PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Government and opposition appeared to be at loggerheads over the length of the sunset clause in an anti-gang legislation that the police said is necessary to combat the rising crime situation in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Opposition had failed to provide the necessary two-thirds majority needed for the Anti-Gang Bill when it was brought to the parliament late last year but later agreed to have the measure discussed with a view of re-introducing it to Parliament after it came under widespread criticism from the public.
But following a meeting here on Friday, Attorney General Faris Al Rawi accused the opposition delegation of indicating “that the clause be reduced to 18 months, even though the Opposition Leader had suggested two years”.
He said the opposition also suggested that “we go to a Joint Select Committee, which was not on the table at the parliamentary debate. This took me by surprise.”
But in a statement issued following the talks, the Office of the Leader of the Opposition described the meeting as “a positive step towards arriving at a legislative formula for the passage of critical legislation in the fight against crime that will meet with the approval of both the Government and the Opposition”
It said that the Opposition reiterated its call for a sunset clause “of no longer than 24 months.
“However there was no agreement on this issue. The Opposition maintained that the sunset clause is critical in order allow for the Parliament to review the manner in which the legislation is put into effect by law enforcement.”
The statement said that the “insertion of the sunset clause requiring the return of the legislation to the Parliament before the expiration of the time limit is important to ensure that those upon whom draconian powers are conferred do not abuse those powers to the detriment of the citizenry.
“The insistence for the insertion of the sunset ensures that there is a proportionate balance in the public interest of the powers conferred by this legislation,” the statement added.
But Al-Rawi told reporters that for the five years the anti-gang law has been existence, there has been no judicial criticism of the act.
“To have this law die in 18 months would be a tragedy. On the last occasion the Opposition had to review it, but they allowed it to lapse. So is Trinidad and Tobago to be thrown into turmoil with uncertainty? I really can see absolutely no reason other than politics for the anti-gang laws to be returned. They are not associated with the denial of bail, they are strictly in the contemplation of the court,” he said.
Al-Rawi said he was disappointed with the outcome of Friday’s meeting saying “today was a dead end in terms of what was offered on the table.
“It was a retreat from what was agreed in the Parliament itself. So what could be the possible failure of the anti-gang law be? “Come on, what more can be required to support this law?”
He said the country needs to step up to the Opposition to give the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service the power to arrest gang leaders and its members, noting that most of the 80 murders committed so far this year were gang related. – CMC