By BRANVILLE McCARTNEY
As we look forward to a better year, this 2014, most of us would admit that 2013 was not a good year.
In 2013, the economy remained sluggish, with many persons losing their jobs and homes. The cost of living remained very high, perhaps even increasing with the many interrelated uncertainties held at the end of the year.
The vexing illegal immigration problem continued, and the threat of Value Added Tax (VAT) being placed on the backs of Bahamians became a grave concern for most.
These issues persist into this New Year. In fact, today, most significant and obstructive among them – crime and the fear of crime – continue to spread throughout our country.
Rampant crime, and the panic and fear it brings with it, remains our number one national issue. The criminal element in our country seems to have waged war against the innocent, and our government, which promised to tackle the scourge of crime at the outset, sits idly by… clueless as to what to do. It is more than obvious that this administration is afraid to make the hard decisions to ensure that the criminal elements respect the law and that they know that there will be definite consequences for their criminal actions.
This is a government which promised the Bahamian people that they had the answers to the most vexing crime problem, but, shortly after the election, turned and asked the Bahamian people what to do by way of a town meeting on crime, as they certainly did not have the answers they had promised.
This is a government which, quite frankly, embarrassed all right-thinking Bahamians recently, by having an emergency cabinet meeting on crime just to expound solutions outlined in their pre-election Charter for Governance.
My people, innocent blood continues to be shed in our once peaceful island nation, with the international community now weighing in and warning their citizens about the crime concern in our country.
Indeed, as a result, the very lifeline to our economy, tourism, is now under attack, and we suffer all the more for the lack of diversification that has accompanied it for all these years.
We, in the DNA, urge the government to wage an all-out war against crime, as soldiers who fight for their country’s freedoms! We plead with the government to take a far more proactive and aggressive role in the fight against crime, to result in the criminal element knowing very well that, if they commit a crime, there will be severe penalties and lasting consequences for them.
We were most perturbed to hear the Prime Minister utter, only the other day, words to the effect that when a man takes an illegal gun out of his home to commit a crime, that young man should know that there will be a 90 per cent chance he will get caught.
With all due respect, this is the wrong approach. The Prime Minister’s challenge should have been that that same young man would think twice about having an illegal firearm in the first place! And he WILL be caught! Offering a 10 per cent chance that he won’t be caught is offering a dare to get away with crime, and is far too much room for allowing comfort for a criminal!
The bottom line: Our leaders are taking the wrong approach. They are reactive, when they should be pro-active!
The fundamental principle of governance is the protection of its citizens from external forces and internal forces. We, the citizenry of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas are under attack by the criminal element of our society. We must understand that the government is mandated to protect us, and agitate for that protection, and, if they cannot fulfil this fundamental principle, they must resign, or, alternatively, the people of the Bahamas will be duty-bound to ensure that they do not see the Halls of Parliament again.
Drastic times require drastic measures. We must ensure that we become a disciplined society, in order to flourish as a people, in safety and prosperity, and, therefore, we must start with the enforcement of even the most simple crimes, poste-haste: not wearing a seat-belt; parking in a ‘no parking’ or ‘handicap’ zone; littering; using obscene language in the most inappropriate manner; speeding; running a red light; et cetera. Yes, we must sweat the small stuff!
The government must also review the penalties for such basic crimes, with a view to making these penalties firmer. Once the public realises that the small crimes are enforced, they will begin to realise that there are legitimate and immediate consequences for their actions.
When we travel to America, the first thing we do when we get into a vehicle is put on a seat belt. The reason for that is so simple but straightforward: the consequence of getting caught not wearing a seat belt is a severe one to which we will be held accountable.
Were this administration serious about dealing with crime, improvements such as CCTV would have now been the norm in most places, especially in our larger cities. But they are not serious about crime! They cannot be.
It is a must that our elected officials discontinue interfering with the full administration of real justice.
In the DNA, we have been reliably informed that, more often than not, when a sufficiently well-connected person is arrested for any of a number of crimes – even a person connected by a remote acquaintance, or where a favour is being cashed in on – the ‘who-you-know’ policy kicks in, and a phone call is made for that person to be released, notwithstanding the seriousness of the crime.
Many times, this type of person is a constituent, a general, a friend, a family member, or a financial contributor of the elected official. So, in this regard, the elected officials are contributing to our crime problem and are causing the criminal element to remain fully active on our streets. This must stop!
And the Commissioner of Police must be allowed to do his job without political interference. The Commissioner of Police must ‘draw the line in the sand’, as he commented recently, and have the testicular fortitude, nonetheless, to do what he was appointed to do as it must be done.
