Leader of the United National Congress (UNC), Kamla Persad Bissessar and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. (CMC)
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PORT OF SPAIN – Leader of the main opposition United National Congress (UNC), Kamla Persad Bissessar has written to the Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, requesting a meeting to address a legislative approach to tackling rising crime. On Thursday, the former Prime Minister suggested that the both parties begin with discussions on the Anti-Gang Bill and the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill.
Against the background to what the opposition leader called an “unprecedented level of criminal activity” Persad-Bissessar said the Government and Opposition should “meet forthwith with a view of agreeing to a bi-partisan legislative approach in the fight against crime and the criminal element. I suggest we begin with two pieces of legislation, namely, the Anti-Gang Bill and the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill.”
She noted that one December 7, 2017, the Anti-Gang Bill 2017 was defeated in the House of Representatives as it failed to secure the requisite special majority.
According to Persad Bissessar, government spokespersons – Robinson Regis and Attorney General Faris Al Rawi, recently indicated Government’s intention to bring this Bill back to Parliament but, referenced to Standing Order 78 of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives as a bar to the re-introduction of the Bill in the House in the present parliamentary session.
“Consequently, unless we agree to take action, this Bill cannot be re-introduced until the next session begins, that is after the 28th September, 2018.It is my respectful view that we should not wait until the end of September to revisit the anti-gang legislation, given how unsafe our country has become.”
The opposition leader said the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and other arms of the protective services believe that the passage of this legislation will assist in their ability to combat gangs and gang activity – the “leaders are duty bound to find a bi-partisan solution to ensure the passage of this legislation with the required constitutional majority. We must ensure that law enforcement is provided with the powers to fight and win the battle against the criminal element.”
She said 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”.
Concerning developments in the Middle East, the opposition leader said the twin island republic must ensure that a strong message is sent to former ISIS fighters and members that Trinidad and Tobago 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 . . . this can only be achieved by legislating the strongest possible penalties for those involved in terrorism and terrorist activities.”
She said that during the proposed meeting, a bipartisan approach should be established “to ensure the successful passage of these important pieces of legislation.”
The Opposition leader also proposed the establishment of a committee b comprising three members of the Opposition and three members of the Government to critically examine these two pieces of legislation and meet with relevant stakeholders to ensure that the Bills when presented to the Parliament will have the endorsement of both Government and Opposition as well as all relevant stakeholders.
“This will ensure that the legislation when debated in Parliament will receive the support of all members of Parliament.
I trust you will see the wisdom in the proposal of the Opposition and agree to the proposed meeting in the shortest possible time. As a country we must put the safety, security and protection of our people first. It is our paramount responsibility to them and we must do all in our power to discharge that responsibility. I await your response,” the opposition leader said. (CMC)