By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE chairman of the Free National Movement’s Central and South Abaco constituency branch wants National Security Minister Marvin Dames to resign over the “weak security” on the island.
“The minister of national security needs to answer for this failure,” Victor Patterson complained yesterday. “I have no more patience for him.”
Mr Dames in response told The Tribune he does not have operational control of law enforcement agencies and will not interfere politically with them, especially after satisfying himself that the police commissioner and defence force commodore are ably securing the island. He also said officials intend to increase the number of police vehicles on Abaco.
He told reporters yesterday evening that as more residents return to Abaco, the number of law enforcement officers there will likely increase beyond the numbers deployed in the wake of the storm.
Mr Patterson believes the government is generally doing a good job responding to the unprecedented destruction wrought by Hurricane Dorian, but added that the political implications for the governing party after the monster storm have generally been negative on the island.
After the Category Five storm battered Abaco, mass looting and scavenging took place. The government eventually deployed more than 900 law enforcement officers to Abaco who were helped by additional foreign officers. However, some residents say crime persists.
“A worker on a house saw a man stealing tools from that house yesterday,” Mr Patterson said. “He took a picture of the van the man was in. The person whose stuff was stolen went driving around with his cousin until they spotted the van. They tried to call the police and had no luck. They reached out to me and I reached out to the MP (James Albury), and he reached out to the police but had no luck. He spoke to a police woman and she said she could not bring a vehicle to meet them for whatever reason. That is not acceptable. We don’t expect perfection after a disaster like this but this security failure is ongoing, it needs to end and if the minister of national security cannot handle this he needs to resign. I am extremely displeased with his performance and the security situation feels like a betrayal for us. Every other minister and ministry have been falling over themselves to be helpful but I haven’t had any luck with the Ministry of National Security.”
Residents like Mr Patterson want law enforcement to construct checkpoints at entrances to Murphy Town and Dundas Town, ensuring people aren’t transporting stolen items.
Mr Dames travelled to Abaco with national security officials over the weekend to get a firsthand account of the security situation. Videos he took showed officers patrolling Marsh Harbour at night and neighbouring cays in the day. In one video, police drove through the mainland for some time before encountering a vehicle on the street. In another video, a woman on a cay praised defence force officers for how they conducted their work.
“We went throughout the entire settlement of Marsh Harbour and the streets were very desolate,” Mr Dames said. “There was no movement on the streets whatsoever and we patrolled for a significant period. I think there was one vehicle stopped along the way and persons gave a justifiable reason for why they were on the streets.
“There may be need to increase the number of people there even further as the recovery and construction begin to intensify so we’re doing daily assessments of that and the commissioner and commodore are doing that...Based on our assessment over the weekend, we feel the police and the defence force have the situation under control.”
For his part, Mr Patterson said generally residents are displeased with the government’s overall response to the storm but said this can be improved with a prudent approach to rebuilding. The FNM won both of Abaco’s seats in the last general election and the constituencies are considered FNM strongholds.
“There are a lot of very angry people,” Mr Patterson said. “That is hardly up for dispute. The feeling is Abaco has contributed a great deal of revenue to the treasury over the years and now when we need the government, many people, and I’m not one of them, but many people feel the government’s response has not been sufficient. The security failure has caused a lot of the resentment, that’s 80 percent of our problem. But it’s not like anybody here is suddenly in love with the Progressive Liberal Party. No one here is saying ‘if only Perry Christie or Brave Davis were prime minister the situation would be different.’ The feeling is just general disillusionment but there is no doubt the ship can be righted.”
Mr Patterson said despite some concerns, most ministries have been responsive and helpful in his view. “The Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Transportation, all these people have when I got in touch with them been able to flick their fingers and make things happen,” he said.
Last week, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said he was not happy with the security situation in Abaco, saying that Cabinet would consider implementing a curfew in Abaco.
“We requested an additional 150 personnel,” he told the Nassau Guardian on Wednesday. “We will again talk to the defence force. We have, I was told, 40, 50 individuals who may have retired. You know they force retirement early, at 55. So we will call all those individuals back so that they can assist with security.
“Cabinet and I, we will have to decide whether…once I survey and have a better understanding of the situation, we will make a determination as to whether we will institute a curfew.
“There is no reason for people to be about moving in the darkness.
“We need extra manpower. We need more personnel, no doubt,” Dr Minnis said last week.