too far.”

Papalii’s respect within the region is well established as evident when she became the first Pasefika member of the Australasian Council of Women and Policing (ACWAP) to win the prestigious Audrey Fagan Memorial Award.

Papalii was commended for her commitment and outstanding determination, resilience and leadership to break through barriers for women in the Samoa police service.

As a woman, Papalii juggles the 24-hour nature of Police work with family as a wife and mother of four young children, and then still makes time for the pursuit of higher education.

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The Samoa College Old Pupil entered UPY, and went on to attain a Bachelor of Science from the University of Waikato in New Zealand, and a Masters in Trans National Crime from the University of Wollongong in Australia. While carrying her youngest daughter, Samoa’s Deputy Police Commissioner then also pursued a Bachelor of Laws from the University of the South Pacific, graduating in 2022.

Papalii pays tribute to her father who had been a groundsman at Papauta Girls College, and her uncle who paid for her school fees at Samoa College.

As a solo provider for her and her seven siblings, Papalii says her father encouraged them to stay in school.

“My father didn’t earn much money, and all of it went into our food, but he still encouraged us to attend school,” she said.

“When I attended Samoa College my uncle, a Police officer, put me through school and paid for my school fees. That is another reason I joined and persevered with the Samoa Police.”

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Samoa’s Deputy Police Commissioner  honors her husband, Ronnie Keti and her parents Papali’i Saumani Tiai and Pelenatete Lio Amosa.

“Their love and support makes it all possible for me to pursue a career and further education, especially for their role in caring for our children while I’m at work and studies.”

Papalii joined the Ministry of Police in 2004 after returning home to Samoa as a graduate. She took the road less traveled and joined the Samoa Police Service at a time when no returning graduate would think of it.

“At that time, no returning scholarship student graduated from overseas would ever want to apply to the Ministry of Police”.

Papalii had shared how she was thrown into the deep end, and placed in difficult roles without support, in the hope that she would give up.

“They made me direct traffic on the road, and then watched to see if I would survive under pressure..” she recalls. “Instead I learnt a lot from the experiences..”

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“I came to understand what the traffic officers felt when they were under the scorching sun, trying to direct traffic and avoid being hit by a car.”

She smiles and recalls that her height did cause a few challenges while directing traffic, with drivers barely able to see her in the middle of the road.

“But you must know how to navigate those challenges,” says Papalii. “Like I said.. know where you have been, know where you are, and also know when you are going too far.”

Papalii reminds her female colleagues to be aware of when they may be pushing the boundaries too much and to make sure they are not playing the gender card as an excuse for not doing the work.

“Because sometimes, the gender equality card is used as an excuse to avoid doing the work that needs to be done.”

“I urge returning graduates with degrees to join the Ministry because there are so many opportunities here.”

“There is traffic, the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), the Domestic Violence division, the Tactical Operation Section (TOS), the Nafanua and Maritime, the Records division, and many other interesting areas to build a career.”

We salut the service of Papalii Monalisa Tiai-Keti, and all Officers of the Samoa Police, Prisons and Corrections Service.