The 30th President of the United States of America, the late Calvin Coolidge, is reported to have been so reticent that he said very little when awake, slept 12 hours at night and at least two hours during the day. It is also said that his first act after becoming president was to go back to his bed. Legend has it that his explanation for sleeping so much was that one could not make bad decisions while asleep. Once, upon waking from deep slumber, he is said to have asked his personal aide, “Is the country still there?’
And so we come to the somnolence and inertia that have accompanied the issue of crime and violence in Barbados, its infantile politicization, the failure of certain agencies to make tough decisions and a propensity to be reactive while proactive measures are retarded or completely shelved for reasons best known to those pulling society’s strings. Thankfully, we are not at a juncture yet where anyone has to ask “Is Barbados still there?” But our country’s sleepers need to wake up and to do so swiftly.
Last week while addressing a Barbados Labour Party St Joseph constituency branch meeting Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey made the shocking revelation that when the Mia Mottley administration took up office in May 2018 it found that less than six per cent of cargo leaving the port was being scanned by customs officer. He was quite accurate when he added that such a state of affairs left a gaping opening for the importation of illegal firearms. He blamed the absence of scanners and cameras, among other things, for this situation.
Was this sad scenario a secret known only to the Bridgetown Port’s hierarchy? Weren’t the police, customs or political authorities aware of this grave breach in our security? When Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith drew reference to intelligence being received of illegal guns entering Barbados through our ports of entry, and the collusion of customs officials in their entry, where were the voices in the system addressing the fact that containers were not being checked? Why was the rectification of this not made a priority? Was it known to the Government and the Queen’s Opposition of the day? Did either act? We recall Mr Griffith being vehemently criticized by a sleeping and misguided National Union of Public Workers for his stance. This is a union that seemingly placed maintaining its membership ahead of national security by opposing the installation of surveillance equipment at the Bridgetown Port from as far back as 2003 under the then Owen Arthur administration.
But it gets worse. At last week’s meeting, in keeping with what has become a tired political script, Mr Humphrey, perhaps ignorant to the fact that there have been problems with security at the Bridgetown Port even under the Arthur administration, sought to link the proliferation of guns on Barbadian streets to the ten-year reign of the Freundel Stuart administration between 2008 and 2018. Mr Humphrey might very well be correct, who knows? After all, former Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has the dubious distinction of referring to himself as a “sleeping giant” and Barbados is only now waking to the realization that about 94 per cent of cargo leaving the Bridgetown Port for destinations across the island was not checked by authorities as of May 2018. Mr Stuart might not have been aware of that situation or might simply not have been roused from his slumber.
But neither Mr Humphrey nor his government gets a pass on this issue. Having acknowledged this disturbing security breach Mr Humphrey had this to say last week: “Very soon you are going to be seeing all of the cameras at the port being replaced and more cameras in place at strategic places and although we know that people aren’t prone to evil, but just to make sure that nothing happens.” He echoed the words of Attorney General Dale Marshall who at the same meeting indicated that cameras would soon be added to those already in place to give “another layer of beefed-up security”.
But this is ten months since the general election and rampant gun violence is the most troubling issue affecting every aspect of social life in the country, including our tourism product. If by Mr Humphrey’s admission that when his government came into the power, unchecked cargo with possible illegal weaponry was entering the island and leaving the port, then the rectification of that situation should have been a priority. Since we are being told that enhanced security is on its way, is this an admission that the status quo that was found in May 2018 was still in place as recently as last Sunday’s political get-together?
We are a nation of talkers, quick to immerse ourselves in parliamentary and sociological white papers, blue papers and green papers. We need studies to tell us that poor, marginalized, dispossessed, uneducated, poorly educated, fatherless and motherless young people are vulnerable and prone to criminality. We annually disburse millions of dollars in consultancy fees to fatten the “haves”, but spend little or nothing on interventionist programmes to rescue the “have nots”. And then we lament or act surprised when criminal behaviour escalates.
The problems that plagued Barbados are known to all of us, whether they be in our education system, our inefficient judiciary, our vulnerable social networks or the politicization of our society from cradle to the grave. But the status quo seems destined to remain if we merely talk or sleep.