Leader of the Opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP battled the Government today in the Parliament highlighting the flaws in the proposed Civil Asset Recovery and Management and Unexplained Wealth Bill, 2019 virtually rewriting the Bill presented by the Government to ensure that appropriate safeguards were inserted in the Bill to secure the property of all citizens was not at risk of being taken by the State.
The Government was compelled to accept many of the amendments proposed by the Opposition Leader. In a marathon session that lasted nearly 12 hours Mrs. Persad-Bissessar led the debate against the Government piloting more than 60 amendments. These amendments ensured that the property of law abiding citizens could only be subject to the provisions of the legislation where it was acquired and associated with the commission of specified offenses in the Proceeds of Crime Act. This was a significant change from the original Bill where the Government proposed that proceedings could be commenced for any offense which would have placed the property of thousands of citizens at risk of being taken by the State.
Mrs. Persad-Bissessar convinced the Government to remove the clauses throughout the Bill that allowed any police officer and any customs officer to commence proceedings under the Bill and to replace this with the Comptroller of Customs and Excise and the Commissioner of Police or any officer above the rank of inspector. This ensured that the fears of citizens that they will be targeted by lower ranking officers who abuse the powers conferred by the legislation was eliminated.
Citizens right to privacy was secured and protected as the Government quickly accepted the Opposition’s suggestion that made it compulsory that any documents filed under the act be sealed by the court and not be for the eyes of every member of the public. This protected citizens private and confidential information from falling into the wrong hands.
“From the outset the Opposition maintained its position that while we support any legislation that allows law enforcement to combat the criminal element and go after ill-gotten gains, we will not support legislation that compromises the rights of citizens, undermines the rule of law and places in the hands of law enforcement the ability to target innocent citizens and unlawfully take away their property,” the Opposition Leader said.
After the changes to the legislation were made by the Government, the Opposition supported the passage of the legislation. Citizens can now be comforted that the legislation as amended will allow law enforcement to go after the ill gotten gains of the criminal element but would not be able to be used as a weapon against citizens who have over the years toiled to lawfully acquire their wealth for themselves and their children.
The Opposition Leader reiterated her party’s commitment to working to protect the rights of citizens, and to hold the Government accountable and in check.
The country is better off with the passage of this legislation which now strikes the right balance between the citizen and the State due to the work of the Opposition.