Is the current crime issue on the island affecting the local tourism sector and what are the consequential effects from this situation?
The subject was among other pertinent issues discussed at a recent press briefing to update reporters on measures being implemented to curb the criminal activity rampant in the country.
According to Tourism Minister Dr. Ernest Hilaire, the authorities are prepared to “go all out” to deal with the matter and face the problem head on in an effort to rid the country of these unsavoury criminal elements. The minister reiterated that the protection of citizens is foremost on the agenda for the authorities and law enforcement officers.
To bring this level of discourse full circle, Dr. Hilaire said it would entail the support of a multiplicity of entities to annihilate this escalating crime scourge. He also underlined the significance of implementing more “social intervention” programs to afford persons a better opportunity to fend for themselves in an effort to detract from devious behaviour patterns.
“Saint Lucia has been witnessing this increase in crime for quite a while and there has been various attempts by various administrations to try to get on top of it, but it just seems to be continuing,” said Dr. Hilaire.
He said the “nature of the reprisals” emanating from last weekend’s ghastly killings in Vieux Fort has brought to the fore the imminent dangers of the escalating gun violence occurring in the community and thus, there is the need “for all of us to say that enough is enough and to go all out to deal with this situation”.
Added Hilaire: “We are very clear in our minds that the safety and security of Saint Lucians have to be foremost and primary in anything that we do.
“And the government has decided to take some really dramatic steps to deal with what happened and to make it very clear to individuals that that just cannot be tolerated in this country.”
Consequently, in an effort to tackle the crime issue the government has sought the assistance of outside sources to help combat this malaise. Firstly, said the minister, “external support will be secured to provide assistance to the Royal St Lucia Police Force [RSLPF], they’ve been doing a fantastic job , really been on the ground dealing with a number of different hot spots in Saint Lucia and this escalation has really stretched them a bit.”
He said the administration will seek external support from “friendly governments in a multiplicity of ways and many assets will be brought to bear on what’s going on.”
While stating that government plans to provide more support to the police, Hilaire explained: “The government’s primary role is to set broad policy framework and to provide the resources for the operational arm, which is the police force. The police force decides on the different operations …and the government has to provide support and additional support that they need, in terms of resources.”
The Castries South MP disclosed that legislation will be enacted to strengthen some of the laws, like ‘the suppression of crime law in Saint Lucia”. He added that government “needs to empower the police to take immediate action, whenever needed to deal with those situations.”
Hilaire contends that some of the “laws are too restrictive” in the powers of the police. Consequently, he said, “the police will be given extended powers to strike as hard as possible and as quickly as possible, whenever those situations emerge”.
The minister also feels that “social intervention is necessary …as this cannot be solved by a totally law intervention operation. We must put in place those social intervention programmes to support communities, support the disadvantaged and marginalized individuals to empower them to make better choices and to deal with the issues in differently.
“We cannot let up on that. The approach has to be that government needs all the support it can (through) the Youth Economy, Micro Enterprise, all the grants and all the social programmes…and when people cross the line, they know there’s a price to pay.”
To create more opportunities for persons to generate livelihoods, Hilaire says government also plans to create “more investments in the south”
In addition, he said, government is looking to provide counselling support for personas traumatized by the repercussions from this gun violence upheaval.
The minister asserted: “I think we have drawn up an immediate response to these events …it will be very strong, and it will be very targeted.”
He noted that part of the operations will include ‘beefing up’ the police presence in the community and its environs to safeguard businesses, students and the public generally.
Referring to the “gang situation” that is evident in the escalating gun violence in the southern community, Hilaire commended officers of the Royal St Lucia Police Force [RSLPF] for remaining resolute to the task in the fight against crime.
Speaking on the intervention work by the police, he said: “They’re very active…and there is a sentiment now that more use has been made of the Anti-Gang Legislation that we have in Saint Lucia.
“(Last) October, a couple of individuals were charged under that legislation and the police is looking to step up its action in the regard. But the whole anti-gang measures really needs to have a lot of competence and skills…and since this is kind of foreign to us, we are getting external support for us to be able in a very frontal way to deal with the gangs.”