Hundreds pack the public school hall in, Bimini on Wednesday, January 9, 2008 for the government’s town meeting there. Pictured centre at the microphone is Justin Rolle, brother of Ascol Deno Rolle who died following a police involved shooting in on December 22, 2007.
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ALICE TOWN, Bimini – Government ministers led by Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham travelled to Bimini Wednesday and met with hundreds of residents who voiced concerns ranging from strained relations with the island’s police to a lack of constructive outlets for the island’s youth.
Mr. Ingraham, who announced he would hold a town meeting with Bimini residents following the December 22 police-involved shooting and subsequent riot there, took note of the concerns expressed and re-assured residents that the government is committed to fairness and upholding the rule of law.
“You can be assured that the government will do its part with respect to ensuring that the laws of The Bahamas are carried out,” Mr. Ingraham said. “There will be no favouritism. There will be no protection for any. Those who wish to have protection of the law must also be willing to support the law.”
Rioting and apparent acts of arson in Bimini resulted in the destruction of hundreds of thousands of dollars of public property. Residents at the meeting questioned the government on the reason for the police force’s slow response to the riot, indicating that it took hours for reinforcement to be brought in from Nassau and Grand Bahama.
Mr. Ingraham acknowledged that the residents raised a valid question, a question he said he did not have a good answer to at the time. The prime minister however, stressed that the response time by the police force does not excuse the riot that took place.
“We can say what we would like to say, but you have children in this community and you have examples to set,” Mr. Ingraham pointed out. “There are many wrongs that take place in a society, but we must all accept responsibility for our part in those wrongs.
“We understand that there have been complaints against some of the police officers in this community,” he continued. “But is that the way you deal with seeking to get a resolution to a problem? Is that the example you ought to pass on in this community? Life is a two-way street – every action has a consequence.”
In the midst of the anger and frustration expressed by some residents, it was a message that resonated with others.
Mr. Ingraham further reminded residents, who called on the government to give answers to their questions and frustrations about the progress of the police-involved shooting case currently before the courts, that determinations on the degree of criminal charges an accused individual should face are not made by the government but by the judicial system.
And while many of the concerns expressed during the town meeting stemmed from December’s incidents, it is a lack of constructive activities and opportunities for Bimini’s youth residents young and old said is at the heart of some of the social problems the island is facing.
The government was questioned by a 12th grade student in Bimini on when the public school’s home economics facility, also destroyed during the riot, will be rebuilt so that students can focus on their BGCSE preparations. The need for youth-based civic groups on the island was also expressed, as was the need to refurbish the island’s playing field which has been out of commission for over two years.
For other residents, it was questions about the island’s sluggish economy and cost of living woes they opted to put to government ministers present.
Business owners expressed concern over what they said is an under-utilisation of all that Bimini has to offer to tourists and second-home owners. Additional funding for entrepreneurial endeavours was requested so as to promote business opportunities in Bimini.
Regarding healthcare on the island, residents expressed concerns about the availability of air ambulance services for residents, particularly for those who are not able to afford such services.
Unbearably high utility bills was also said to be a cause for angst in Bimini, with residents indicating that it is almost impossible to make ends meet given the monthly electricity bills they receive from the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC).
Responding to concerns expressed at the meeting about speeding in Bimini’s harbours and the need to replace displaced buoys, Maritime Affairs Minister Dion Foulkes indicated that the Port Department collaborates with the police force to monitor such activities and incidents. He however, said he will arrange a meeting with the Port Controller and stakeholders on the island to discuss the feasibility of having someone stationed on Bimini to monitor these concerns.
Cabinet members, Minister of National Security and Immigration Tommy Turnquest, Minister of Works and Transport Earl Deveaux, Minister of Housing and National Insurance Kenneth Russell, Minister of Health and Social Development Dr. Hubert Minnis, Minister of Maritime Affairs and Labour Dion Foulkes and Minister of Lands and Local Government Sidney Collie were in attendance at Wednesday’s town meeting held at the public school hall in Alice Town.