2011/12 BUDGET CONTRIBUTION:
Hon. PHILIP DAVIS MP
Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador
“Where there is no hope in the future, there is no power in the present.”
These powerful words by author John Maxwell speak all too well to the draft budget before this Parliament.
It is a budget of no hope in the future. It is a budget that ignores the painful social and economic realities of 21st century Bahamas. It is a budget that puts politics first, not Bahamians.
This 2011-2012 budget provides no hope to the unemployed. It ignores the plight of those living in darkness. It fails to address the plight of small businesses, farmers and fishermen who are all catching hell.
Mr. Speaker, this budget provides no hope to the thousands graduating from high school this month. It provides no new ideas, no new initiatives and no new opportunities.
It is a budget high on political rhetoric and low on hope. This government has become powerless to address the vexing issues facing today’s Bahamas.
Mr. Speaker, our country is at a crossroad. We need leadership. We need direction. Young people are looking for opportunities. Our social fabric is under attack. Our economy is sick.
People are losing their homes in record numbers. Many people went to bed hungry last night. Others are homeless and desolate. National morale is at a low. Many Bahamians feel like second class citizens.
Mr. Speaker: Where is the hope? Where is the vision to build a Bahamas for the 21st century? It is not to be found in this budget.
This is not a government that has put Bahamians first, and likewise, this is not a budget that puts Bahamians first. This government has instead tended to the needs of special and foreign interests first for years, and now expects gratitude from Bahamians for the crumbs thrown to them in an election-year budget. It is too little, and it is too late.
Mr. Speaker where is the hope in a better future for the thousands of Bahamians who live every day in fear of crime? There are many Bahamians afraid to go out at night. Our homes have become mini prisons.
We are afraid to walk the streets. God help us should we say the wrong thing to the wrong person. There is no respect for life or property. Too many people have no fear of the law.
This budget ignores the fact that crime is the most serious problem facing our country today. Does this government so vastly under-estimate the problem, and under-estimate the intelligence of its citizens, as to truly believe that a budget full of low-end political-gimmick jobs for its party faithful will fill that hole?
This budget is about political expediency, not national priority. Because there is no doubt that tackling and reducing crime ought to be the number one priority of the Government today.
The most fundamental right any government owes its citizens is personal safety. The citizens of The Bahamas deserve the right to live, work and move about peaceably, secure in one’s person and property.
Without personal security, we cannot have economic security. Without personal security, we cannot build successful communities. Without personal security, we cannot accomplish great things as a nation. And so this government’s failures on crime are serious and fundamental.
Crime has dissolved the social fabric that binds Bahamians together. It has turned strangers into enemies, unfamiliar grounds into dangerous turf and random social contact into risky business.
When crime afflicts a neighbourhood – those who can avoid it, stay away; those who cannot suffer terribly. This is a new fact of life, and it is a national tragedy.
Mr. Speaker, the increase in violent crimes over the past four (4) years is shocking and unacceptable.
In fact, in every major category of crime, there has been an increase between the years 2007 to 2010. Murders increased from 78 to 94. Attempted murder almost doubled from 7 to 13. Robbery increased from 194 to 334. Armed robbery increased from 817 to 919. Housebreaking increased from 2510 to 3120. And unfortunately, the increasing trend continues for the first half of 2011.
There have been over 377 murders since May 2nd 2007. 57 murders have been recorded so far for 2011. This does not include the numbers of deaths over the past few months that remain unclassified or termed “suspicious”.
At this present rate we are on track for over 125 murders this year. One hundred and twenty-five lives lost. No one would have ever imagined such a day in The Bahamas 20 years ago.
The Member for North Abaco has provided us a list of measures he claims have been taken to address crime over the last four years. But what do his lists mean to the families who have lost loved ones?
His lists are a flimsy defense, and they do not obscure the truth: this government has failed to make fighting crime a priority.
If the Member for North Abaco were the type to consult citizens, to care about what Bahamians really want, he would have thrown his special interests out the door and made this crisis his first concern.
Instead, we have a party in power which has different priorities. When they get behind closed doors, they ask: how can we benefit the special and foreign interests who will support our continuation in power?
But when it comes to this top priority, fighting crime, they have offered only band-aids for our gushing wounds. The result is a nation in crisis.
No clever political marketing, no attacks on the PLP, no political propaganda or fanfare can mask the fact that this government has failed on crime. The facts are the facts!
