Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has written to the Prime Minister requesting a meeting of the Government and Opposition to address a legislative approach to tackling rising crime.
The Opposition Leader has suggested that the two parties begin with discussions on the Anti-Gang Bill and the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill.
The following is the letter issued by the Opposition Leader:
"The citizens of our country have been experiencing an unprecedented level of criminal activity. Last year (2017) four hundred and ninety-four (494) persons were murdered.
The rate of killings has increased in 2018 with twenty-three murders reported in just ten days.
Further, citizens continue to suffer robberies, assaults, woundings and attacks at home and at work. The brutality of the attacks upon our women and children is horrifying. No place in Trinidad and Tobago feels safe.
Despite their best efforts, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and other arms of the protective services have not been able to protect our citizens adequately. People are being preyed upon by the criminal element. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.
It is against this background that I write to your good self on behalf of all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago and, in the public interest, to propose 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.
I suggest we begin with two pieces of legislation, namely, the Anti-Gang Bill and the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill.
On the 7th December 2017 The Anti-Gang Bill 2017 was defeated in the House of Representatives as it failed to secure the requisite special majority.
Government spokespersons (Minister Robinson Regis and Attorney General Faris Al Rawi) have recently indicated Government’s intention to bring this Bill back to Parliament but, referenced (correctly so),
Standing Order 78of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives1as a bar to the re-introduction of this 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. If the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and other arms of the protective services are of the view that the passage of this legislation will assist in their ability to combat gangs and gang activity I am of the view that we as 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.
I propose that we agree to invoke Standing Orders 122 and 126 of the House of Representatives2 to allow for the re-introduction of the Anti-Gang Bill in the current parliamentary session.
Further, during the debate, the Opposition clearly articulated its concerns and proposed amendments to the Anti-Gang Bill as presented by the Government. 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.
Yet further, as was noted during the debate, we believe it important to have the feedback of members of the criminal justice system, including the Law Association, Director of Public Prosecutions Office and the Criminal Bar.
During the debate, the Attorney General indicated that he had failed to get feedback from any of these entities. It would be important for our bi-partisan effort to reach out to these stakeholders and carefully consider any recommendations and/or concerns expressed.
AMENDMENTS TO THE ANTI-TERRORISM ACT3
The Opposition has also taken note of recent developments in the Middle East with respect to the fight against ISIS and the Islamic State. As a country, we must ensure that the strongest 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.
We must play our part and discharge our responsibility to the international community in the international fight against terrorism. This can only be achieved by legislating the strongest possible penalties for those involved in terrorism and terrorist activities. 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 Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2017was laid in the House 13th February 2017,but the Bill lapsed when Parliament prorogued in September 2017. Re-visiting these amendments could form the bases for a quick victory for our bipartisan effort.
Having regard to the foregoing, and in the public interest, I hereby request a meeting between the Opposition and the Government whereby we can establish a bi-partisan approach to ensure the successful passage of these important pieces of legislation.
The Opposition proposes that a Committee be established 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."