Government willing to meet on anti-gang bill …”KAMLA READY TO TALK”

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The Government has agreed to meet with Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar on two critical pieces of legislation— the failed Anti-Gang Bill and the Anti-Terrorism Bill.

In a January 10 letter to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Persad- Bissessar stated that based on the country’s 494 murders for 2017, with another 23 killings in the last 10 days, she proposed that the Government and Opposition meet forthwith with a view of agreeing to a bi-partisan legislative approach in the fight against crime and the criminal element.

In an immediate response, Stuart Young, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister stated, “It is great news we welcome it.”

Young said it was the police who have been asking for anti-gang legislation and it was a pity the bill failed after the Opposition did not support last month.

He said the legislation was needed will help the police gather intelligence with regards to gangs and gang activity which would be converted into evidence.

Young added, “The Government heeded that cry and took it Parliament twice.  The Opposition failed to support it. Maybe, that is water under the bridge if the Opposition Leader is holding out that they are prepared to sit and discuss it now, we will do so.”

Young said the Government has offered to the Opposition legal advice before which can be made available to them again.

Young said, “We are prepared to work day and night to work on the consensus of the legislation.”

Young pointed out that under the Standing Orders of Parliament, the failed Anti-Gang Bill could not return to the House after six months time.

“However, these are Standing Orders and Parliamentarians are the ones who determine how we conduct our business. I have not looked at it specifically. But my legal background would suggest to me that it is always possible if the parties agree that we can abridge the time and come to Parliament before that six months period, I am sure we can pass a motion abridging the time.”

He said with the Government support, the bill can return to the Parliament in the shortest possible time.

“The Government is always ready, willing and able to do the work that is necessary to get legislation to the Parliament.”

Persad-Bissessar wants a meeting with the Government to determine a bi-partisan legislative approach to the fight against crime and the criminal element, starting with two pieces of legislation: the Anti-Gang Bill and the Anti-Terrorism Act.

She added, “People are being preyed upon by the criminal element, and the brutality of the attacks upon our women and children is horrifying. No place in Trinidad and Tobago feels safe. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.”

On  December 7, the Anti-Gang Bill, was defeated in the House of Representatives as it failed to secure the requisite special majority.

The Opposition Leader proposed invoking Standing Orders 122 and 126 of the House of Representatives[2] to allow for the re-introduction of the Anti-Gang Bill in the current parliamentary session.

Persad-Bissessar stressed that the Opposition clearly articulated its concerns and proposed amendments to the Anti-Gang Bill as presented by the Government during the debate on the Bill in late 2017.

 She added, “I expressed the view that, if properly operationalized, the anti-gang legislation could possibly assist law enforcement in the fight against gangs and the criminal element.  The Opposition was prepared to support the passage of the legislation with the inclusion of a short sunset clause – we believe a tight rein must be kept on this law, given the past and potential future abuse of powers proposed in the legislation”.

With regard to the Anti-Terrorism legislation, the Opposition Leader said Trinidad and Tobago must ensure that the strongest message is sent to former ISIS fighters and members that this country is not a safe haven for persons involved in international terrorism. “We must ensure that our borders are secure to prevent the entry of any persons seeking to find refuge in our country from where they can attack our citizens or the citizens of other countries,” Mrs. Persad-Bissessar added.

“We must play our part and discharge our responsibility to the international community in the international fight against terrorism, and this can only be achieved by legislating the strongest possible penalties for those involved in terrorism and terrorist activities,” the Opposition Leader stated.

“We need to give law enforcement the power to identify, charge and prosecute anyone or any entity involved directly and indirectly in terrorist activity and those powers must extend to identifying and prosecuting those persons and entities involved in terrorist financing”.

The Opposition Leader expressed the hope that the Government would see the wisdom in the Opposition’s proposal and agree to meet in the shortest possible time.

“As a country we must put the safety, security and protection of our people first,” she stated. “It is our paramount responsibility to them and we must do all in our power to discharge that responsibility.”

[2] Standing Order 122 and 126 provide:

            122. Suspension of Standing Orders

(1)   Any one or more of these Standing Orders may be suspended, on a motion made by a Member at any Sitting, after notice of at least one (1) day or with leave of the Speaker.

(2)   A motion under this Standing Order shall be decided without amendment or debate.

126. Agreement between both sides of the House

            Where agreement has been reached by leave of the Speaker between the Leader of the House and the Whips of the Opposition parties in the House with regard to the transaction of any of the business of the House for any sitting or period, such agreement shall be announced in the House by the Speaker and the Speaker shall, notwithstanding the provisions of these Standing Orders, conduct such business in accordance with the terms of the said agreement.

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