When confronted with its failures on any issue, this government has a standard response ready: blame the PLP. If water leaks in a government bathroom, even a government bathroom built at great taxpayer cost by companies connected to FNM interests, the FNM will blame the PLP.
It is not a creative response, it is not a truthful response, but it is a consistent response on their part – blame the PLP.
Well, in this case, even the FNM cannot seriously hope to avoid responsibility. When this government came to power, the PLP government had implemented an innovative program called Urban Renewal. This program won awards, this program won praise internationally, and most importantly, above all, it was leading to a real reduction in crime, according to former Commissioner of Police Paul Farquharson, now High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.
The idea behind this program was simple but profound: fighting crime required a community-wide approach. Well, this FNM government came into power, and the last thing they wanted was a successful PLP program – remember, they always put politics first, not Bahamians, and they downsized and reduced that program to a ghost of its former self.
It is not just a shame that this program became a political football, it is a tragedy. We have seen the results.
Mr. Speaker, fellow members of Parliament, citizens of the Bahamas — we cannot afford to wait any longer for a comprehensive and effective approach to crime.
After the next election, the PLP will reintroduce an urban renewal program with full resources, with multiple community partners, with the capital and personnel needed to make both a short-term and a long-term impact.
Over the years, we have urged the government to put politics aside in this critical matter, to restart this program and devote the resources needed to make it a success. They have not listened. But if they should change their minds in the time that remains before the elections, we stand ready to help, ready to partner with them in this critical fight.
In fact, we have plenty of advice for this government. Under the Christie administration, school policing was introduced, because if our children are afraid, they cannot learn. Under the FNM, school policing was ended.
The Member from North Abaco likes to brag about his ability to make decisions. Well this decision, and so many others, were the wrong ones, wrong for our children, and wrong for the Bahamas. Reverse your bad decision, reintroduce the Christie plan for school policing, make our schools safe for learning.
And some more advice – take a national youth service program seriously. This government has invested in the success of its special friends, but it has not invested in the success of an entire generation of Bahamians.
Mr. Speaker, fighting crime deserves more than the shallow or cosmetic or too-little-too-late measures offered by this government. We need to be serious about prevention, serious about prosecution, and serious about rehabilitation.
And because the national interest is more important than any partisan political agenda, the PLP cannot wait to begin introducing ideas to fight crime – we must do so right away.
There have been some efforts to address Prosecution but these efforts have been cosmetic and grand standing at best.
Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is that this Government has failed on crime.
We need to become more innovative in our approach to this serious problem. As political leaders we need to give the attention and resources to fighting and reducing crime. The window of opportunity for us to turn this problem around is getting smaller every day
Let us be real. There are approximately 250 persons on bail for murder. Some persons are on bail for more than one murder. A murder case, under the best scenarios, lasts approximately 1 month.
For the sake of simplicity, let us assume for the moment a perfect system without any hiccups and with four judges dedicated to murder trials (which is much more than what presently exists) – even under such a system, it would take approximately six years to hear all the cases.
This does not take into account frequent delays or the fact that there are on average 100 murders now being committed annually in the Bahamas to be added to the numbers. Nor does it make allowance for the increasing number of retrials in recent years. This calculation also does not take into account all the other serious and violent criminal offences to be tried by the same judges before the same courts.
Do the math! You will realize that we have a very, very, serious problem. A drastic shock is needed to the system. It cannot be business as usual. It cannot be politics as usual. We cannot ask the families of murder victims to wait years for justice.
Mr. Speaker, we urge the government through the Department of Public Prosecutions to conduct a serious and thorough review of all prosecution files presently before that department. In instances where any individual is charged in more than one serious criminal incident, the DPP should pursue with vigour its strongest case and should a conviction be achieved the victim and/ or his or her family members in the remaining cases should be called-in and a possible plea arrangement be negotiated.
This will ease the burden of the additional trials before the courts and reduce the wastage of public resources. Most importantly, the primary objective of getting the culprit off the streets and ensuring that they are punished for their crimes would have been achieved.
There is an urgent need for increased financial, technical and training resources, for the Police to set up a more effective intelligence unit, with the ability to act swiftly upon improved intelligence. All efforts must be made to thwart criminal intentions.
Mr. Speaker there is a need for the Government as a matter of policy to focus on providing small contracts to community leaders for the upkeep and maintenance of parks and public spaces within their community. This fosters a sense of pride and ownership and acts as a social deterrent to criminal activity – this is not just my opinion, but a fact backed by serious empirical research in the field of criminology.
