[Written by OBA Candidate Alexis Swan] Almost every day, we read or hear stories about people who have been sent to jail for not being able to pay their bills.
Bermuda is already facing monumental debt as a country. Should we be spending more money on locking up those who can’t find jobs to pay their debts? Or should we look to creating a solution outside prison walls that will enable those in debt to pay their bills and maintain their dignity without having a prison record hanging over their heads for life?
Running up debts with no intention of paying them is one thing. But little regard is given to those who had every intention of paying, but who can prove that they simply cannot pay the debt they have incurred due to job loss or other unfortunate circumstance related to these tough economic times. If they go to jail, the bills remain unpaid and the problem has not been resolved.
How do we arrive at a solution that will please the creditors and keep the person who is trying to pay his/her debts out of prison? Westgate is, after all, an expensive alternative. The cost to the taxpayer of keeping a debtor locked up is upwards of $80,000 a year – in many cases the bill will be more than the offender’s debt.
We need to look for solutions to this and similar problems that help our fellow Bermudians, not solutions that change their lives for the worse. Bermuda seems to be one of the few countries in the world which locks people up for debt. It seems to me a throwback to the days of the offence of wandering abroad.
My question to government Ministers is whether they truly consider that this treatment of debtors is appropriate in this day and age. What service does the government think jailing them does for the people of Bermuda? It is clear that there have been high volumes of job losses in Bermuda recently, and that is beyond people’s control.
If we are going to move forward as a country we have to learn to create solutions for our people and not more problems. No one deserves to live in fear.
We have seen the government mismanage the public’s money on numerous occasions. There is never an explanation as to where the money has gone. Yet if an individual mismanages his own money, he can be pulled up before a magistrate to explain what happened and to beg not to be sent to jail.
That’s not fair, and it’s not the way we should be operating in the 21st Century. We need to put this right. The One Bermuda Alliance intends to do just that.
- Alexis Swan is running in C#24 Warwick South East against the PLP’s Lawrence Scott