Anti-Gang Bill derailed …”WAR OF WORDS”

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Both sides of the political divide are vex over the failure of the Anti-Gang legislation to be passed in the House of Representatives last Wednesday.

Both Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley, and Leader of the Opposition, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, were involved in a war of words on Friday over the derailment of the legislation.

Rowley made a statement in Parliament, while Persad-Bissessar, issued a press statement.

The following are the statement of both leaders:

WHAT ROWLEY SAID

“Madam Speaker, I wish to thank you for granting me leave to make the following personal explanation, pursuant to Standing Order 23.

Madam Speaker, following debate on the Anti-Gang Bill, 2017 which commenced on Wednesday 6th December and ended in the early hours of Thursday 7th December, several comments and statements have been made in daily newspapers, and on radio and television stations, in relation to my participation during the Committee stage of the Bill.

Madam Speaker, in my thirty-one (31) years as a Parliamentarian, I have never experienced the manner of objectionable and vile attack such as the one that I am now being subjected to. Members of Parliament, my very own colleagues, led by the Leader of the Opposition, herself a former Prime Minister, have engaged in an orchestrated course of malicious character assassination against me, by seriously misrepresenting events which occurred in this House earlier this week.

I feel personally affronted and offended because as Prime Minister of this country, I extended myself and made a very concerted effort to ensure that this Government reached across the aisle to give serious consideration to the concerns of the Opposition on this particular Bill.

As some of you may now be aware, the Anti-Gang Bill sought to address serious challenges faced by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service in treating with the problem of organised crime in this country.

What compounds the offensiveness of this matter is the fact that the person at the helm of this most abominable and contemptible attack on both myself as well as on the records of this House, once held the office I now hold, and, like me, is a longstanding member of this House.

I have listened very closely to the comments and statements being made, and I have been forced to ask myself, why is this sustained effort being made to misrepresent what I said and did during the consideration of this Bill? Upon reflection, the only conclusion that I have been able to arrive at, is that the intended effect is to damage me personally as Member of Parliament for Diego Martin West and as Prime Minister.

Madam Speaker, I categorically reject any assertion or suggestion that I refused to negotiate or was uncooperative during deliberations on the Anti-Gang Bill. In the final analysis, the Anti-Gang Bill which was first read and introduced in this House, was substantially amended to give effect to the many requests made by the Opposition.

During the consideration of the Bill, several issues were discussed and compromises reached. In fact, the inclusion of a sunset clause as a proposed Government amendment was a result of my own initiative.

Madam Speaker, the amendment was included after I listened to the Opposition’s view on the issue, held discussions with the drafters and Members of the Government bench and more particularly, made a personal intervention with the Opposition Chief Whip, Member of Parliament for Pointe a Pierre, when we met, at my request, behind the Speaker’s Chair.

In keeping with established procedure and the Standing Orders, after exhaustive discussions and the exchange of ideas on the duration of the sunset clause, which I insisted should be inserted into the Bill to give effect to the Opposition’s concerns, the question on the inclusion of a sunset clause for a period of 4 years was put. Absolutely no Member of the Opposition voted “no” against that proposal as this specific clause was put.

Madam Speaker, I have served in Opposition for fourteen (14) years and it has been my experience and understanding that when an Opposition feels strongly about any particular issue during the consideration of a Bill in Committee, they will usually register their disagreement when the question is put on the particular clause. This did not happen on this occasion.

The Official Report of the debates held in this House, otherwise called the Hansard, provides a clear and faithful transcription of words spoken during the proceedings. The Hansard ensures that democracy is accessible and transparent. Via the Hansard, any citizen has the opportunity to inform himself about decisions made by the Parliament, and to verify the records to see what has been said about any Bill or issue by every single Member of Parliament.

In this case, the Hansard record will clearly show that the question for the inclusion of a new sunset clause was put to all Members three (3) times, and on each occasion there was not one single dissentient voice. So it is indeed shocking to hear the Leader of the Opposition who led her Members to vote against the Bill, thereby defeating it, now seeking to defend her actions by claiming that this position was motivated by my refusal to include a sunset clause in the Bill.

Madam Speaker, we call each other Honourable Members in this House. So for any Member to misrepresent me with respect to proceedings of this House is an act that goes way beneath the dignity expected of us as Honourable Members.

I therefore invite those who have heard the reflections made on my words and actions during Committee stage on the Anti-Gang Bill, 2017, to evaluate the events only on the basis of the records of Hansard, since the Hansard is where the only truth resides.

Madam Speaker, I wish to conclude by expressing my deepest disappointment that the Leader of the Opposition and other Members opposite are capable of engaging in such reprehensible conduct, which is in essence a misrepresentation of the Hansard record, the official record of what is said and done in the House. One would assume that Members would appreciate, through their own experience, honesty and integrity, the effect that this course of action would have. However, having made this personal explanation, I now leave it for the people of Trinidad and Tobago to read the Hansard and view the footage of the debate to arrive at the true position.”

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DR KEITH ROWLEY 

WHAT KAMLA SAID

 

“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.”

 

 
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KAMLA PERSAD-BISSESSAR

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