Leader of the Opposition, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP, today repeated her call for an urgent meeting with the Government to discuss ways in which the Government and Opposition can work together in the fight against crime and the criminal element.
The Opposition Leader today responded to correspondence sent by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
“The Opposition remained optimistic that the Government would agree to work in a collaborative fashion on the two important pieces of legislation – the Anti-Gang and the Anti-Terrorism Bills,” the Opposition Leader said. “The current crime situation warrants an aggressive bi -partisan approach in the national interest; your proposal of exchanging of letters simply will not achieve this.”
Mrs. Persad-Bissessar noted that in the two weeks since she wrote to the Prime Minister, more than 20 citizens have been murdered (48 for the year, according to latest media reports). “The unnecessary bureaucratic delay occasioned by your delay in responding, and by your proposed method of engagement is simply impractical, unrealistic and would provide no immediate relief to a suffering and frustrated citizenry.”
“We cannot continue to lose our citizens at the rate of two per day and on some days even more, while the Government and Opposition engage in the exchange of correspondence,” the Opposition Leader noted. “Our country needs a solution that can lead to a much-needed measure of safety and security in the short term that can lead to long-term success in the fight against crime.”
Mrs. Persad-Bissessar noted that the Attorney General’s response, on behalf of the Prime Minister, failed to address her proposal for the establishment of a team comprising members of the Government and Opposition charged with the responsibility of producing a model of this legislation that would attract Government and Opposition support.
In her letter to the Attorney General, the Opposition Leader noted the government’s proposal to subject the Anti-Terrorism Bill to a Joint Select Committee (JSC) of the Parliament and in this regard, expressed the view that there was no reason why the same approach cannot be adopted in relation to the Anti-Gang legislation.
She pointed to the obvious advantages of a JSC which include:
(1) The Attorney General stated in his response that his attempts to elicit the views of relevant stakeholders in the criminal justice system only resulted in a response from the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. Subjecting both pieces of legislation to a Joint Select Committee of the Parliament would have the advantage of compelling those stakeholders who would not voluntarily engage in a collaborative process in the public interest to be compelled to do so.
(2) A JSC will also facilitate a tripartite approach that would enable the participation from the independent bench.
(3) A JSC would have all the necessary powers to demand the production of relevant information from all persons and entities
(4) A JSC would have the power to seek the advice of experts to ensure that the legislation presented to the Parliament for passage would enable law enforcement and prosecuting authorities to have the necessary powers to succeed in their fight against criminals and those engaged in criminal activity.
The Opposition Leader reiterated that recent events both regionally and internationally have made the need for the passage of the Anti-Terrorism legislation critical. “We cannot abdicate our responsibility in the global fight against terrorism neither can we afford to further compromise the safety and security of our citizens by allowing persons involved in terrorist activities in other parts of the world to seek refuge in our country,” she said.
“These are concerns that I raised in 2014 as Prime Minister at the United Nations in the face of widespread criticism from the then Opposition in the Parliament. The Opposition recognizes that the leadership that I showed in 2014 has now convinced the Government of today (who formed the Opposition in 2014) that I had good reason to act as I did at the UN in 2014,” Mrs. Persad-Bissessar stated.
“The fight against global terror is critical to our national security and the safety of our citizens,” she said.
Stating that the Opposition is prepared to work with the Government to ensure that this legislation receives the required support when it is presented to the Parliament, she cautioned the government that the passage of this legislation must be premised upon the recognition that those who engage in terrorist activities in the name of Islam are not the true, peace-loving Muslims who observe the pillars of Islam.
“While securing the public interest we must strike the right balance to ensure the protection of the rights of those members of the Islamic faith who have a constitutional right to practice and observe the tenets of their religion,” she stressed.
The Opposition Leader said, “This is not a time for public posturing and grandstanding, given the excessive nature of violent crime, which now confronts our country.”
Noting that the Opposition remains committed to working with the Government in the public interest to ensure the passage of critical legislation in the fight against crime, the Opposition Leader repeated her request that the Government and Opposition meet at the earliest opportunity to commence this process.