Gold jewelry theft crisis in Barbados
Theft of gold jewelry has reached such an alarming level in Barbados that the police on Tuesday declared a crisis and issued a nationwide warning against wearing jewelry in public.
An increase of these mostly violent crimes has seen no one spared with reports of these acts being carried out in recent months against tourists and residents, the young and old, and in households across the island.
In reaction, the tourism industry and other businesses, non-governmental organisations and the police have been clamouring for the closing or tight regulation of enterprises that offer to buy used gold jewelry at premium prices. Legislators have approved an adjustment to the law on purchases on this metal to make such transactions more accountable.
While waiting for that amendment to become part of the law, the police jumped in Tuesday advising persons not to wear their expensive adornments in public until the gold-snatching is curbed.
“The Royal Barbados Police Force at this point and time is advising members of the public not to wear gold in public places. We are in a crisis situation. Daily persons have been targeted with respect to having their jewelry stolen, so that has prompted us to issue this warning,” said police spokesman, Inspector David Welch on midday radio Tuesday.
The police advisory came one day after a representative of a non-governmental organisation for the elderly, Barbados Association of Retired Persons (BARP), at a media conference, expressed fears for the welfare of seniors in the face of this violent crime.
BARP’s membership accounts for a majority of elderly persons living in Barbados. “I know that chain-snatching is happening against persons at all levels of society, but the elderly would be an easy target, and we’ve had several of our members complaining about this,” said Executive Manager Elsa Webster at a media conference Monday.
Newspaper pages carry daily advertisements from dealers offering instant cash for gold, and showcases of certain stores in shopping areas display banners inviting persons to turn in their possessions of this precious metal for much needed money.
Government has responded with introduction of amending legislation compelling legitimate dealers to pay for gold received by cheque and to have records kept of the sellers’ passport or other national identification.
“We want to take the cash out of cash for gold,” explained Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite in January, when the legislative amendment was passed in parliament. “It should serve as an additional deterrent to those individuals who are now involved in this illegal trade,” he added.
Owners of businesses failing to comply face a BDS$50,000 (BDS$1 = US$50cents) fine or 10 years’ imprisonment.
But, while joining the chorus for more regulation of the trade, the cash-for-gold companies that legally conduct business say there are many underground operations that do not go by the rules.
Further, owners of these registered operations say they rarely encounter persons of questionable character seeking to offload a cache of precious metal, but deal with average middle-class people who are short on cash for a variety of reasons.
No explanation, however, sits well with operators in the tourism industry and the country’s administrators who fear that attacks against vacationers may drive away business from this tourism-dependent island.
The Barbados Nation, a newspaper, on Monday quoted an owner of two major hotels voicing outrage at robberies of gold jewelry carried out against four of his guests within days of each other last week.
“This thing can get out of hand. If we don’t start taking action, we can lose the thing that has fed us as a country. If tourism crashes, we could have social unrest in Barbados,” the hotelier said.
Tourism has its own woes owing to a declining world economy, and needs no help in its downward spiral.
According to the central bank, performance of this industry which has an average contribution to GDP of 11.5 per cent over the past eight years contracted 3.5 per cent overall in 2012.
As a measure of its importance to the economy, it brought in Bds$126.5 million out of BDS$216.2 million earned in the tradable sector last year.