PORT OF SPAIN — Notwithstanding the dramatic chan≠ging of the guard at the critical National Security Ministry, Government faced the distinct prospect of a humiliating defeat on the Defence and Police Complaints Authority bill.
Any expectations that removal of the controversial Jack Warner might have enhanced support for the bill, and make its passage possible, were undermined by the time the sixth Independent senator had spoken. Notwithstanding the arranging of a technical meeting with leaders in law enforcement last Tuesday, both Helen Drayton and Rolph Balgobin, who spoke yesterday, were not prepared to give their support.
In fact, not one of the six Independent senators who have spoken thus far has given aid and comfort to Government’s crime plan to give police powers to soldiers.
Government needs the support of at least four of the nine Independents to make the bill law. With only three Independents left, the math suggested certain defeat.
So Government has retreated again. The debate in the Senate was suspended for a se≠cond time, and will resume on May 7.
In her contribution, Drayton said the bill would create the substance of a state of emergency, without Government having to come to Parliament for approval. “You are asking us to give all the powers of a state of emergency during an election period,” she said, noting that it was “untenable” that the (two-year) sunset clause would “coincide with a period of election” (ie, the term of office of the Government).
“There is no precedent for what is being attempted here in any country in the world where there is a tradition of respect for human rights, transparency and accountability,” Drayton stated.
She said the bill, combined with the proposed Bail Bill and the bill to abolish trial by jury, would create permanently “a full state of emergency without the Government having to go to Parliament” for approval (as is normally required to confirm the state of emergency).
Drayton, who stressed she had no problem with the military supporting the police in the fight against crime, said there were eight misrepresentations (by the Government spokespersons), and she painstakingly detailed all of them.
She said the public believed the bill was about giving soldiers powers of arrest, but this was not so. “This bill gives military officers full, sweeping police powers, which includes (apart from powers of arrest) the power to search individuals, vehicles, property, including dwelling houses, without warrants; as well as the capability to detain persons which, in the context of the Anti-Gang legislation, that period would be for up to 72 hours,” she said.
She said the second wrong impression was that the military officers would accompany police. She said nowhere in the bill does it speak to soldiers accompanying the police or being with the police.
She quoted the relevant section of the bill which stated that the Defence Force member shall, without delay and as soon as it is reasonably practicable (“and that is not defined”), hand that person and any item seized (by the soldier) over to the senior police officer who is assisting” or to the nearest police station. She said that suggested quite clearly to her that the soldiers need not be with the police.
“So is the Government being fully transparent in this matter?” she asked rhetorically. “No!” the Opposition members chorused. “Why is the wording of the bill ambiguous and vague, leaving room for soldiers to act independently?” she asked. (Express)