The Opposition refused to be bullied into supporting legislation that could be open to abuse
It is clear, that in the absence of any ideas or plan to deal with crime, the Prime Minister is continuing his usual tactic of passing blame and deflecting from the real issue.
The Prime Minister is currently facing the highest murder rate in 10 years and is seeking an exit by trying to cast blame on the Opposition during the final moments of 2017, in order to hide his own incompetence. This, like everything else his government has tried to do in the last two and a half year, will fail on its own merit.
The record will show that Keith Rowley sat in Parliament while the Opposition laid an amendment to add a sunset clause which would cause the anti-gang legislation to come back to Parliament for an assessment in 18 months. We later made a second offer of the clause taking effect in 2 years.
We believed the sunset clause was important to protect the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago from the potential abuse of powers by several arms of the state. We must not forget that the Anti-Gang Bill requires a special majority because powers would be granted that would violate constitutionally protected rights of all citizens, including the law-abiding citizens which it seeks to protect. For example, the bill includes proposals for warrantless searches of premises by police officers in certain circumstances.
Because of the potential for abuse, we proposed a short sunset clause to ensure that the law would not remain on the books for very long should it be abused by law enforcement actors or political influences.
There is a long history of abuse of national security powers with regard to ordinary citizens, so we must be wary when granting extraordinary powers.
The Government did not agree with us and we agreed to extend our amendment such that the sunset clause would be in effect for two years.
The Government still did not agree with the extended sunset clause and the Government did not want to have the law come up for assessment in two years.
During the debate, the Government indicated they knew who the gang members were and where they could be found but somehow knowing all of this was not enough for them to show any progress in two years and they seemed afraid of the law being assessed in two years.
Prime Minister Rowley’s statements in Parliament this afternoon were a continuation of his attempt to mislead the citizenry with respect to this Bill. He has stated that the Government gave the Opposition everything it asked for, when the record will clearly show this is not the case. And it is the Prime Minister, during his contribution in the committee stage, who refused to support the Opposition’s recommendation of a two-year sunset clause and insisted that there be a four-year sunset clause.
The Prime Minister must explain why two years was not sufficient to assess the legislation given the Opposition’s multiple examples of the potential for abuse and the clear and unambiguous manner in which we stated the law must be checked for abuse in a very short time period.
I have repeatedly said the Opposition will support the passage of good law.
We reject Prime Minister Rowley’s attempts to play on the fears of citizens by saying “more will die” because the Opposition refused to be bullied into supporting legislation that could be open to abuse.
The Opposition calls on the Prime Minister to stop playing games and come up with concrete measures to address the crime menace.