Contribution to debate on a Resolution to Appoint a Select Committee on Crime by Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham:
THE PRIME MINISTER: On January 4th of this year the new Police Act entered into force and a new Commissioner of Police, representative of a new generation of senior and seasoned police officers, assumed command of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
Chief among the mandates of the new Commissioner was the renewal of the mission of the Force and adoption of vigorous new approaches to policing and crime fighting.
Supporting that mandate was my Government’s commitment to fortifying and strengthening our Police Force through investments in material and manpower, providing the tools and conditions of service needed to professionalize and modernise the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
Even before the beginning of the year the Police increased pedestrian and vehicular patrol by the Force had been instituted throughout New Providence.
More recently, the Police have added CCTV to their anti-crime arsenal in selected high crime areas in Nassau and it has proven to be most beneficial and worthwhile exercise, and I therefore expect that this technology will be extended throughout this island and to many more areas because it has been a vital tool in the fight against crime so far.
Additional resources being made available to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force continues to bolster our commitment in the fight against the illicit traffic of dangerous drugs and indeed, of persons – both activities which spur on and increase levels of criminality in our communities,
The Office of the Attorney General, with the support of the Office of the Law Reform Commissioner has made commendable progress in a methodical review of our laws including the Penal Code.
We expect, sometime during the course of this calendar year to introduce Bills for a new Penal Code and for a new Criminal Procedure Code, both of which that outlived their usefulness many many years ago.
When enacted we believe these will free us from some of the outdated, unhelpful provisions of our laws which do not today contribute to making us safer or in reducing the fear of crime and the incidents of crime. In addition to a new penal code, the recent Speech from the Throne outlining my Government’s legislative agenda included a commitment to bring a new Bill to amend the Bail Act.
I heard at least one speaker say that bail is a right and that there is nothing we can do to prevent persons from being placed on bail. Well, that is wrong, that is clealy wrong. The highest court in the land; the Privy Council, determined long ago that that is not true.
The only time you cannot deny bail is when the person has not been tried within a reasonable period of time, but there is no such thing as an absolute right to bail, notwithstanding what anybody else says.
And it is our intention in The Bahamas to propose that in the context of The Bahamas, a reasonable period of time is three years. We are satisfied that such a provision will withstand any challenge before all competent courts of jurisdcition for The Bahamas.
As I have commented previously – a criminal out on bail committing new and often violent crimes is unacceptable. It frustrates the police and mocks the criminal justice system and our way of life.
The law introducing electronic bracelets and monitoring of serious offenders on bail will soon be put into effect.
Additional reforms are forecast for the legal and judicial sectors including a new Coroners Act, a new Magistrates Act and a new Prisons Act . All the aforementioned legislative changes, reforms and modernization strategies are a part of a comprehensive and multifaceted arsenal of crime-fighting tools and measures.
The backlog in the Judicial System, particularly regarding criminal cases of the most severe nature is inexcusable and unacceptable.
We are determined to break the logjam. Soon we will introduce an amendment to the Supreme Court Act to provide for and facilitate the appointment of perhaps up to four additional criminal judges who will undertake the challenge of reducing the criminal case backlog in the system.
I note that these judicial appointments will be under fix term contracts and not appointment to age 65 because we think that a bench of 12 judges in The Bahamas under normal circumstances is an adequate number of judges to do the work in a productive and effective manner.
While addressing the need to deal with the backlog of criminal cases we have to ensure that we have adequacy and in this regard, it would be my hope and expectation that the Judicial and Legal Services Commission would not feel constrained to only appoint Bahamians to occupy these positions.
We aim to have four (4) criminal Supreme Courts in session on a year round basis. Appropriate court facilities are being prepared commencing with the Hanzard Building. The bids for the repair of this building are in and a contract is expected to be awarded in the next few weeks.
Thereafter, the Ansbacher Building, which the Government proposed to purchase, will be refitted to accommodate additional courts. Additionally, space vacated by magistrates’ courts being relocated to the new Magistrates Court Complex at Meeting and Augusta Streets will also be reconfigured to accommodate the Supreme Court.
I am advised that the Judicial and legal Services Commission recently appointed a new Director of Public Prosecutions and elevated 2 persons to the position of Deputy Director of Prosecutions. The new Director is expected to take up the post by August.
I might also say that there has been a serious problem with the management of criminal cases – a problem of untold magnitude. Notwithstanding, efforts made in the past we have not been nearly as effective as The Bahamas deserves in the administration of the judicial and legal system of The Bahamas.
I blame no one. I am here now and I accept responsibility for everything, and I shall discharge my duties without fear or favour.
Critical and essential changes are being made in the personnel of the Director of Prosecution. We have high hopes that trials within a reasonable time, will become the rule rather than the exception.
