Yes to COP’s words; no to circling wagons
Our research reveals that Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith is no lightweight.
Indeed, intelligence gathered is that the former Harrison College and University of the West Indies graduate has come through the ranks and ascended to high office based not only on academic achievement, but on an extremely accomplished foundation built on practical policing.
When he speaks, we are told, he does so with the authority of sound knowledge, from the background of being a seasoned criminal investigator. It is within this context that we examine his provocative statement last week that illegal firearms are making their way into Barbados through our ports of call, either through the witting or unwitting acquiescence of officials posted there.
The present scourge of gun-related violence has the capacity to affect our villages, heights, terraces, country and towns. Mr Griffith is no Messiah, nor does he profess to be, but he is better placed to present information to the Barbadian public on the origins of guns in our midst than even Solomon, and surely than any union leader, social commentator or real estate developer.
So why the furore over Mr Griffith’s comments?
Unions, and in this instance the National Union of Public Workers, must always look after the interests of the workers. It is the reason they exist. And over the years the union movement in Barbados has done an exceptional job in protecting and championing the rights of its membership. Still, there must always be a correlation between representation and common sense. To ignore that link is to diminish the seriousness with which the movement is taken. To agitate with blinkers is also to do the wider populace an injustice.
The NUPW, in taking umbrage with Mr Griffith’s public statement, expressed the view that a slur was being cast on the integrity of customs officers who are at the vanguard of overseeing arrivals and departures at both the Bridgetown Port and the Grantley Adams International Airport. That the union would defend its membership was not unexpected. But the inherent suggestion from the NUPW’s hierarchy was that its members were beyond reproach, or impervious to corruption. Such a stance is ignorance loudly dressed.
If one accepts there is a link between the illegal drug trade and illegal firearms, then the circling of wagons over the past few days comes over as rather quixotic. Court records show that in November, 2002, a customs officer and one customs clerk appeared in the Magistrates’ Court with respect to the importation of illegal drugs. In October, 2003, a customs officer was arrested and charged in connection with the importation of cocaine and marijuana.
As recent as September, 2012, a customs clerk was arrested and charged with the importation and trafficking of illegal drugs. And there have been others. If this does not spell the possibility of port vulnerability, then we need to change the alphabet.
Those who would seek to tell Mr Griffith and the Royal Barbados Police Force how to conduct their affairs have suggested that if his allegations be true then make the arrests. But persons have been arrested for bringing contraband through our ports of entry. And though, to the best of our knowledge, none has recently been made for illegal firearms, information garnered indicates that over the years firearms have indeed been found among cargo brought into the island at the Bridgetown Port.
That arrests have not been made commensurate to the number of such seizures, some have suggested, could be as a result of several factors, inclusive of tip-offs by Port officials to the intended importers of the illegal cargo.
In light of Mr Griffith’s assertions, and in the interest of reducing the entry of illegal firearms into the island, greater cooperation must be given to the police, and common sense must reign within the union movement with respect to facilitating the tightening of controls. The problem will also not disappear because of self-serving pronouncements about “airtight” security at “private” ports of call.
Some years ago, the Government of Barbados dropped the ball on the installation of cameras at our ports of call, and the ball needs to be taken up again. The Government is responsible for the safety of its citizens, not the union movement. The NUPW or any other union is responsible for ensuring the rights and working conditions of its membership are of the best that they can be.
With no directive ever given to install cameras in the private homes of officials or in the bathrooms at our ports of call, we wonder what gives anyone the right to dictate where cameras be placed on state property, as done at ports of call across the globe –– especially when done in the interest of safeguarding Barbadian citizenry?
This is not about the mooted rights of a few; this is about the safety of us all!