Sunday, 20 August 2017

Dames addresses state of national security

NASSAU, The Bahamas -- In a world marred by violence, civil unrest, terrorism and incessant threats to democracy, citizens are looking to their governments to safeguard and protect their way of life," Minister of National Security the Hon. Marvin Dames said, during his Contribution to the 2017/2018 Budget Communication in the House of Assembly, June 12, 2017.

He noted that protecting the citizens of a nation is one of the most fundamental yet essential duties of any government: "Governments possess the tools and mechanisms to develop polices, enact laws, and design institutional frameworks by which law and order could be appropriately maintained.”

He continued, "Any government, that has failed to properly use these tools to create an effective national security apparatus, will expose its citizens to these inherent risks as a result of its failure to act consistently and in line with good governance."

Minister Dames said that he remembered a time in The Bahamas when parking one's car on the beach to watch a beautiful sunset was commonplace. He added that he also remembered when young Bahamians looked forward to enjoying the nightlife and parties on weekends with very little concern about the prospect of them becoming victims to

crime.

"These were also the days when you could leave your homes secured without any fear or worry that your home would be broken into," he added. "And back then, the chances of you actually witnessing a violent crime were slim to none.

"Unfortunately, those days no longer exist."

Minister Dames said that, over the last five years, in particular, the average Bahamian was faced with living in constant fear of becoming the next victim of a crime. Many persons, he stated, simply do not go out at night and have resorted to locking themselves in their homes, hoping that burglar bars and alarm systems would alleviate their anxieties.

"Sadly, these things have done little to ease the fear of crime that permeates throughout our communities," he stated. "Today, the use of social media has contributed to the increase of the fear index among our people as graphic images are displayed in real time across various social media platforms."

"No Bahamian should be forced to live like this," he continued. "This Government is determined to reduce the high levels of crime and lessen the fear of crime among its citizens.

The time for talk was over, Minister Dames said, and Bahamians were

tired of the excuses and apologies from those whom they had elected to keep them safe.

"They are fed-up with being told that an anti-crime strategy is working,

but see no indication or measurement of its success," he said. "They are tired of seeing millions of dollars in taxpayer’s money being pumped into a criminal justice system yielding minimal positive results. Our people deserve and demand better, and better they will get. 'It is the People’s Time'."

Minister Dames noted that, according to the Central Bank’s Quarterly Economic Review for December 2016, the current fiscal environment remained challenged. Provisional data, he added, showed that the Government’s overall deficit increased during the second quarter of FY (Financial Year) 2016/17 to $228.3 million, from $85 million in the same period of the previous fiscal year. Given the state of our fiscal affairs, coupled with the "harsh realities" that Member for East Grand Bahama, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Hon. Peter Turnquest outlined in his contribution, each Minister as stewards of the public purse in House of Assembly that day had a vested obligation to ensure that they lived up to the expectations of those who "are responsible for putting us here."

"They have shown us loud and clear, by their resounding mandate on May 10th that they expect us to commit ourselves to bringing about a new era of accountability and fiscal responsibility in the governance of our nation," Minister Dames said.

"In short, the era of ‘black-hole’ economics should be a thing of the past," he added. "We must all demand of those Departments that fall under our respective remits a full and transparent accounting of how every dollar is spent to mitigate against corrupt practices, mismanagement, and wasteful spending, with no prospects of beneficial returns to the people of this nation."

Minister Dames pointed out that the National Security Budget has been increased by four per cent over the current fiscal year, which totals just over $232 million -- inclusive of the various law enforcement agencies.

He said that allocations for areas under his Ministerial oversight included the following: Ministry of National Security $13,922,620; Royal Bahamas Police Force $136,262,613; Royal Bahamas Defence Force $55,380,776; Bahamas Department of Correctional Services: $25,310,467; and Parliamentary Registration Department $1,552,633.

"Under the National Security portfolio, Department Heads will be called uponto adopt sound fiscal measures that will allow for the effective execution of anti crime and law enforcement strategies in the short, medium and long term, and consistent with our government’s policies based on the pillars of prevention, detection, rehabilitation and re-integration," Minister Dames said.

Minister Dames asserted that that the new Government "stands ready" to deliver its commitment to the people.

"This government will no longer allow crime and the fear of crime to remain at unacceptable levels," Minister Dames said. "This government will not allow at-risk youth to be drawn into a life of crime without having positive alternatives. This government will not allow criminals to seemingly operate with impunity without the fear of either being caught or punished.

"Most importantly, this government will not allow persons who have paid for their wrong doings and have demonstrated through a process of rehabilitation that they are now ready to re-enter society as productive citizens, to get easily caught back up into a life of crime."

Minister Dames said that his Government understands that finger pointing and shifting the blame from one Department or Agency to another was not constructive in addressing the crime problem in what appeared to be a culture of lawlessness. The reality, he said, was that there was enough blame to go around and the only way to effectively address the issue was to first ensure that each stakeholder understood and took ownership for the critical role each played.

"A total of 8.41% of the National Budget will be spent this fiscal period on the national security of our nation," he continued. "As I stated before, this figure represents a 4% increase over the last budget. In a period when there is scarcity of resources, prudent decisions are critical to ensuring that we are making sound financial choices to aid in the efficiency of our ministry and departments, and the sustainability of good governance."

Minister Dames asked rhetorically how could the previous government tout about the millions of dollars they spent on the acquisition of new patrol vessels for the Royal Bahamas Defence Force when they failed to ensure that those vessels were properly staffed through the timely recruitment of marines.

"Just as egregious, is the fact that the previous Government presided over the inadequate provision of food supplies -- both in quantity and quality -- for marines who are required to patrol in these vessels for extended periods of time," Minister Dames said. "The fact that the previous administration facilitated the deployment of hundreds of marines to duties outside of the core remit of the Defence Force speaks to their poor judgment and lack of understanding on the importance of protecting our boarders."

Minister Dames then asked rhetorically how could the previous administration brag about providing millions of dollars in equipment and technology to the armed forces, while allowing them to continue to work in substandard conditions, oftentimes having to compete with rodents for office space.

"If you don’t believe me, during your next break, just walk outside these doors and walk over to the Central Police Station," he pointed out. "The welfare of our law enforcement officers is extremely important to our government. That is why we made the decision since coming into office, despite the many difficult fiscal challenges, to pay police officers for long overdue overtime pay."

Minister Dames said that, despite the promises made by the former administration to pay the police for overtime, they had only agreed to do so after being ordered to do so by a court of law.

"To add insult to injury, during a PLP Rally on R.M. Bailey Park on, April 27, 2017, -- six days before the police voted in the advanced poll -- the former Prime Minister publicly announced that they would pay the police on May 29, some two years after the court ruled that the payments be made," Minister Dames said. "The ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeal in 2016.

"However, when we came to office, it was clear that the former administration had made no budgetary provisions to make such a payment," he added. "But, our government has and always will live up to its commitments."

Minister Dames said, to the "hard-working" law enforcement officers – police, defence, and corrections – his Government was acutely aware of their outstanding welfare issues and will take responsible steps to see that they are addressed one issue at a time.

"Since assuming office, I have had the opportunity to visit all of the law enforcement departments that fall under my remit and to hear the concerns of the officers throughout the ranks," Minister Dames said. "It is clear to me that there is a need for us to review the recruitment, training and promotion processes across law enforcement with a view to bringing about a greater degree of transparency and equity."

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