By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Bahamas put the world on alert in early 2010 after a country which is noted for its sun, sand and sea racked up 87 murders the year before.
Crimewave is a word too easily used by politicians and the media, but statistics showed crime was on the up, and for a nation of just 350,000, dependent on tourism, it was a worrying trend.
By the end of 2010, the country surpassed the previous record with an extra seven murders.
Bahamians at every level in society were puzzled as to what was going on, what 2011's numbers would be and what the government was going to do about it. The murder figure reached 127 for 2011.
The most pressing issue in the Bahamas today is crime and the fear of crime, highlighted by the fact that the murder rate is going in the wrong direction - up.
Democratic National Alliance leader Branville McCartney couldn't have worded it better during his party's anti-crime and violence march in Bay Street last Wednesday. He said things would get worse if there was not an immediate intervention.
The sentiments from the man who wants to be the country's next Prime Minister are not new. His rivals, current Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and opposition leader Perry Christie, have already said the same thing.
Mr Ingraham and Mr Christie have blamed each other for the rise in crime levels. The DNA leader has blamed both of them - branding them "failures".
Behind the rhetoric, angry faces and gesticulations, claim, counter claim and overused insults like "abysmal failure", what is their answer to beating crime?
What has caused this spike in crime? Do the politicians even have an answer?
Crime exists in every part of the world where there is civilisation, the same way that certain weak drinks are present at almost every party adults go to. If those drinks get spiked, there's chaos.
At the rate the country is going and with the world watching through their TVs, computer screens and smart phones, it is only a matter of time before this rising crime leads to the wrong kind of tourist being held up during a nature tour, robbed on Cable Beach or attacked with a cutlass in their hotel room on a Family Island. A celebrity or a police chief from another country.
Crime is one of, if not the biggest, concern for the voters going into the May 7 elections and the three leaders and their respective teams know it.
In 14 days, more than 170,000 voters will go to the polls to select a new member of parliament for the 38 constituencies up for grabs.
Marking an X next to the name of an DNA, FNM, PLP or independent candidate will ultimately decide which party will be the next government for the next five years.
How will the three leaders and their parties, DNA, FNM and PLP, match up and overcome the Goliath that is crime?
The FNM and the DNA have revealed their manifestos for public viewing so far and looking at both documents, crime is the top priority. The PLP has been very vocal about their plans for fighting crime.
The FNM, hoping to regain the trust of Bahamians, has released its full manifesto and addresses crime as a part of its "National Security Strategic Plan", Tough on Crime and Tough on the Causes of Crime.
The FNM before outlining its plan, stated what it had done and what it thinks is the root cause of the crime surge: "Trade and abuse" of illegal narcotics over the past several decades.
The party, according to its manifesto said it had "modernized and better equipped the Royal Bahamas Police Force, passed and implemented tough anti-crime legislation and improved conditions in our legal, judicial and prison systems."
The party, in its document goes on: "To complement these efforts, we have also worked with educators, social workers and other citizens to implement new prevention programmes"
Going forward, the FNM's goal is to have a "modern, efficient crime fighting machine," through a "properly manned, trained and equipped" police force "to prevent crime where possible, detect crime when it occurs and bring those responsible to account before the courts."
The FNM proposes to hire an extra 250 officers; specifically train officers from remote Family Islands to serve their communities; combine technology with community policing to strengthen crime prevention; ensure continued funding for police; create more police patrols and increase presence in neighbourhoods.
The party proposes "continued and adequate funding" of the judiciary, to complete the construction of the judicial complex and Supreme Court, and the appointment of a resident magistrate in Andros.
They are also seeking to empower magistrates, "in appropriate cases", to use their power to implement "alternative sentencing and restorative programmes to reduce the amount of non-violent juveniles returning to prison."
The FNM plans to "accelerate prison reform initiatives" to rehabilitate non-violent offenders so they are able to be reintegrated into society.
Weekly drug testing will be introduced, and a remand centre will be constructed in Grand Bahama.
The Defence Force is also a part of the FNM's plan to fight crime. It wants to increase manpower on the force by 180 and introduce a reserves list similar to that of the police force.
The Defence Force is also expected to receive additional equipment in the form of sea and aircraft to help in the fight against illegal migration, poaching and drug smuggling.
While not as detailed at the governing party, the DNA's The Vision 2012 and Beyond manifesto lists crime as the first issue to be tackled after the election.
The party will focus on six areas:
- Enforce laws without political interference.
- Support the development and strengthening of a Bahamian criminal justice system that works.
- Develop a comprehensive and research-proven system to rehabilitate offenders, including academic programmes, and work readiness and skill building programmes.
- Commit necessary finance and people to the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force to ensure "they are in the best position to be effective in their roles".
- Ensure the enforcement of capital punishment and that bail is not granted for accused murderers.
There are some similarities between the FNM and the DNA's plans.
Both parties are looking to strengthen the capacity of the judiciary and the various law enforcement agencies. They also recognise the importance of reforming and educating prisoners to reduce the number of repeat offenders.
The similarities end there.
The DNA has publicly stated its intention to carry out the death penalty. There is no mention of capital punishment in the FNM's manifesto.
The FNM government removed the Magistrates Courts' discretion to grant bail for murder and other serious offences. However, persons eligible who can prove they should to be granted bail can be given a bond by the Supreme Court.
Is the DNA proposing to support this move? Regarding the death penalty, how will the DNA get past the ruling of the Privy Council, based in the UK?
Mr McCartney answered this question last Wednesday.
"We're making sure that if it goes to the Privy Council, we'll have the laws in place that will force their hands when there is a conviction on murder, that the death penalty will be enforced."
What is the PLP's stance on capital punishment?
The country will find out when the party releases its manifesto for the country's 170,000 voters to see.
People will then be better placed to cast their votes in the ongoing fight against this particular Goliath.