In response to criticisms from Government and Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, the UNC has doubled down on its decision to abstain from voting for an extension of the Anti-Gang Bill.
In a press conference yesterday, Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial said: “We stand firm in our decision and we think we made the right decision. We are not attempting to free any gangsters because that cannot be done.”
Lutchmedial referred to comments made by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard that current investigations and cases against gang leaders and members are not in jeopardy. She said that position flies in face of what has been touted by Attorney General Faris Al Rawi and the Minister of National Security Stuart Young.
The senator said after 30 months the government has not shown the legislation to be effective.
“How can you ask us to give you a further 30 months? How can we justify giving the police the power to infringe on people’s constitutional rights and curb those rights?” she asked
Lutchmedial said this would be putting a certain amount of power in the hands of the police and that the potential for abuse is there.
“If you’re are going to hand that power over to someone, to the police officers, you have to be certain that the legislation, one is being used and two, it is being used effectively and we have not seen that,” she said.
According to Lutchmedial, the Bil would also allow the police to go to a judge without all parties being present to get an order to detain someone for up to 14 days.
She argued that if the government wants to take the fight against crime seriously it should take action in four areas: expenditure on education, more effective and efficient assistance for persons on the breadline, the procurement legislation and making the borders of the country more secure. Naparima MP Rodney Charles who contended: “The UNC will not support legislation which requires a three-fifths majority unless the PNM administration fully operationalizes the Public Procurement and Disposal of Property Act 1 of 2015.”
Charles said this is not to be construed as the Opposition holding the government to ransom, but operationalizing of the Public Procurement Act is be an important aspect of the opposition’s consideration as it is the most critical piece of legislation to reduce corruption. It would also improve the country’s standing in the Global Corruption Perception Index, make the fight against white-collar crime more effective and confront the prevalence of gangs and the associated challenges of guns, drugs and human trafficking. Charles said the government wasted parliamentary time by bringing ineffective legislation that has not delivered one conviction of a gang member in the last 30 months.
“If the PNM had come to Parliament last Friday, with 30 convictions related to the Anti-Gang Act, no one would be against it and we would be hard-pressed not to support evidence,” he said.
Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee also argued: “The Opposition’s responsibility is to the people of Trinidad and Tobago and not to the PNM government. We are not about rubber stamping legislation that infringes on rights of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Responding to the Commissioner Griffith’s claim that the Opposition is playing “petty politics”, Lee said: “We are not playing petty politics, and he should try to understand the Opposition’s role in its entirety. We are here as a watchdog.”
Lee said it is understandable that the CoP is looking for all the tools in his arsenal to fight crime, but he emphasized that the Opposition’s role is to ensure that “the Constitution remains in place.”
Besides the Anti-Gang Legislation, Lee called on the government to better fund the T&T Police Service (TTPS). Lee advocated for giving the TTPS a better forensics department, DNA department and better tools to enhance its detection rate.
“I know the Commissioner of Police might not be brave enough to go out there and ask for the funding, we are asking for funding on behalf of the Commissioner of Police to ensure that he eradicates crime and makes a dent in crime that impacts the lives of Trinidad and Tobago.”
In a statement yesterday, the Arima Business Association expressed disappointment in the Opposition’s decision to abstain from extending the life of the Anti-Gang Act 2018. President Reval Chattergoon said: “The Association views the defeat of this Bill as a slap in the face not only to Arima but to the country.”
Also criticizing the UNC’s position was Vasant Barath who said: “This debacle, in which the Opposition did not support the Bill is the perfect example of why there needs to be reform in the UNC.”
He said the UNC failed to properly articulate why they opposed the legislation which “strikes at the heart of gang-related activity”. He asserted that this was a failure of leadership and institutional discipline.
“The facts are that there are no other laws that target gang membership in such a targetted, direct and intense manner,” Bharath said.