Mr. Christie’s National Address on Crime was magnificent

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Oswald Brown

Oswald Brown Writes

By OSWALD T. BROWN

Progressive Liberal Party Leader Perry Christie’s national address on crime continues to be a topic of discussion on the country’s myriad radio talk shows.

It has been described by some people as a “magnificent speech” that provided some excellent and constructive ideas for addressing the very serious crime problem afflicting The Bahamas, but it has also been criticized by political operatives in the governing Free National Movement (FNM) as being “seriously deficient,” as FNM Chairman Carl Bethel suggested in a press release the day after Mr. Christie told a national audience that the Bahamian people “are afraid that the violence is going to continue to escalate, and they are angry that the government has offered no meaningful responses.”

Mr. Bethel’s criticism of Mr. Christie’s address clearly is an absolute indictment of the FNM government for failing to take decisive action to address the serious crime problem in this country. Indeed, in his press statement, Mr. Bethel admitted that the FNM “is deeply aware of the unacceptably high incidence of crime in our Nation, particularly violent crimes against the person.”

It’s incredible that Mr. Bethel could have said that the FNM is aware of the problem and yet as the murder rate continued to climb at an alarming pace, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham goes on an extended vacation and no one in the FNM government dared to speak out publicly on the issue without his permission.

In fact, since the first week of July when the House of Assembly adjourned until October 5, Prime Minister Ingraham had been virtually incommunicado until he resurfaced last week in time to attend the FNM’s Service of Thanksgiving on Sunday.

He supposedly went on a two-week vacation with his wife shortly after the House adjourned, amidst reports that he had checked into Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. In the absence of an official statement from the Cabinet Office as to his whereabouts that rumour gained significant traction but has never been confirmed or denied. The next bit of information that surfaced about the Prime Minister was that he was on a Caribbean cruise again with his wife, subsequent to which he was said to be on a fishing trip with friends.

Meanwhile, there was a very serious outbreak of dengue fever in the country, but Mr. Ingraham apparently did not consider it serious enough for him to interrupt his “vacation” to address the nation on this issue, even after the United States issued a travel advisory to visitors coming to The Bahamas because of the seriousness of the dengue fever outbreak.

Given the disdain for the Bahamian people inherent in his lack of concern for their welfare with regard to this very serious health issue, it’s not surprising the Mr. Ingraham has not done what Mr. Christie did last week and let the nation know what plans the FNM government has for combating the serious crime problem in this country.

I am included in the category of people who think that Mr. Christie’s National Address of Crime was magnificent. In my opinion, he gave a comprehensive blueprint for addressing what he described as the “tsunami of violence sweeping the nation” that has resulted in 92 murders so far this year, just two shy of last year’s record 94 murders. At this rate, it is conceivable that there will be more than 130 murders in The Bahamas in 2011, which would clearly certify The Bahamas, per capita, as the murder capital of the world.

One statistic provided by Mr. Christie that placed in proper perspective just how serious the crime problem has become is that the murder rate nationwide this year is up by 58 per cent and for New Providence it is up by a mind-boggling 69 per cent. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to deduce from this that should we allow this scourge to continue, the very lifeblood of our economy – tourism – will be in serious jeopardy.

One question that every Bahamian should be asking themselves is this: Could this very grave state of affairs have been avoided if Hubert Ingraham and his FNM government had not chosen to play politics with some very effective programs put in place by the PLP during its tenure as the government of The Bahamas from 2002 to 2007?

As Mr. Christie noted in his address: “The FNM decided to end pioneering, award-winning anti-crime programs put in place by my government – programs like Urban Renewal, Swift Justice, Witness Protection, and School Policing – all have either been inadequately funded or destroyed outright because they were PLP programs.”

Unquestionably, Mr. Ingraham should be asked to explain why his government chose to deleteriously revamp the PLP’s Urban Renewal Program, removing from it vital components specifically geared towards addressing some of the core reasons why crime incubates and festers in poor communities. Clearly, the only reason why they chose to tinker with this program is because it was the brainchild of Mr. Christie.

The same is true of the School Policing Program, which was also a victim of the FNM’s stop, review and cancel policy. There’s no question that police presence on the campuses of schools that are prone to having gang-related problems was effective is reducing the number of fights that broke out on the campuses of these schools. Now I understand that the FNM realizes that it made a mistake and plans to reintroduce having police on school campuses.

Mr. Christie’s speech also included some no-nonsense law-enforcement measures, but one initiative that he mentioned which I particularly liked was his idea of introducing a cadre of Violence Breakers, young men who are street smart and can relate to the errant behavior of young men who have already taken or are about to take a wrong turn at the crossroad of their youthful lives that lead to a life of crime.

That an intervention program of this nature has the potential to set many “youth at risk” on the road to becoming law-abiding citizens is one of the reason why I could not understand the nonsensical decision made by the FNM government to stop funding the YEAST program operated by Deacon Jeffrey Lloyd in North Andros.

The YEAST program was based on a similar program called SERVOL that was very effective in Trinidad, and Deacon Lloyd had established a good track record in reversing the wrong direction that some youth at risk were headed in when he operated it on a smaller scale in a former clinic building on the grounds of Our Lady’s Roman Catholic Church on Deveaux Street.

The reason the FNM government gave when it stopped funding the program was that the $13,000 a year to maintain each youth in the program was too costly. The government promised to replace it with a less costly program based in New Providence, but that promise has yet to be fulfilled more than two years after the program was closed.

When you consider the fact that it costs more than $15,000 annually for each prisoner locked up in Fox Hill Prison, it makes you wonder who advises the FNM government on matters of this nature. Surely, it is a not only a good investment to spend $13,000 to possibly prevent a young person from becoming an inmate in Fox Hill, but more importantly there has to a great deal more satisfaction in watching that young person possibly turn his life around and become a productive, tax-paying citizen of this country.

Now that he is back in the county, and hopefully has completed his extended vacation, Mr. Ingraham should return to doing the job that the Bahamian people entrusted to him as Prime Minister. His first order of business should be to follow Mr. Christie’s example and let the Bahamian people know via a national address what the FNM’s plans are to tackle this country’s spiraling crime problem. Certainly, the problem has become serious enough for his cabinet to make it a top priority to devise a course of action that would provide the Bahamian people with some degree of hope that they can look forward to a noticeable reduction in crime in the not too distant future.

He could achieve this by borrowing aspects of Mr. Christie’s well thought out and enunciated National Address on Crime.

–ends–

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