2922754
Members of the Government bench during the Committee stage on the Anti-Gang (Amendment) Bill, 2020 in Parliament yesterday.

PETER CHRISTOPHER

[email protected]

There will be no extension of the Anti-Gang Bill at this time.

Following a debate which spanned just over three hours and a brief committee stage, the motion to extend the legislation was defeated after all 19 United National Congress MPs abstained from the vote in the House of Representatives yesterday.

Despite all 20 present Government MPs voting for the extension, it was defeated because it required a special three-fifths majority.

Shortly after the motion was defeated, Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith said the country had once again fallen victim to “petty politics.”

“Unfortunately, petty politics yet again takes precedence over doing what is right for the country,” Griffith said.

“We just arrested a major person of interest involved in gang activity. Over 70 in the last few years. It was a major deterrent that contributed to over 115 less murders this year compared to the same period last year.

“It seems that this bill was an issue for some politicians. Heaven forbid, if and when gang-related murders increase, I hope that those who rejected the bill would be prepared to answer to their God and the citizens of this country.”

It is the second time in the last five years that the Anti-Gang legislation had failed to get the Opposition support for an extension.

In 2016, the Opposition also opted not to support an extension of the 2011 version of the bill, which had been passed by the People’s Partnership. The legislation returned to the Parliament in March 2018 with some adjustments, most notably the reduction of the sunset clause from five years to 30 months. It was supported then, as Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar stated it was in the best interest of the people.

Throughout yesterday’s debate, Opposition MPs argued that the legislation had little impact on the state of crime in the country with Naparima MP Rodney Charles claiming the reduction in homicides this year had more to do with the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions than the legislation.

“The Attorney General, on the other hand, would have us believe that reduction in murders was due to the Anti-Gang Act and not because of COVID restrictions. Cities the world over have recorded a drastic reduction in criminal activity during the global pandemic,” said Charles, who cited the reduction of murders in the St James parish in Jamaica and the American city of St Louis, Missouri, as examples.

But Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi pointed out that the two examples had been subject to state of emergencies, which this country did not implement.

Charles argued that the legislation would only serve to infringe upon the rights of poor citizens, as it could be easily abused by the police.

San Juan/Barataria MP Saddam Hosein meanwhile questioned the actual impact of the bill, noting gang activity and gang-related murders had still occurred despite the law.

To this point, Port-of-Spain South MP Keith Scotland said their examples only reinforced the need for the bill.

“What the honourable members for Barataria and Naparima in both their speeches, said is that there is a serious gang problem in Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.

Al-Rawi expressed his bemusement at the stance of the Opposition MPs Charles’ response, questioning how he could claim the Government had no success with the law, “notwithstanding” the statistics.

“It cannot be insignificant to say in 2018 there was some 2,400 gang members reputed to be gang members and in 2020 the intelligence comes to be 1,014, being a 57% per cent decrease in gang membership,” said Al-Rawi, who explained that the law, based on these statistics, had some effect in suppressing gang activity, which was the legislation’s intention.

Following the vote, the AG said the Opposition’s stance, which he said they had held since 2016 and only relented due to pressure from the public in 2018, would make crime-fighting in Trinidad and Tobago more difficult.

Camille urges Kamla to put T&T first

Leader of Government Business Camille Robinson-Regis last night condemned the irresponsible behaviour of the UNC in failing to support the continuation of the Anti-Gang Act.

“As the Leader of Government Business in the House, I represent the united views of my colleagues that this negligent act by the Opposition can have disastrous effects on the ongoing investigations against persons involved in gang activity and the nation at large,” Robinson-Regis said.

She said the Opposition had again shown its disdain for the people of Trinidad and Tobago by abstaining from yet another vote.

The Opposition first brought the bill to Parliament in 2011 when in governance and it was supported by the then PNM opposition. It was a bill that they once deemed ‘crucial’, ‘necessary’ for the fight against crime. Despite recent pleas from the Commissioner of Police, the Opposition decided to deride what they once hailed as one of the solutions against crime.”

She said Persad-Bissessar had “made a guest appearance to oversee the mockery she encourages in the House by abstaining from a Bill that was already passed twice before.”

“In 2011 the same Opposition leader called for bipartisan cooperation and a ‘whole government approach’. Yet today, she sat in stony silence when the bill was sent to committee. The lack of moral compass and this ineffectual, rudderless Opposition is once more directly affecting the people of Trinidad and Tobago. It is another blatant attempt by the unpatriotic Opposition to make our country ungovernable. The UNC only supports laws against crime when the public pressures them to do right by the country.”

She said the record will show that the UNC does not support majority legislation, especially when it is related to crime, unless it is pressured by the public.

“Unlike the Opposition, we take our duty very seriously, we demand that the UNC serve the nation, not just themselves or their cronies. It is unforgivable errant MPs choose to hold our country to hostage by abstaining without remorse and being consistently unpatriotic. The Opposition needs to do right by the nation and put aside petty agendas and for once put our country first.”