Former Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe.
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe yesterday said officials are making marked progress in protecting the country’s tourist areas from the criminal element.
Notwithstanding the high rate of murders, Mr Wilchcombe pointed to a recent meeting with several cruise lines, who he said were “very pleased” with the efforts of his ministry and the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
While he insisted that police did not prioritize crime-fighting efforts, Mr Wilchcombe underscored the critical importance of the tourism sector to the country’s economy.
“We’re doing quite well,” he said.
“One of the strong points comes from the cruise lines, who met with me recently. They are very pleased with work done by the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the relationship developed with Commissioner of Police (Ellison Greenslade).”
He added: “The team has been working assiduously to assure we correct the wrongs and reverse the negatives, and reclaim our definition as one of the wonderful places to come where visitors don’t have to fear crime.
“We’ve seen progress in the tourism areas.”
Up to press time, the country had recorded 97 murders for the year. If murders continue on this track, the homicide count will likely outpace last year’s tally of 123. Heavy criticism has been levelled at the government, especially National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage and Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade, who have been silent on the issue in recent weeks.
Yesterday, Mr Wilchcombe praised Dr Nottage’s leadership and expressed confidence in his efforts to combat crime.
He also stressed the importance of clamping down on illegal weapons as fundamental to crime reduction.
“I don’t think police are doing anything less in any other areas,” he said. “But in those general areas there is an accelerated effort focus. It has to be, that’s the reality. You’re not going to get visitors coming to the country, building the economy, if we destroy our image.”
“There has been progress,” he added. “I feel good about it, the minister of national security has all hands on deck and has done a good job trying to reverse something that has been with us for years. The effort is being made, but it can’t be a one-way approach. It’s holistic and requires things happening simultaneously.”
Mr Wilchcombe said that his ministry continues to meet with cruise lines to discuss crime warnings to passengers who are discouraged from taking money with them when they leave the ship.
While the cruise lines have insisted that they are not involved, Mr Wilchcombe said it was admitted that the message might be coming from ship personnel.