The Opposition has called on Government to take immediate steps to ensure beaches across the island are sufficiently manned, warning that failure to do so would amount to “gambling with precious lives”.
The call from Shadow Minister of the Environment Senator Wilfred Abrahams comes a week after 18-year-old Shaquille Denny drowned after diving off a cliff at Crane Beach, St Philip.
No lifeguard was on duty at the time.
“This simply is not good enough,” said Abrahams as he argued that having a sufficient complement of lifeguards was a necessity and not an option.
“The Minister responsible for the National Conservation Commission (NCC), Dr Denis Lowe, needs to accept that a mistake has been made and that the ill-conceived cuts at the NCC have created a situation which presents a clear and present danger to Barbadians and visitors alike.”
Contending that the tragedy could possibly have been avoided if lifeguard personnel were on the beach, Abrahams added: “This situation, unless corrected, will result in further needless loss of life. The Government and Minister Lowe, by their failure to satisfactorily address this shortcoming, are playing the odds with the lives of sea-bathers.”
More than two dozen lifeguards were among the NCC workers sent home earlier this year during the Government’s retrenchment exercise.
Abrahams insisted, however, that the safety of sea bathers could not be compromised, regardless of how much Government wanted to save money.
He said the money Government saved from reducing the number of lifeguards on the payroll, “cannot nearly compensate for the loss of a life and, as such, the reckless depletion of the lifeguard complement on our beaches is at the very least gross negligence.
“What compounds the most recent tragedy is that the Crane Beach was identified only this May, as one of the beaches at which four lifeguards would be deployed.”
Abrahams argued that Government had been warned on several occasions against making the public sector cuts in a haphazard way.
“The retrenching of 28 lifeguards earlier this year was publicly denounced by the Barbados Labour Party, tourism officials and members of the public. It is significant that those same officials alerted Government to the potential dangers at the Crane Beach and by extension, the potential impact on the vital tourism industry,” he said.
“There are simply some departments where wholesale cuts cannot be made without dire or even fatal consequences. In some cases, the impact of misguided governmental decisions may take a while to manifest [themselves]. However, in the case where the severe understaffing of the NCC leads to situations in which our beaches are unmanned, the consequences of an error are immediate, permanent and inexcusable.”
Abrahams argued that while it is generally accepted that the Government is in a situation where it feels compelled to radically restructure the Civil Service, such restructuring must be systematic and done in a way that is the least disruptive to the economy and safety of Barbadians.
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