Former Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe.
BY SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe conceded that the Progressive Liberal Party made crime a political issue, but said the party has learned from that experience and realises now that everyone must work together to combat crime.
During an interview with The Tribune, Mr Wilchcombe said instead of pointing the finger at politicians for the increase in murders, Bahamians should “get angry and march against it.”
Mr Wilchcombe also told The Tribune that the new murder record is “disgraceful.“ However, he said, while the rise in murder has not impacted the tourism industry thus far, the country needs to “reverse this negative trend” before the Bahamas’ brand is negatively affected.
On Sunday, the country recorded its 128th murder for the year after a teenage boy died in hospital hours after he was stabbed at a party on Prince Charles Drive.
The previous murder record came in 2011, which saw 127 killings that year. The PLP, which was in opposition at the time, used the problem of crime and murders as an election tactic.
The party campaigned on the platform that it had the solution to lower violent crime while the Ingraham administration did not. However, since coming to office, the Christie administration has been grappling with the same issue.
“The murder rate is a domestic concern and we are doing all that we possibly can, and must continue to work assiduously to reverse the numbers, to reverse the trend that has unfortunately taken hold in some of our community areas,” Mr Wilchcombe said. “If we want a great country we have (to have) individual responsibility, we all play a role. That’s what’s missing.”
“We politicise things too often. Yes, we understand that the PLP did that and I think we’ve all learned from the experience because truthfully crime has been a nemesis to our nation for a long time and if we’re going to blame the politicians, something is wrong with that picture, the blame ought to be placed on persons perpetuating the crime.
“They ought to feel as though they are not welcome and their behaviour is not accepted. We are blaming others, calling it a record number - it’s not a major achievement and it’s disgraceful, it should not be celebrated. These people should not be able to enjoy the havoc they wreak in this country. We should get angry, but we seem to have this notion against marching. To march is not just to walk around the corner, but to generate the anger required to fight against it. How is the outside world supposed to take us seriously if we don’t stand up for what’s wrong in our country? We have to collectively begin to shoulder the responsibility and fight. It will obviously be used for political hay, political spin given the season we’re entering, but this has been going on for years and we need to confront it.”
On the issue of crime affecting the tourism industry, Mr Wilchcombe said it has not yet, but will if “we continue to ignore the problem”.
“It’s not hurting the brand, but it could hurt the brand so why wait until it happens? Let’s deal with it now while we know the public has not stopped coming to our shores, while there has been no campaign to stop visitors from coming,” Mr Wilchcombe said.
“We have been doing good. The numbers are good but we can’t rest on our laurels. We have to do more to ensure we reverse this negative trend and get back to peace and hospitality. It’s not good when visitors feels unsafe or when cruise ships warn to be careful where you go, we don’t want that, we can do without that but the only way that it can happen is if we work together to stop it.”
His comments came after Anglican Bishop Laish Boyd said crime is not the fault of the government and the way forward is for all of the stakeholders to “get together around the table, including the government.”
Bishop Boyd said: “The level of criminal activity and violence in the Bahamas has been too high for far too long, and it is getting worse especially in the areas of murder and domestic violence. There is no ‘silver bullet’ that would instantly reduce this level except for everyone to come together.”