Friday, June 17, 2011

Is crime an economic concern in The Bahamas?

By Youri Kemp

The focus has been on crime in The Bahamas for the last few years. It's playing such an important part in the social dialogue that reports have it that it has become the number one concern in some quarters, with the economy being a very close second. With such a high premium placed on both the economy and on crime, one has to ask the question: are these issues correlated to some extent?

Educated at the Bahamas Baptist Community College; St Thomas University and The London School of Economics and Political Science, Youri Kemp is a Management and Development ConsultantI got an email over the past week stating that, in Toronto, where they have five million people, the murder count was 60, and people were furious over it. In 2010, Toronto had 60 murders in total. In The Bahamas, the murder count for the year 2011 is already 58 and will more than likely be higher by this submission is received by the media outlets that have so graciously shared my correspondence with the public.

With regard to analyzing crime statistics, persons sometimes tend to internalize and personalize crime and isolate the person that committed the crime. Partly because it affects us all in some way – my cousin was shot in back of the head, in broad daylight, with witnesses, but the chief witness was killed a year later before he had a chance to testify.

Without question the issue of crime is deep as it is wide. To that extent, you shouldn’t be blustered with the notion that any one person is able to solve crime with one stroke or within a calendar year. I certainly cannot share with you a path to breaking information on a one year 100% crime reduction strategy, and I can assure you that no one else can either. I will tell you, however, that reacting to the crime news and overstating crime statistics instead of analyzing the nature of the criminal behaviour and parameters of this behaviour are not fruitful endeavours.

Going back to the statistics, to some extent and to add further value to the Bahamian murder rate statistic, UN reports indicate that the average murder rate for every 100,000 persons in The Bahamas stands at 22. This is the same rate as Brazil, Haiti and Guyana, but far less than Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica with 43 and 60 per 100,000 respectively. St Kitts and Nevis on the other hand has a murder rate of 35 persons for every 100,000 and their population is under 75,000.

Let's take a closer look at The Bahamas vs. St Kitts and Nevis, with the latter suffering under the weight of a severe murder spree. People have indicated that the size of the population matters with regard to crime, but this matter can be a wash when we examine the population size of both countries as The Bahamas is four times the population size of St Kitts and Nevis.

We may say with some degree of rationale, however, that population density instead of overall population size may be the cause of the differences in crime levels in each country, when we bring into the mix Trinidad with a population density of 254, Jamaica at 252 against that of St Kitts and Nevis at 164 and The Bahamas at 23.27 -- all UN reported statistics. Population density as it relates to urbanization and how that relates to the crime phenomenon has been well documented. To date over 85 percent of the crime in The Bahamas happens in the inner cities of the capital city of New Providence.

Analysts typically link crime between economic performance and criminal activity. Speaking to an authority on the matter in The Bahamas, he assured me that crime is not a result of economic reasons. But the question to be asked is: what economic concerns are we evaluating with criminal statistics?

If we look at GDP per capita in all four of our countries, we see that Jamaica has a lower GDP per capita than all cases and a higher murder rate. But when we look at Trinidad and Tobago we see that they have the second highest murder rate but the second highest GDP per capita and The Bahamas ranked with the highest GDP per capita and the lowest crime rate, relatively speaking.

While analyzing the murder rate alone is not enough to base any determination on with regard to overall crime, so too we cannot base any determinations on the crime by virtue of the murder rate as it relates to GDP per capita either, because there is more to economic performance, and the economy for that matter, than just the GDP per capita alone.

When we speak of the economy, we speak of things not only in the performance indicators, but we also speak to the level of unemployment; urbanization; the size of the informal sector; the size and scope of corruption; the illegal vices trade (gambling, narcotics, illegal immigration trade and the trade in sex workers); the level of economic openness and transparency; business ease; and the level of state and social protection in terms of property rights and transfers relative to population size and scope as well as a host of other issues and concerns.

I take the position, absolutely, that over 70 percent of the total crime in The Bahamas can be traced back to prevailing economic concerns and linked to wider structural deficits in the economic regulatory mechanisms in The Bahamas. Crimes against property in total, realty theft, house breaking and grand theft auto, are crimes that have economic implications, if only from a net positive benefit for the criminal.

To a broader extent when we speak of benefits transfers to underserved citizens -- knowing full well that employees of the Department of Social Services were attacked by irate customers only a few short months back -- we have to look at the amount of those transfer benefits relative to the economic situation we have today in The Bahamas.

We also must examine to the state’s capacity to provide proper services and deliver adequate benefits under prevailing financial constraints in addition to issues of social protection intervention before the turning point of human attitudinal change, particularly pre-school and secondary school assessments of persons that exhibit anti-social behavioural traits, with issues such as violence against women and overall attitudes against women to be taken into serious consideration as well as with the general lack of respect for authority and property.

While we must submit that crime is not a single entity with one single fix, we must begin to think about the links with crime to the wider economy and by virtue the society. Then, we must disaggregate certain crimes, under certain instances, with certain parameters and then determine if they all can be identifiable under those instances and parameters.

The Bahamas has the ability to build the capacity in its institutions and societies to deal with this matter decisively, and I believe that we can deal with this matter absolutely.

June 16, 2011