The business community is growing increasingly worried by the gun violence facing the country. And President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) Anthony Branker is the latest leader to issue a plea to Prime Minister Mia Mottley to move with haste in wrestling the issue.
His earnest plea came on Tuesday ahead of what promises to be a busy tourist season and as officials seek to attract more direct foreign investment.
Branker said he will be seeking an audience with the relevant Government authorities in the coming days, to discuss the options for tackling the issue and to put forward suggestions. In the meantime he has proposed the introduction of a mandatory discipline and skills training programme for underachievers, as he expressed concern that too many young people were leaving school “without a meaningful future in sight”.
His position follows a recent call for talks with Government and the police command by Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) Trisha Tannis over the frightening gun violence in the country.
Tannis was particularly concerned that crime is growing more “aggressive and deadly”.
Of the 40 murders recorded up to last Friday, about 30 were gun-related.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley who has also expressed concern at the crime situation, has given the assurance that work has already started to address the issue.
Crime came up for discussion during the BCCI’s annual business luncheon and discussion forum at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre entitled Strengthening Barbados’ Economy Through Collective Partnerships.
The Chamber head said while it was okay to tout educational standards and other attributes as reasons to do business on the island, it was not good enough that crime continued to be a sore thumb.
“As we approach our 56th year of Independence I am sure we would agree as a people that we pride ourselves on a good quality healthcare system, sound educational standards, good nutrition and a healthy environment. However, having a safe and peaceful place to live is now at the forefront of the minds of all of us,” Branker said.
“Barbados has often been praised internationally as a safe destination for visitors and has the reputation as one of the safest places in the Caribbean. This is the Barbados we love and want to maintain. Like many Barbadians, the business community is quite concerned about the level of gun violence scourging many communities across this island. Our concern is even more piqued at this time as the height of the tourist season approaches,” he said.
It was against this backdrop that Branker said the BCCI would soon be dispatching a letter to Government “seeking an audience so that the private sector can better understand the plan to counteract this blight on our society”.
He said the BCCI was of the view that the fight against gun violence required a multifaceted approach to treating the root causes in order to have long-term success.
“We must be willing to direct under-achieving school leavers to a mandatory residential programme of discipline and skills training. This is not a task the Government can undertake alone. Rather, all Barbadians at the individual and corporate level must be willing to invest in such a programme to save our fair land,” said Branker.
He said the BCCI stood ready to lend its expertise, and where possible, form partnerships with Government and non-governmental organisations to bring about a solution.
Last week, Chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Renee Coppin urged authorities to get the crime situation under control, noting that while the level of crime against tourists continued to be minuscule, the growing “intrusion” of criminal elements into communities was a growing concern for industry operators.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who was the featured speaker at the BCCI end of year luncheon, said she too was concerned about the crime situation facing the country.
“The whole question of crime, there is nothing that concerns me more in this country than that. There is nothing that keeps me awake more than that,” said Mottley.
She promised a multifaceted approach was being taken to arrest the problem, including continued improvements in the judicial system to allow for speedier judgments, improvements in the quality of policing and training of that armed force.
“We have already reached out to a number of countries to bolster that training,” said Mottley, as she indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic was a spoke in the wheel of crime fighting efforts in 2020 and 2021.
Indicating that approximately 80 per cent of the gun crimes and murder cases before the law courts were perpetrated prior to her administration coming to office, Mottley said “We have added additional judges and prosecutors in order to see if we can put a further dent on the reduction of those, to ensure that we do not have the awful spectacle with people on bail with two and three murder charges not committed at the same time, walking about Barbados.”
At the end of last month, Government passed the Firearms (Amendment) Bill in the House of Assembly, making it possible for repeat gun offenders to face life in prison.