Quite frankly, we know that the Bahamian people are sick and tired of eloquent speeches and talk. They want action! And so they should have it.
Parents must be made responsible for their children’s criminal activities. There are certain laws – the Child Protection Act, for example – on the books today, relative to a parent’s responsibilities for his/ her child/ children, but, they, like many others, are rarely enforced.
These laws ought to be enhanced and diligently enforced, and consideration ought to be given to extending the parental responsibilities for offenses committed by the children.
Because of the state our country is in today, and, as I pen this message, because there has now been the equivalent of one murder per calendar day for 2014, we need, now, to implement a curfew!
And we, in the DNA, would suggest that the professionals of the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF), the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF), et cetera, outline the terms and conditions of the curfew and implement same as soon as possible.
The government must redefine and strengthen the criminal justice system. Justice delayed is justice denied, and the system we have at present is certainly denying justice.
The necessary resources and manpower must be put in place to hasten the process of justice, so that there are speedy trials, protection of witnesses, professional prosecutions, and strict consequences for those found guilty.
Further, there must be an introduction of strengthened legislation that will ensure that offenders make amends to victims and/or their families and the communities for the harm they have caused.
It would be to their great benefit, if the government would procure a police helicopter to assist with the swift capture and detention of criminals.
Persons found with illegal guns must be placed before the courts immediately, prosecuted, and sentenced to no less than a mandatory seven years in prison.
Bail must not be granted to accused murderers, and legal provisions must be made for those persons who are presently out on bail for murder to be placed before the courts for mandatory confinement.
Enforcement and administration of the cat-o-nine-tail – in Rawson Square, no less – must be reintroduced.
Marco’s Law must come to fruition with urgency, and a registry for sexual offenders must be concurrently enforced. Serious consideration should be given to castration of sexual offenders and rapists, as an absolute deterrent, owing to the astounding proliferation of rape and sexual assault cases, in particular against minors in the Bahamas!
A National Service Programme, for the young and not-so-young alike, ought to be introduced for the registration of persons not gainfully employed or not seeking further education.
Consideration must also be given to persons having the right to carry handguns, after a conclusive background check, to indicate they are fit-and-proper to carry such an instrument of protection.
Many business persons, in particular, are very vulnerable, while the criminal has a free-for-all to carry whatever type of protection he or she chooses. This cannot be just and cannot continue.
The government, in support of crime victims, ought to create a victim’s ombudsman – an overseer who is separate from and independent of the police and the prosecution departments, who will offer victims independent advice and representation if needed. This (Office of) Ombudsman should report to a select committee of Parliament, at least once per year.
Indeed, it is necessary for the government to assemble the best minds in the Bahamas, to create and establish programmes to deter young men and women from deviant behaviour in the first instance – programmes that will encourage these men and women to actively pursue productive, positive, lifestyle-building activities.
The government ought to commit to the development of a comprehensive and research-proven system to rehabilitate offenders prior to and after their release, inclusive of academic programmes, work-readiness, and skills-building programmes, to improve the rehabilitated individual’s chances of living productively in the future.
A commitment of the necessary financial and human resources to the RBPF and the RBDF, to ensure that they are in the best position to be effective in their roles, is required.
This will be particularly critical in resolving the ongoing and ill-addressed issue of illegal immigration.
Our illegal immigration problem has not changed since the 2012 elections. Illegals continue to come to our shores because the method of securing our borders is outdated.
Although, in June 2013, a pronouncement was made by this administration that they would start to rid the country of shanty towns and prosecute the land owners responsible for them, shanty towns still remain, and there has not, to date, been one prosecution.
It is most amazing that this government could say the most appropriate things, at the most appropriate times, but still lack the action to follow through on them.
Because of the high incidences of crime, the slowness to act on it, and the political interference in it, the government ought to seriously consider securing the advisement of foreign and unbiased police, to assist in stemming criminal activity quickly and to bring this crime problem under control once and for all. Even the most independent of nations and the most talented of people require assistance from time to time.
Capital punishment is still on the law books, but enforcing capital punishment continues to be the problem.
There is no commitment to its enforcement.
The government must be committed to ensuring that the requisite laws are in place, so that capital punishment is wholly and effectively enforced.
Alternatively, if this cannot be achieved swiftly enough, then the removal of the Privy Council, with regard to criminal law should be undertaken – make our Court of Appeal our highest appellate court… not a far-fetched notion for a sovereign country.
The criminally minded must know that if he/she commits murder against any person, and is found guilty, he/she will be sentenced to death.
A former Commissioner of Police once told me that the only thing the criminals fear is a rope around their necks. I agree with him now, as I did then – wholeheartedly!
• The second part of the New Year message will be included in a future edition.