But the backlog is huge; it goes back to many many years. Many serious cases are just sitting, catching dust.
My Government has no objection to the appointment of a new Select Committee or the same Select Committee to consider the too high level of crime in our country. It is important however, that we do not lose sight of our individual and collective responsibility in combating crime.
Hence, to the extent that debate in this honourable place serves to focus national attention on efforts to combat criminality, promote civility, personal responsibility and encourage camaraderie among citizens, we are supportive of such debate.
We are supportive too of concrete ideas which may promote pragmatic and targeted interventions which may aid in crime prevention and behavioural change by those disposed to criminal conduct.
But, I do not believe it is as useful, when contributions by Honourable Members deteriorate into monologues on what is wrong with our society; or seek to attribute blame for what is wrong.
Nor is it helpful if our debate seeks, even if only obliquely, to excuse or rationalise criminal behaviour.
The Member of Parliament for Bain and Grants Town in moving the resolution for the reappointment of the select committee related a question put to him – presumably by a thief – “What do you expect me to do if I don’t have the money to feed my children?”
Well there are a number of responses that come immediately to mind – the first being “I don’t expect that you will steal!” The Honourable Member said words to the effect that he would never condone such behaviour (i.e. stealing) but that he understood where the fellow was coming from.
Well I do not understand where the fellow is coming from. Taking what is not yours, without permission is stealing and that is illegal.
I was poor, very poor. Many, many material things were not available to me. “Thiefing” was not an option for me.
Mama was a recipient of what was called a ‘pauper’s ration’ – dry food including canned sweet milk or powdered milk – sent to he family Islands for the poor. I made it. And tens of thousands of others made it and we did not steal and we did not go to jail.
Nowadays there are government funded programmes to assist families in need of food support. Too much pride to apply and accept food stamps, is false pride and not to be tolerated.
The Honourable Member for Cat Island and San Salvador began his contribution asking that Honourable Members accept that the quality of life for Bahamians had deteriorated since 2007 – I assume what he meant by that was, since his Party got booted out of office.
I believe that the Honourable Member is aware that by 2007, the quality of life had been substantially improved between 2002-2007. I also believe that he is aware that the quality of life for millions of people all around the world deteriorated since 2007 and the crash of global financial markets.
Whatever they want to say is fine with me, I will note however that daily I am told by total strangers how happy they are that yours truly (and not others) leads the government during these most perilous economic times, including a former Minister in their government.
I am as always humbled and honoured to do my best for our country with the help of competent, trusted and valued colleagues and the guidance of our Almighty God.
Both the Honourable Members concede that our Courts are beleaguered with an historic backlog of cases including criminal cases. They say that something must be done about it. The Member for Cat Islands suggests that the appointment of still another Committee comprised of senior lawyers and a Judge can be a first step.
I say as clearly as I can that we on this side do not propose to become a part of emotive talk shops or interminable committees on crime.
We mean to be engaged in positive, concrete action to remediate the problems confronting our people today.
Our legislative agenda on the crime front, as presented in the Throne Speech, sets out concrete action proposed by my Government to deal with a number of legislative and procedural obstacles to improved efficiencies in our legal and law enforcement sectors. We trust that in these matters of paramount national importance, we will enjoy the constructive participation of members opposite.
The last Session of Parliament- in February, 2008 – appointed a Parliamentary Committee to investigate social conditions believed to impact the levels of crime, to review the extent to which public institutions have added to the problem, and to evaluate the impact, if any, that conclusions and recommendations of Committees and Commissions appointed by Governments to study the Problem may have had. The Committee held a series of public and private meetings and eventually made a report to this place. I believe that the Report accepted what every other debate on crime in this place has concluded over the past two decades:
Crime and its causes is complex.
Our responses to crime must be comprehensive and versatile, involving long-term strategies and timely measures in the medium and short term.
Our strategies must take into account individual behaviour and social conditions.
The Government’s anti-crime initiative has been designed to take these findings into account.
I never tire of saying that out of the same household can come a preacher and a criminal.
We are also reviewing how other programmes may assist in the character development and socialization of our young people, including a review of the community service-learning programmes in our public schools. Further, well-designed and focused targeted intervention programmes, such as various alternative sentencing measures for juvenile non-violent offenders will be reviewed and considered.
I heard the Member for St. Cecilia make the point about not being able to remove the criminal record of a young person who had been charged at a very early age.
You know, we passed laws in The Bahamas to deal with that. The reality though is, that we can pass these laws insofar as The Bahamas is concerned, and we can pass those laws so that it does not affect you on your job, but we cannot do anything about going to the United States.