When people see a public space covered with litter and graffiti, poorly maintained, abandoned by the government, a signal is sent: this is a place where people do as they please and where they get away with that, without being detected. The PLP believes that it is the government’s responsibility to not only provide people with safe, clean, pleasant parks and public spaces but to send the opposite message to would-be criminals: this government is present, this government cares, this government will not tolerate crimes, big or small.
Once returned to the seat of governance after the next general election, this will be a priority for a PLP government lead by Perry G. Christie.
Turning to concerns about prosecution — Mr. Speaker, unfortunately our courts and magistrates experience repeated delays when Police Officers fail to attend court to provide evidence. We recommend the Police Force reintroduce the practice of having the Officer in Charge of each division of the Force receive notice of the officers under his or her command required to attend court; the Officer in Charge should then be held responsible for securing the attendance of other officers. In this way the Prosecutors would be able to assist the Police and the Police would be able to assist Prosecutors to bring criminal offenders to justice. This is a common-sense fix for an ongoing problem.
Mr. Speaker there is only a handful of officers that belong to the serious crimes unit of the Police Force. This small number of well-trained officers has the responsibility to investigate all serious crimes, including murder, and to testify on court during trial. Although these officers are doing a yeoman’s job under the circumstances, overall this is not good for the criminal justice system. Mr. Speaker, serious crimes being committed all over this country have outgrown the unit.
It is important that we find the resources, the same resources that can be found to lotion-up special interests in this country, to train more police officers to investigate serious crimes. We have to make better use of the talent that we have in the Force.
Mr. Speaker, there are too many illegal guns in this country. Every God-given day crime is being committed by persons armed with guns. Guns have become a way of life for too many of our people. We need to amend the Fire Arms Act to develop a gun tracking system in the Bahamas.
Cruisers who enter our waters should not only be required to declare their guns but to also to provide copies of their existing permits and to pay for a temporary permit while in the Bahamas. More importantly we should now as a matter of urgency require those cruising through the Bahamas to again declare firearms when leaving the country. We need the check and balances. We need to ensure that no guns are left in this country.
Mr. Speaker, in the Bahamas we must work to create a culture in which people take responsibility for their actions. There are too many lousy men who are fathering children here there and everywhere and leaving the mother and child to fend for themselves. This is wrong. It is wrong to father a child but accept none of the responsibilities of parenthood. It is a major cause of social disorder in our country.
Any time that I go into Victoria Gardens, Downtown Nassau, my heart is burdened. I am deeply saddened. The number of single moms struggling with the legal system to get men in this country to provide support for their children is alarming. This is real: Mothers are hurting. Families are hurting. Children are suffering.
The government’s system is simply not working well enough for most single mothers. Our society bears the cost. Too many children are left alone at night as mothers work two and three jobs just to keep lights on and find lunch for their kids. This is real talk.
We must strengthen penalties and enforcement for those who refuse to comply with maintenance orders. Raising a child is no joke. It is time that we stop joking with these jokers.
The mothers and children of this nation need help. God willing, this time next year a PLP Government will be moving swiftly to provide the help and hope that our single mothers deserve.
Mr. Speaker, this crime issue is serious. This budget seems more concerned about winning votes than securing the safety of our people.
And we are not just appalled about the lack of vision on crime.
How can the Government introduce austere measures in 2010, use a burdensome debt scenario as justification to dismiss scores of government employees and then twelve months later ask us to break the bank with tax cuts and giveaways? Are they serious?
When looked at against the backdrop of the statement by the Member for Marco City in last week’s Nassau Guardian that revenue collection is behind last year’s projections, it just does not make sense. I dare say they are suffering from schizophrenia.
Mr. Speaker, has this Government spent even a moment contemplating the Bahamas of tomorrow? Does this government care about my children, your children? Do the thousands of young people in primary school, high school and college students throughout The Bahamas matter to this Government?
This Government is spending and borrowing without any concern for the future or those who will have to pay high taxes for years to come. There is no investment in the future. They have mortgaged the future at the price of political victory.
Winning is more important than the national interest to this crew. If any of them truly care about the Bahamas, their consciences are eating them alive right now.
There are so many serious issues facing our country, but instead of debating and discussing ways to move our country forward, there are those who like the Member of Parliament for High Rock who chose to use his time in this honourable place to play dirty politics and regurgitate FNM political propaganda.
