COULD there be a better example of the need for tougher sentences?
Last October, members of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force caught a fishing vessel poaching in Bahamian waters.
In the process, the RBDF ship, HMBS Bahamas, was rammed by the poachers as they tried to get away.
On board the vessel, officers found 5,420 pounds of hogfish, 2,213 pounds of Nassau grouper, 11,267 pounds of whole lobster, 276 pounds of lobster tails and 1,685 pounds of other fish. The ship also had a compressor and spearguns in violation of the law, and some suspected illegal narcotics too.
Five people were detained, although one subsequently died while in prison. That left four to be sentenced. Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down a verdict that effectively amounted to one month in prison. The poachers will ultimately have only spent a total of six months in prison for violating Bahamian waters and breaking our laws on fishing in a flagrant manner.
The Attorney General’s office even took the case to the Supreme Court in the hope of a stronger sentence being issued than was allowed in the Magistrate’s Court. And here we have what has been termed a “slap in the face” for Bahamian fishermen. All we’ve done is likely increased the costs of bringing the case by taking it to a higher court.
It’s more than a slap in the face, however. What’s the point of sending out all these vessels to patrol our waters if the penalty on those who are caught is barely worth the time and effort in court?
The Fisheries Act does offer more substantial penalties – with fines of up to $500,000 and prison sentences of up to five years for various breaches of the act. But that’s not what a crew that was willing to ram a military vessel in a bid to force their way to freedom received.
As National Fisheries Association secretary Paul Maillis said: “It sends a message to poachers in the Caribbean and Latin America that the Bahamas does not take poaching seriously, and they can get away with a very light sentence… why would a Bahamian commercial fisherman even report poaching if they know nothing happens to them, and they get to go free back home to their country while suffering no financial loss, and simply get to board another boat to come back to The Bahamas? There’s no cost to them.”
Why, indeed? Minister of Agriculture Clay Sweeting insisted after the verdict that the government has a “no nonsense” approach to taking on poachers and that the Attorney General’s office was looking into whether there were grounds to appeal.
Let’s see how far that no nonsense approach will go – how about revising the act itself to stiffen the penalties that poachers face? With that amount of fish on board, would even a $500,000 fine be a significant deterrent? Perhaps both the fines and the jail time should be revisited, so that we no longer give out the message that we’re a soft touch.
You can’t stop a hurricane by shouting at it, but that seems to be the approach we’re taking to the financial storm affecting the world right now.
As Sir Franklyn Wilson points out in today’s Tribune, there’s really not a lot that The Bahamas can do to deal with global oil prices soaring – they hit $139 per barrel yesterday. We’re not the oil producers, we’re just like many others consumers of a product that is going up and up in price.
So if the fuel price is going up at the pump, that’s really down to the global conditions rather than anything we can particularly do.
The same applies over at BPL, where sure, if we’d struck a deal earlier before the prices started shooting up, that might have helped, but those prices are going to rise, and pretending they’re not is not going to help.
Over at the Water and Sewerage Corporation, we have the warning about disconnections resuming. As the public relations manager says: “We need revenue, we need to be able to pay, we’re a business.”
WSC previously said in November that disconnections would resume but Minister of Works Alfred Sears said that announcement hadn’t been taken to Cabinet. Sound familiar? The same situation, more or less, happened with BPL this week.
We can’t just ignore the rising costs, no matter how unpopular they might be. And the longer we do, the bigger the bill we’ll have to pay in the end.