We are going to bring to the House of Assembly a Bill – a new Public Service Bill – that is going to permit us to be able to engage persons who had been previously convicted of criminal offenses. This is something that could have been done by Governments of The Bahamas if they chose to.
There is no law that says you cannot do so, there is a General Order that says you cannot do so.
So do not pontificate about how we feel about the criminal and when I would not hire them as a permanent person in a government job and I can do so, I choose not to. And then we say it is bad when others are not doing it. The Government should set the example.
Criminals should know that we are determined to implement every measure possible to reduce the opportunities they take to wreak havoc on our community.
Young people, who want to turn around their lives, should know that the community will provide them with the opportunities to contribute in their own way to the common good of our country.
But young people, and older people who need to turn their lives around should not be lulled into believing that the government is their parent; that the government, using the public purse, will bail them out of every bad decision regardless to how many poor decisions they make. Social deterioration and criminality require many-sided, comprehensive responses.
We have acted and continue to act on several fronts simultaneously. Honourable Members are aware that the first Bill passed in this legislative sessions was a new BTVI Act, granting greater autonomy to that institution and reflecting the recognition of my Government of the urgent need for increased focus on learning driven education and strengthened technical and vocational education and training.
This renewed focus on learning driven education is similarly shaping instruction in government-operated school system where a new 10 year education plan is being developed for implementation.
And, we have expanded and increased our support to youth and community based activities — all meant to better direct the energies of our young people toward productive activities. Still, the incidence of crime remains too high and the backlog in our criminal Justice system remains too high.
The level of unfocused anger remains too high in our community. There is an urgent need for greater acknowledgement of the role each of us as individuals must play in crime prevention and crime fighting, and the reduction of violence.
We must acknowledge that individual misconduct is often reinforced by certain group behaviour and poor social norms which may help to feed a culture of criminality.
And so, as the Government continues to confront the big issues with regard to crime and its causes, we will also increasingly address other mindsets and behaviour which criminal ideas and activity use to their advantage.
The corruption too many indulge in and tolerate in the private and public sectors also helps to feed a culture of criminality. Accordingly, my Government continues its effort to root out public sector corruption. It is important that we recognize that public sector corruption comes in many shapes and sizes.
When we dismiss a single illegal act as unimportant, insignificant or as “sometimes acceptable”, we contribute to the creation of society without regard or respect for law. In this regard I note that public corruption is expressed in many ways: e.g.
a customs officer(s) who knowingly undervalues an item at the point of importation
a police who turns a blind eye to a crime; or who intentionally loses or destroys evidence in a case
a lawyer(s) in the public prosecutors office who intentionally creates delays in bringing matters forward for court action
an officer(s) who accepts a gift or a tip (and this can range from a few dollars, to lunch, to a substantial sum of money) to speed or otherwise influence the outcome of an application submitted to the passport office, the Immigration Department, the road traffic division, the Lands & Surveys Department, the town planning and the building control divisions or the business licence unit, or to accelerate connection to public utilities etc.
an officer(s) who conspires with other to produce false documentation in support of the grant of citizenship and receipt of a passport
an officer(s) who conspire or scheme to award a government contract to family, friends, associate or someone offering an incentive (monetary or otherwise)
Officers who abuse the use of public vehicles (and petroleum products) for their unauthorised personal use.
I believe it is important all of us to recognize and accept that official corruption cannot exist without the willing participation of individuals in both the public and the private sector.
Corrupt public officials do not pay themselves bribes. They accept them (illegally) from individuals seeking to gain an advantage not available in the normal course of business to members of the general public. Finally, I repeat something which I have previously commented upon in this place and elsewhere – we continue to live comfortably with blatant disregard of laws at our own peril.
A society which accepts a wide array of illegal activity as “just our way” is actively contributing to the increase of tolerance of crime. For example, accepting that:
Customs Declarations Forms routinely reflect understated values for imported goods, including personal purchases made during habitual “shopping excursions” overseas.
Not paying real property tax or not having real property reassessed following significant upgrade and expansion of development.
There is a discretion to be exercised in connection with the use of seat belts
That speed limits and traffic signals are observed only in the presence of traffic police
That ‘no parking’ signs and signs reserving parking for the handicapped are discretionary or suggestions and not to be taken too seriously
That shopping in major food stores on a Sunday – after the legally appointed closing hour is OK
The list is very long. Regrettably, some of us in this place will recognize ourselves among citizens who have behaved or tolerated some of those behaviours over the years.
We accept that the continued study and review of conclusions and recommendations of Commissions appointed by the Government of The Bahamas in the past can be useful to our continued efforts to come to grips with the troubling crime in our society. Hence we support the request for the reappointment of the Committee.