By FARRAH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
ROYAL Bahamas Defence Force Commodore Raymond King said the officers who were on duty when a man trespassed on Government House property and partially destroyed a statue of Christopher Columbus have been relieved of their duties.
On Saturday afternoon, a man was arrested for damaging the monument with a sledgehammer. Video footage capturing the man shouting “I bringing him down” while causing extensive destruction to the statue made the rounds on social media over the weekend.
Police were dispatched to the scene around 1.20pm. When they arrived, they arrested the man who was also found with a bullet proof vest for which he could not give a satisfactory account.
Police said he was taken into custody for damage to government property and unlawful possession. Investigations into this matter are ongoing.
After Commodore King and his executive team visited Mount Fitzwilliam to examine the extent of the damage, he revealed that the RBDF had launched an internal inquiry into the matter.
“I’ve only just recently received the report for the death of (Petty Officer) Percival Perpall and the deficiencies that would have been alluded to by the committee with the view of correcting those deficiencies and the overall state of security and safety here at Government House,” he said. “The watch has been relieved of its duties and an internal inquiry has started with a view to determining the extent, scope and perceptibly unchallenged vandalism that was permitted to occur.”
Commodore King said he did not wish to “preempt or to bias” the inquiry; however, he did acknowledge that Government House was under “active construction.”
“It is a construction site, but the matter will be dealt with completely, thoroughly and transparently and those being held culpable for allowing this damage to occur will be held accountable for what transpired here.”
Yesterday, National Security Minister Wayne Munroe said he also intends to look into the issue.
Mr Munroe said as a lawyer, he knew that most soldiers could not “affect arrest” besides those who were “specially detailed” to work along with the police. He said the “first thing” he will be asking for is to see “what were the standing orders of the sentries.”
“I would also like to know what (were) the prevailing circumstances (and) whether there was good cause for them to alert on sounds of demolition on a construction, because Government House is now a construction site,” he continued. “In fairness to the men who put their lives at risk, I think they should be given a fair opportunity. If they are in default, then their default is addressed and if they’re not, then they’re to be defended like anybody else who isn’t in default.”
Mr Munroe said he did not intend to have any “knee-jerk reaction or views”. He also said he does not assume that members of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force or the Police Force are “derelict in their duties”, but instead assumes that they “perform their duties correctly” until it is demonstrated to him that they have not.
When asked if he was concerned that an individual was able to access the Government House property so easily to damage the statue, Mr Munroe said he was not surprised as the monument was on an “open, unbarricaded staircase”.
There is a low gate at the bottom of the staircase.
“If you really don’t want people on it, I would imagine you would erect a barricade,” he said. “There is no barricade there from what I could tell. You could walk up and down the stairs without (being) met with hindrance. Unless you’re going to post a standing guard there at all times, then people are going to be able to walk up and down.”
Mr Munroe said he has seen a review that was produced following the 2019 fatal shooting of Officer Perpall at Government House.
He said there were some recommendations “that go toward securing a life more than property,” as well as another recommendation advising for the expansion of CCTV coverage.
“In the Ministry of National Security there is some priority on upgrading the technology that is available to law enforcement and security personnel,” he said. “But unless the Bahamian public wants the Commodore of the Defence Force or the Commissioner of Police to stand an officer up to watch statues like Queen Victoria (and) like the bust in Rawson Square, people are going to have access to them and the only question will be if something happens, can you determine who it was.”
Yesterday, Prime Minister Phillip “Brave Davis” also spoke against the “act of disobedience” that resulted in the “destruction of public property”.
“We are not to condone that and we don’t condone that,” he said. “Whatever the historical significance and protest that has come from it in respect to Columbus’ encounter with the Bahamas, that’s one issue. In fact, I sympathise and empathise with some of the voices that are speaking to the fact of realigning history so that it’s true facts are revealed and interpreted. And so I do share and understand some of the sentiments, but this is not the way to express those sentiments by destruction of public property.”
Mr Davis said the person who is responsible for the act will be “dealt with according to law”. As it relates to whether the statue will be replaced, Mr Davis said that question was “another issue” that will be addressed at Cabinet level before a decision is made going forward as there was a “loud cry out there” for the nation to ensure that its “history is properly represented; particularly as it relates to the African diaspora.”
Asked if he was concerned about the effectiveness of RBDF given apparent lapses on the Government House compound on more than one occasion, he said: “I think we must all remember that we are all humans and we are fallible. But we expect some standard of behaviour when you enlist in certain disciplines and, yes, there may be lapses, but I’m assured by the commodore that effective measures are being taken to correct all these errors that have been seemingly (caused by) the lack of attention by the officers.”
An online petition started last year to have the statue removed from Government House has garnered more than 15,000 signatures.