By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Bahamas must avoid complacency despite strides made in the fight against human trafficking, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said yesterday.
Last week it was reported The Bahamas retained its Tier 1 placement in the US State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which signals the continuation of efforts to combat human trafficking.
Mr Dames and officials from the US Embassy held a press conference yesterday at Police Headquarters to discuss the ranking.
He and US Charge d'Affairs Stephanie Bowers, pictured right, applauded the efforts of the local TIP committee.
However, Mr Dames also stressed the fact perpetrators have continued to advance their efforts and practices to evade capture and prosecution.
Mr Dames said his ministry remains committed to improving the country's reach in the area and its level of intelligence.
"We must be cognisant of the fact that we cannot be complacent in our efforts," Mr Dames said.
"… The bar moves every year, and so the expectation is therefore… that we must raise the bar, including us as a government.
"Criminals are very, very smart. They are very well sourced. And they would continue to look at ways to circumvent the system. So (in) recognising that as a government, we too must be cognisant.
"So, whether that means amending legislation, whether that means working through the police and the defence force and other agencies and improving on enforcement, or whether it be providing more effort and care into taking care of our victims, and whether it means creating and improving partnerships, not only locally, but also regionally and internationally; then that's what we intend to do.
"We don't intend to be complacent here," he asserted. "Complacency has no place in this instance."
According to the TIP report, the Bahamas met the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, with the government being credited with demonstrating "serious and sustained efforts" to adhere to its anti-trafficking in persons mandate during the reporting period.
The efforts noted by the report include the passing of a national action plan, the increase in funding for victim assistance and anti-trafficking prevention, the elevation of the national anti-trafficking planning committee to the Office of the Prime Minister, and inclusion of an anti-trafficking course in the training curriculum of the Immigration Department.
Over the course of the reporting period, the Bahamas reportedly spent $125,710 on trafficking victims' care and prevention activities, an increase from $82,060 Bahamian dollars in 2017.
According to figure presented by the report, the government also provided $240,000, the same as 2017 to four non-governmental organisations that provide services to trafficking victims, among other vulnerable groups.
Despite these positive steps however, the US State Department did highlight reduction in investigations related to the offence.
The report said significantly fewer investigations and inconsistently applied screening procedures to vulnerable populations, combined with credible allegations of corruption raise concerns over the vulnerabilities of potential trafficking victims in the Bahamas during the reporting period.
In line with this, the US State Department in its report called on the Bahamas to prioritise the proactive screening for trafficking indicators and the identification of victims in vulnerable populations, namely children and migrants.
Additionally, the report called for more vigorous investigations, prosecutions and convictions of traffickers, with the application of more "adequate" sentencing.
The report also called for more adequate accommodations with trauma-informed service providers for potential and identified trafficking victims.
When asked by reporters about the decrease in investigations over the reporting period, Mr Dames, while conceding that the trend gave cause for concern, did note that stakeholders in the sector have stepped up in other efforts which have directly affected the need for investigations.
He said: "… Most of our focus ought to be around education and presentation, but we recognise too that this is a business and in any business (where) persons are determined to carryout their acts. And so, therefore it means that we must be more cognisant of this… we must be more proactive and we will be. We will be putting a tremendous amount of effort, certainly coming this year on the enforcement aspect."
He added: "But, this is a very intricate business and recognising that the police and the other enforcement officers will continue to work to ensure that the Bahamas remains safe and free from trafficking in persons. This is extremely important to us. It is a very, very bad business, a very humiliating enterprise and we cannot be in the business (of) and cannot allow for our country to be used as a nation where others can procure this enterprise."
The Bahamas has maintained a Tier-1 ranking since 2015 -- a year which saw three new prosecutions, the adoption of a four-year national anti-trafficking strategy and the implementation of an action plan that provided anti-trafficking training to officials, and continued to implement a victim-centred assistance protocol for identified trafficking victims.