Perhaps because of the warm friendship which existed between the Rt Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, Barbados’ first post Independence Prime Minister, and Lee Kwan Yew, Singapore’s founding prime minister, a number of commentators over the years have held up Singapore as a possible development model for Barbados, given the similarities the two countries share and Singapore’s remarkable successes since Independence.
The reference was primarily in relation to the economy and the formula for success used by Singapore. However, given the heightened public concern on the island following an upsurge in violent, gun-related crime that has so far contributed to this year’s murder toll surpassing last year’s with another four months to ago, it seems there may be a thing or two that Singapore can show Barbados in relation to crafting a tough policy on gun control.
The East Asian island-state, known for its discipline and generally low crime rate, has adopted a no-tolerance approach to firearms and has one of the toughest set of gun control laws to be found anywhere in the world. To give one example, under the provisions of the Arms Offences Act, a person found to be in unlawful possession or carrying of firearms on conviction faces mandatory imprisonment of not less than five years and not more than ten years. The offender can also be given at least six strokes with a cane.
Additionally, if a person uses or attempts to use a firearm when committing an offence, the penalty on conviction is death by hanging. The death penalty may also apply to accomplices who were present at the scene of the crime. Tough luck, you may say! But the tough anti-gun stand goes further. If a person is found by the police to be in unlawful possession of more than two firearms and is charged, it will be presumed that they are involved in trafficking in arms until the contrary is proved. This offence of trafficking is punishable with either death or imprisonment for life and a caning.
Possessing any firearms or importing, exporting, manufacturing, repairing, or selling them, requires a licence. Licensing officers have the authority to refuse to issue a licence, or to suspend or cancel a licence without giving any reason. Commentators say what makes a real difference in Singapore is that the laws do not remain on the statute books to gather dust but are robustly enforced. And this approach has contributed to the country having one of the world’s lowest crime rates which, no doubt, is a big positive where promoting economic development is concerned.
Explaining why Singapore’s crime rate is so low, one local commentator said: “Unlike many countries in the world, Singapore enforces its laws. The system here means what it says and does what it means. We impose very tough laws and actually carry them out to deter people who ‘try their luck’.” Mention was made of the case of Michael P. Fay, an American teenager who was convicted of public vandalism in Singapore in the 1990s and sentenced to jail+fine+caning which was carried out.
“You break the law here, it is all black and white. Even a plea from then American president Bill Clinton did not make our government waver in upholding its justice [in relation to sparing Fay],” the commentator pointed out.
In Barbados’ case, failure to enforce the law is often cited as a major problem. If anything, there is at least one lesson we can learn from the Singapore experience.
Quoted in an article on the Library of the U.S. Congress website, Singapore’s former Minister for Law, Professor S. Jayakumar, attributes the fact that Singapore has very few firearm offences at a time when “we see rampant firearm offences as well as smuggling and trafficking in weapons in the [Asian] region and elsewhere in the world” to the strict gun control laws, including a “mandatory death penalty for anyone who discharges a firearm in the course of committing a serious offence, even if no one is injured or killed.”
Singapore’s tough stand on guns and its unwavering approach to carrying out the death penalty, for sure, would have the support of Barbadians who have been calling for the enforcement of capital punishment to send a strong message to the criminal element, never mind what anti-death penalty campaigners may say.