One of Barbados’ largest private sector groupings is calling on Prime Minister Mia Mottley to implement a comprehensive strategy to tackle the issue of illegal guns.
In a direct appeal this afternoon to the country’s leader, President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) Edward Clarke said he was especially concerned that the island continued to lose a number of its future leaders to a life of crime and violence.
And with just about three weeks to go before the climax of the country’s premier festival, and with several shootings, some fatal, in the last few weeks alone, Clarke said he was worried that the gunplay could discourage people from visiting Barbados, delivering a blow to the bread and butter tourism industry.
Barbados recorded 31 murders last year, and is on track to match this number this year, with 17 as of July 13, some of which were gun crimes.
Addressing this month’s BCCI luncheon for the first time in his capacity as president, a concerned Clarke said he feared if “the recent lawless gun related and violent incidents across Barbados by some element of our youth” was not urgently and forcefully addressed it would affect all aspects of the society.
“These actions continue to erode the core values of our society, and threaten to undermine the lives of all of our people. These wild west type activities, if not stopped immediately, will negatively impact economic gains that we have achieved through our cultural events and tourism gains for all of Barbados,” he warned.
“Barbadians on a whole are extremely concerned with the trend, and there needs to be a comprehensive strategy to have illegal guns removed from our streets of Barbados. That is a must do. It must happen,” he insisted.
The business executive also called for an expansion of the community policing programme “so that our police force can work closely with the communities and continuously monitor the known hotspots across the island, and the events across the island especially at this Crop Over season, Prime Minister.
“The last thing we want is people staying away from the cultural events at this very happy time for us,” he told Mottely who was at the luncheon to deliver her first address to the BCCI in her capacity as Prime Minister.
However, said Clarke, perhaps the “bigger issue at hand” was that Barbados was “losing a generation of young males, and now unfortunately there seem to be a growing number of females joining this group”.
He also pleaded with the packed room of business officials at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre to “do better” in their effort to help in the fight against crime.
“I say to all of us here today we can do better and we must do better as a society to ensure that we provide opportunities for our youth to be gainfully involved in some activity for the betterment of our country. We cannot afford the present to become the future,” he warned.
In turn, Mottley said Government was aware that law and order was a critical component for investment in the struggling economy, which she was currently focused on rescuing.
And she gave the assurance that while tackling the fiscal challenges, “first and foremost”, there would be greater focus on ensuring law and order was maintained.
“Without law and order your investments will come to naught. And we are conscious that Barbados can withstand many things but it cannot withstand an explosion in gun violence, automatic guns, and it cannot withstand hurricanes and earthquakes. So we start first by humbling ourselves and knowing what we cannot withstand,” Mottley said.
She said the National Security Council, comprising the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, Minister of Home Affairs, the Commissioner of Police, the Comptroller of Customs and other relevant officials, met yesterday during lunch, but she would not provide details.
“Our role is not to operational, but our role is to ensure that the resources and the cooperation are there, and we are satisfied that there are things that have to be done in the Budget. We spoke about the need to reduce the backlog and we made resources available which will be operational, I was told, by September, even in the absence of a functioning court space,” the Prime Minister told the business luncheon.
She explained that critical to the process was the timely and effective handling of the backlog of thousands of court cases, starting with those relating to murder and shooting with intent, followed by robbery, rape and burglary.
“We are committed to that, and we have also committed to having every case from July 1 last year heard expeditiously and then having every new case heard within six to nine months in this country in those five categories I just referred to.
“People will not play with you if they know they are going to face sanctions quickly and urgently,” she reasoned.