CYNTHIA “Mother” Pratt, a national security minister in the first Christie administration, conceded yesterday that “draconian measures” were now needed to bring this country’s crime under control.
Mrs Pratt, co-chairman of the Urban Renewal Committee, took time out from an Urban Renewal Back-to-School event on Wednesday to discuss the nation’s alarming rise in crime for which the PLP assured Bahamians in 2012 they had the solution if elected the government.
“Some things take draconian measures,” Mrs Pratt told our reporter. “Your people will cry out. They’ll cry out when the murders increase. When you take draconian measures, they’ll cry out again, but you have to do what you have to do, it’s to bring safety to all of us.”
We couldn’t agree more. It is just a tragedy the PLP did not understand this when in fact Bahamians, taking their promises seriously to crush crime, elected them the government. Obviously, the PLP had no plan, because only nine days after being elected — during which time nine murders had been committed — the Opposition was accusing the new government of going soft on crime. Already the wrong signals were being sent out.
The criminals had approached newly-appointed National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage complaining that the Ingraham laws were too tough.
In 2011, the Ingraham government had amended the Penal Code taking much of the magistrates’ discretion from them in the sentencing and granting of bail for more serious crimes. At least the new laws were forcing the criminals to take stock. If the new government had shown a determination to enforce those laws, we might not be in the situation that we are in today.
Instead, Dr Nottage’s reply to their pleas for leniency was incredible. Instead of realising that at last government had found something that was causing the criminal discomfort, Dr Nottage said: “Everything is under review. A lot of the persons who have been – I can’t call them victims – who have been convicted have made certain approaches to us about the severity of some of the sentences.”
He said the Court of Appeal had “given an opinion on that, so that is an area we will have to review”.
“The PLP campaigned asking for stiffer sentences for criminals,” the FNM scoffed. “After a week which recorded a record nine murders, the Government having consulted with convicts has now determined sentences enacted by the FNM are too tough.
“Even before Parliament convenes, the Minister of National Security has shown that he intends to take a soft approach to various criminal elements.
“He appears more concerned about criminals than the victims of crime,” the FNM concluded.
Because of the continued escalation of crime, which had its beginnings in the drug years starting in the seventies, the Ingraham government had amended the penal code in 2011, setting mandatory minimum sentences and taking away the right of magistrates to grant bail for serious offences.
For example, if found guilty of drug possession, four years was the minimum mandatory sentence.
Because of the escalating murders – usually committed by criminals out on bail awaiting trial and exacting their own cross-fire justice – the Ingraham government took away the magistrate’s right to give bail in certain serious cases.
At one time, the courts – especially the magistrates’ courts were like revolving doors for the hardened criminal – in and out of court until trial date. However, the court calendar was being quickly cleared because many accused did not live long enough to go to trial.
We are told that although magistrates can no longer grant bail for serious crimes, such as murder, and repeat offenders, those accused can request bail from the Supreme Court. “And what happens there,” someone close to the law scoffed, “the Supreme Court looks at its calendar and if it’s found that it can’t hear the case within two years, bail is granted.”
Once bail is granted, many don’t live long enough to plead their case in court. Apparently, most of them are wearing ankle bracelets when their dead bodies are discovered, or after others have been murdered, the police discover that they were persons they had been hunting to charge with a serious crime - often murder.
Already six persons have been murdered since Saturday.
Not only must the laws be “draconian” as suggested by “Mother” Pratt, but the PLP government must live down their party’s reputation, inherited from the Pindling years, of being a haven for the law bender, especially the drug runner.
Our reporters discovered this to their amazement in the 2002 election when a reputed “drug lord” openly boasted about the number of calls he had made to then Opposition leader Christie, and how he had substantially contributed to the night’s rally that our reporter was covering. He also openly boasted of the million dollars that he had offered to assist the party.
Also, while our reporter was in Eleuthera, the call went out that those who had the go-fast boats should get them out and ready, because their friends would soon be the government.
Commenting in this column on April 3, 2002, on the alarming situation that we learned of in Eleuthera during that election we wrote that we were satisfied that Mr Christie wanted to “rid these islands of drugs, but for some strange reason – particularly as far as the PLP party was concerned – this was not the message getting through to the drug traffickers”.
It is a pity that the Christie government, then in opposition, used the escalating crime as an election gimmick in the 2012 election, because, like the boomerang, it has turned around and is now coming back to haunt them.
All we can suggest is that the laws be toughened — “draconian” in the words of “Mother” Pratt – and that the criminal element be made to understand that they can find no safe haven in the bosom of the Christie government.
This time government must get its signals right.