Barbados is in a greater state of readiness for possible disasters in the 2019 Hurricane season than it has been in over a decade, Home Affairs Minister Edmund Hinkson has asserted.
The Minister in the Mia Mottley-led administration made the affirmation to Barbados TODAY as he reflected on the past year’s achievements within the collection of responsibilities assigned to him in the first year of this Government.
With the Hurricane season set to begin tomorrow, Hinkson said that in circumstances of limited finances and other resources, his Ministry’s team had nonetheless readied the island’s designated storm shelters and stocked them in a way to make them capable of operating independently, should disaster hit and parts of the country are cut off.
Hinkson spoke of installed water tanks for emergencies “in many parts of the country, and having food and equipment storage bins at the shelters in every parish, containing equipment which would be needed in the aftermath of a hurricane”.
“Certainly, we are now better prepared for a natural disaster than we were a year ago, in terms of cleaning up Barbados, the gullies and refurbishment of the schools, and other hurricane shelters,” he said.
Speaking at the Sion Hill playfield where he had donated funds to the Newbury Province Cricket Club for the 2019 season, the St James North Member of Parliament said,
“The strength and capacity of someone are shown when times are not normal. These are the hardest times Barbados has had, certainly when we confronted them a year ago”.
Hitting on his Barbados Labour Party theme, he said, “We’ve stayed the course. We have done our best. We’ve been working 18-hour days and we will get there. We have to be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day. But after a month, we are proud of what we have achieved.”
Hinkson said that despite the odds against the current administration, his ministry has managed to make progress in areas that include matters of immigration, various aspects of justice administration, and improvements to the Barbados Fire Service, some of which are still in the works.
“We are trying and succeeding, to a large extent, to facilitate ease of travel into Barbados, the process of coming into Barbados, with the installation of 16 kiosks,” he said, adding that already in the country are another 32 of the devices that will facilitate quick passage through the airport of arriving citizens, permanent residents, along with CARICOM nationals and other visitors.
“They should be installed and working efficiently by the end of next month. We still have to do some tightening up of the process,” he conceded, adding that when the process is completed, “It will also result in the eventual removal of the ED (embarkation-disembarkation) cards that you currently have to fill out.”
He pointed out that months ago government passed legislation providing for advanced information on passengers travelling to the island to be legally relayed to the kiosks, “to enhance the security of Barbados… allowing for greater input of security so that we will know the record of everyone who is travelling to Barbados. That information has to be given at least 40 minutes before the plane takes off to come to Barbados”.
He spoke of relocation of the Immigration Department headquarters to Hincks Street shortly after the Government assumed office.
“You would recall that in the last days of the Democratic Labour Party administration there was a lot of disruption and trade union activity on the place where the Immigration Department was located, [owing to] the conditions of it.”
“The Immigration Department is now also opening on Saturday mornings to facilitate more customers and serve more people.”
As regards juvenile justice, Hinkson said, “The Cabinet of Barbados just [last week] Thursday approved the Child Justice Act which would create a new legislative regime for juvenile justice in Barbados, whereby children who get into conflict with the criminal justice system will be sent to the Government Industrial School (GIS) as a last resort”.
He explained that this “complete reform of the 95-year plus present legislative regime which informs juvenile justice” means that instead of shunting children off to GIS, “we would try and rehabilitate them and reform them. They would have the right to a lawyer, to a social worker, probation officer, religious counsellor”.
Looking forward, he said that among the programmes already in progress are the reform of the Prisons Act and the Probation of Offenders Act to bring in more restorative justice. Hinkson said the aim is “to expand community sentencing in which the perpetrator of a crime would have to compensate the victim or the victim’s family where the crime may not be a major offence”.
The Immigration Act will also be subjected to reform, and among the objectives would be increasing Barbados’ population. “Our population is too small for where we want to go, and for the standard of living that we want to achieve.” On this subject, already touched by Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the Home Affairs Minister said government will be looking to expand the eligibility of citizenship to persons born out of Barbados who are grandchildren of citizens of Barbados.
The Minister said prisons are more secure now with added capacity for generators, indicating that when he took office electrical generators and water storage equipment were not functioning. “These were not working for the last couple years of the Democratic Labour Party’s term of office.”
“Cabinet has recently approved construction of a new fire station in the Pine, opposite the Ann Hill School and the Irvin Wilson School which is essential because we need a state-of-the-art fire service station.”
He said, “The intention, ultimately, is to close down the fire station in Probyn Street which we have also repaired to some extent”. Hinkson explained that Government’s intention to is to remodel the landscape of the entire area surrounding the current location of the fire station to make The City more people friendly.
“Our view is that we need more open room for relaxation in Bridgetown, and ultimately, we need that space and the old National Insurance building that has been closed down for years as an open space for the benefit of the people of Barbados and visitors to our country.” (GA)