Members of the Opposition met today with Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, Minister Stuart Young and Minister Fitzgerald Hinds at Parliament to attempt to arrive at an agreed bi-partisan legislative approach to the fight against crime and the criminal element.
The Opposition team was led by Member of Parliament for Oropouche East, Dr. Roodal Moonilal, and included Member of Parliament for Naparima, Mr. Rodney Charles, Senator Gerald Ramdeen and Senator Anita Haynes.
Today’s meeting was a positive step towards arriving at a legislative formula for the passage of critical legislation in the fight against crime that will meet with the approval of both the Government and the Opposition. The Opposition is pleased that the Government accepted Opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s strong recommendation, in the public interest, for a bi-partisan approach to this critical piece of legislation, albeit belatedly.
In calling for this meeting more than five weeks ago, the Leader of the Opposition raised pertinent issues, including the rampant upsurge in criminal activity over the past two and a half years and more so during the beginning of this year, as well as the resourcing of law enforcement to be able to combat the criminal element.
The Opposition raised its concerns once again regarding the length of the sunset clause, the ability of the government to provide adequate resources to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service as well as other agencies of law enforcement as well as the readiness of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service to operationalize this legislation.
Importantly, the Government agreed to the Opposition Leader’s recommendation to waive standing orders 122 and 126 to allow for the Anti-Gang Bill to be brought back to Parliament before the before the end of the present parliamentary session.
The Opposition also highlighted several weaknesses in the amended draft bill as submitted by the Attorney General, which the Government assured would be taken on board and addressed.
In today’s meeting, the Opposition reiterated its call for a sunset clause of no longer than 24 months; however there was no agreement on this issue. The Opposition maintained that the sunset clause is critical in order allow for the Parliament to review the manner in which the legislation is put into effect by law enforcement.
The insertion of the sunset clause requiring the return of the legislation to the Parliament before the expiration of the time limit is important to ensure that those upon whom draconian powers are conferred do not abuse those powers to the detriment of the citizenry. The insistence for the insertion of the sunset ensures that there is a proportionate balance in the public interest of the powers conferred by this legislation.
On the Opposition’s call for Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament to be established to facilitate wide consultation on the draft legislation, the Government declined to consider this proposal. The Opposition continued its call for stakeholder conversations, but the Government indicated that it saw no need to discuss the legislation with any stakeholders despite already having come under fire for its lack of consultation.
Following today’s meeting, which was described as cordial, the Opposition remains cautiously optimistic that these discussions and similar collaboration going forward will lead to consensus between Government and Opposition on the passage of important and critical legislation that would serve the public interest.