The Minister of National Security, the Hon. Tommy Turnquest, returning to The Bahamas from his participation in the Eleventh Meeting of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Council of Ministers of National Security (CONSLE), said that the Meeting addressed an extensive agenda reflective of the critical crime and security challenges countries in the region, including The Bahamas, are facing.

The CONSLE was held in Georgetown, Guyana, 4-5 November 2008. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security, A. Missouri Sherman-Peter, accompanied Minister Turnquest to the CONSLE.

The Eleventh Meeting of CONSLE reviewed formidable crime and security threats to CARICOM States, in the context of an Intelligence Brief presented by the Regional Intelligence Fusion Centre (RIFC). Violent crime, trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances and guns, transnational organized crime, gang activity, the impact of criminal deportees to the region, particularly from the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Canada, and potentially terrorism, were considered to be among the major security threats to countries of the region.

CONSLE discussed at length disturbing trends in the crime of murder (homicide) and action that CARICOM States might take to address these trends. It was noted that the majority of CARICOM States are above the international benchmark of 5 murders per 100,000 of population. The CONSLE expressed its concern that analysis and reporting of the murder rates was considered as an indication of whether crime was, or was not, under control. This, in turn, could determine how CARICOM States are portrayed internationally, with implications for their economic and social growth and development.

Commenting on this matter in the CONSLE, Mr. Turnquest agreed that the murder rate in the Region was cause for serious concern. He pointed out that in the case of The Bahamas, most murders were not random acts, but were the manifestation of criminal on criminal violence. Minister Turnquest also supported enhanced national and regional security responses, including through the strengthening of criminal justice systems, enhancing law enforcement capacity and cooperation, and the strengthening and updating of laws to deal with the current crime and security challenges.

CONSLE reviewed the situation in Haiti from a regional security perspective, and what CARICOM might do to further assist that Member State to meet its development and security challenges. Mr. Turnquest told the CONSLE that the situation in Haiti had continuing national security implications for The Bahamas.

In addition to its detailed discussion of security threats to the region, the CONSLE reviewed the collective system and responses the region is continuing to develop to support CARICOM countries in their crime and security initiatives. All CARICOM States may now participate in the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS), initiated as a security measure by the CARICOM States that participated in Cricket World Cup in 2007 plus one other state.

Other regional initiatives in various stages of development include an Advance Cargo Information System (ACIS), a Regional Investigative Management System (RIMS), a Regional Integrated Ballistics Information Network (RIBIN), and a secure CARICOM Travel Card (CARIPASS) that might be used to facilitate entry into other CARICOM countries, once such persons have passed rigid security screening.

Noting that crime is a social and development issue as well as a security issue, CONSLE recognized the importance of the complementary initiative of CARICOM, working together with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), to prepare a Regional Crime Prevention Strategy and Plan of Action.

Two important Summits are to be held in the CARICOM region in 2009. Both of these Summits, the Fifth Summit of the Americas (V SOA), to be convened 17-19 April 2009 and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), are to be hosted by Trinidad and Tobago in the name of CARICOM.

The CONSLE turned its attention to the hosting of the first of these Meetings, the V SOA, in which 34 Heads of State and Government and Heads of International Organizations are expected to participate. CARICOM States have been requested to provide support in various security areas, including ground, maritime and air operations. Minister Turnquest told the CONSLE that, as other CARICOM States, The Bahamas would consider how it might assist the regional security efforts for the V SOA, and that The Bahamas will continue to be an active participant in the work of the CONSLE.

The CONSLE is the Ministerial organ of the regional crime and security system agreed to by CARICOM Heads of Government in 2006. In this security system, Standing Committees of Commissioners of Police, Military Chiefs, Chiefs of Immigration, Comptrollers of Customs and Heads of Intelligence Agencies provide advice in their specific areas to a Senior Policy Advisory Committee (SEPAC).

In turn, the SEPAC, comprised of Permanent Secretaries, Senior Policy Advisors and Heads of the Standing Committees provide policy advice to CONSLE, which makes recommendations to Heads of Government on crime and security issues. Implementation of crime and security decisions/management of the system is the responsibility of the CARICOM Implementation Agency on Crime and Security (IMPACS), located in Trinidad and Tobago, together with the CARICOM Secretariat. The IMPACS has two principal agencies, the Regional Fusion Centre (RIFC) in Trinidad and Tobago and the Joint Regional Communications Centre (JRCC) located in Barbados.