MUSINGS: ‘In interesting times’ – a Sunday cook-up [I]

‘May you live in interesting times’ is widely reported as being of ancient Chinese origin but is neither Chinese nor ancient, being recent and western. It certainly seems to have been intended to sound oriental, in the faux-Chinese ‘Confucius he say’ style, but that’s as near to China as it actually gets. Confucius’s actual sayings are as elusive as those of his western counterpart Aesop - we have no written records from either of them.–The Phrase Finder –phrases.org.uk

More than a handful of issues compound the popular public conversation in what has been a short but rather eventful 2019 so far for Barbados. And I am not even referring to the surprisingly unseasonal nature of the chilly nights in St George and elsewhere or that of the current cricketing exploits of the regional cricket team. Local public discourse ranges from the arrest and charging of a youth that, in popular parlance, has “not yet lost his mother’s features” accused of apparent serial murder to the forewarning of a prohibition on the local use of plastics and Styrofoam, with some exceptions, after April 1.

From two executives of a leading local insurance company being indicted for money laundering in the US, to the island’s authorities being plainly at a loss as to the optimal temporal solution to a crime wave involving unlicensed forearms, and being obliged to declare a weekend of national prayer in addition to the unprecedented and controversial appointment of a consultant to the Commissioner of Police, among other measures.

From a recent report of Transparency International that contrary to popular perception and public accusation, Barbados places as high as 25 on a list of 180 jurisdictions in descending order of the perceived level of public corruption and, for what it may be worth, ranks currently as perceptibly the least corrupt jurisdiction in the region, to the complex determination of the ideal policy stance to adopt in the ongoing Venezuelan todoment, having historically declared our foreign policy intent to be a lofty-sounding but geopolitically impracticable “friends of all and satellites of none”. While the second part of this dictum is eminently achievable, it is clearly more difficult to subscribe to the first in any scenario of international conflict except perhaps to sit on the fence. Is anyone, anywhere, at all times a friend of all?

So far as the US indictment of the insurance executives is concerned, many will naturally wonder how it is that an illegal transaction that had its origins in Barbados, (although, admittedly, its denouément did take effect in the US), has seemingly had no criminal consequence here while the relevant parties have all been subjected to the US criminal jurisdiction. This lack of development is even more surprising given the clear extraterritorial reach of the local statute. According to section 7 of our Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (Prevention and Control) Act 2011-

“Any act done by a person outside Barbados which would be an offence if done within Barbados, is an offence for the purpose of this Act.”

Of course, I concede that the prosecution of a criminal offence is entirely a discretionary matter, based primarily on the relevant authority’s perception of the chances of securing a conviction. However, that very resolution is way above my pay grade. Readers should simply take note here that our law is not entirely deficient in this regard.

With respect to the weekend of prayer, given our predilection for the Biblical Judeo-Christian injunction and our traditional insistence on being termed a Christian society, there is little doubt that this notion will resonate with a sizeable majority of permit me to discount the potency of prayer or the mysteries that constructive thought, faith and positive belief may effect. At the same time, I consider that humanly to do nothing and expect prayer to solve miraculously a man-made problem such as a gun-crime wave smacks less of faith and more of superstition.

Not that there has been any paucity of suggestions as to how to cope with our current predicament. One former magistrate and MP has suggested a gun court, as was the case last century in Jamaica. Unfortunately, this turned out to be declared unconstitutional by the JCPC in one of the landmark cases of regional constitutional jurisprudence. There have also been the usual suggestions of violent retribution for offenders; hanging, whipping dismemberment and castration. The Commissioner of Police had suggested that there should be no bail granted for those charged with gun crimes, the former Minister with responsibility for the Police politely implored the perpetrators to put down their guns and the Prime Minister herself has warned them in the lingua franca, “Not ‘bout hey”. Most controversial from a partisan political angle, however, has been the nomination of a former Commissioner of Police, Mr Darwin Dottin, to be a consultant on crime, either to the Office of the Attorney General or, as it appears to have been popularly perceived, the Commissioner of Police.

If it is indeed the latter, this measure would be unexceptionable had the request for such assistance emanated from the Commissioner himself, but that does not appear to have been the case. We are therefore left , rightly or wrongly, with the impression that the current task is overmuch for the current High Command and that greater intellectual candlepower is required.

Indeed, it may be argued that the authorities are putting themselves out on a limb here, for nothing but unconditional success in curing the scourge will suffice cogently to justify this unprecedented initiative.

Unfortunately, the constraint of time today compels me to break of here and to continue this commentary next week, D.V.

To be continued…

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