There are serious issues facing the people of High Rock…even the people who worked in his campaign to get him here. But does he care? Politics seems more important than the interest of the people!
Mr. Speaker, this budget is myopic and sells the future short. It is too little, too late. They offer three thousand temporary jobs….when there are more than 3,000 young people entering the workforce this month alone.
And where are the policies to promote and support small businesses? Small businesses should be considered the heart and soul of the Bahamian economy – Bahamian-owned businesses are a source of pride and a source of jobs.
Instead, we have an FNM government which invites foreign interests to pour capital into competing with Bahamian restaurants. Did they consult? Do they care? Did they put Bahamians first? You know the answer.
Where is the meaningful empowerment of Bahamians? Giving people a few dollars and something to do for 12 months and then dropping them on the side of the road is not empowerment. It is using people. It is a political ploy.
Mr. Speaker as I wrap up my contribution, I must remind the Free National Movement government that the people of Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador are Bahamians too. My constituents pay taxes and contribute to the welfare and development of this country just like everyone else.
The good people of Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador appear to be forgotten in this budget of giveaways. Four years ago, the Member for North Abaco promised upgrades to the Arthur’s Town and The Bight airports in Cat Island. To date, nothing has been done, and this year we don’t even get the courtesy of another promise. There is no sign the government remembers its previous pledges.
Water and sewerage works on Cat Island remain incomplete. While this government is focused on upgrading pipes in eastern New Providence, many residents of Cat Island are without potable water.
Mr. Speaker, 30-40% of tourists to Cat Island arrive by sailboat, yet there is nowhere to anchor. The docks are in a state of disrepair, resulting in significant loss of potential income. And God knows, Cat Island needs all the economic help it can get.
Bennett’s Harbour needs dredging, and Smith’s Bay is in need of much work and considerable repairs.
Other facilities requiring attention are the Arthur’s Town jailhouse, which is need of serious repairs; the halls, which are not open; and the teacher’s cottage and doctor’s residences, which are vacant but can be used for other purposes.
The park needs to be completed. I started it, but it was not completed due to reports that the site is not safe. If the site is indeed a hazard, another site needs to be identified; if it is safe, we need to be given the green light to complete the park.
Job availability is also a major concern in Cat Island. At least 30 graduates are leaving secondary school with no jobs in sight, as Government is not hiring on Family Islands and the economy is stagnant.
I do find it curious, though, that there are persons needed to fill position, yet residents are told that there are no jobs. The Government sector on the island is in dire need of diversification. One person is actually attempting to do five different jobs. This makes no sense, considering the need for effective government and the dire need for employment.
Mr. Speaker, San Salvador is also awaiting its fair share. The roads in United Estates are in very poor condition. A nurse, police officer and mail services are also needed there. There is also a need for a library in United Estates.
An x-ray machine is in San Salvador catching dust as a technician is badly needed. The emergency room at the clinic is out of service. A pharmacist is needed for the island. The schools lack specialized teachers to prepare San Salvador students to compete internationally.
We are now in the hurricane season and the seawall in Coburn Town needs repairs.
The airport needs to be painted and the leaking roof repaired. The information desk should be reinstituted at the airport and there is now the need for a full-time presence of the Ministry of Tourism on San Salvador. I hope that the government takes note of these needs, but I admit, I don’t expect much from them.
Rum Cay remains in need of a proper clinic and an administration building. A new primary school is long overdue. The primary school building is over 100 years old and is the same building in which Sir Milo Butler attended school in. It is unsafe. It is time that we converted that structure into a museum and provide a proper facility for the children of Rum Cay.
Mr. Speaker, these are serious times and serious times require serious Leadership. The Bahamian people expect us – the Members of this Honourable House – to conceive and debate the solutions to the issues that face them!
This budget and the government’s blatant attempt at a political bribe only nourishes the disillusionment that our people have towards the political process and more alarmingly to their country! We have an obligation to be serious! We have an obligation to be sincere! We have an obligation, each one of us here to make this country’s future better than its past!
In this budget the government failed on all scores! It is clear Mr. Speaker — that to the FNM, politics matters more than people.
In the words of the Late U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, “A compassionate government keeps faith with the trust of the people and cherishes the future of their children.”
On behalf of the children of Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador I am proud to stand in opposition to this mockery of governance.
The Progressive Liberal Party cherishes the future of our nation’s children. The Progressive Liberal Party always has, and always will, put Bahamians first.