PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The Trinidad and Tobago parliament late Friday night approved the Anti-Gang Bill, 2018 that will allow for persons to be jailed for up to 25 years for being a gang leader.
In addition, the legislation, which found favour with all Parliamentarians present during the vote, will provide for a 10 year jail term for being a gang member and or 20 years for a second conviction.
The government and the opposition had been at loggerheads over the passage of the bill that was defeated late last year, when the opposition legislators refused to give the required support for the special majority, as they bickered over the duration of the sunset clause in the bill.
But when the vote was taken on Friday night, 34 legislators, including 16 opposition members, who were present in the chamber approved the legislation.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, who piloted the legislation, said it was “déjà, déjà vu” as he described the bill as a critical piece of law that would benefit the country in its fight against crime.
The bill makes it an offence to be a member of a gang, to be in possession of a bullet-proof vest, to participate in, or contribute to, the activities of a gang, to support or invite support for a gang, or to harbour or conceal gang members or recruit persons to a gang.
Because the bill is inconsistent with Sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution a special three-fifths majority of the members was required for it to be passed. The Government did not get initial support for the bill and it failed on December 7, last year when the opposition voted against the measure.
Al-Rawi told legislators Friday that the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) deserved the law to help in the fight against crime, but warned that it will not be a “panacea” or a cure all for all of the criminal activities here.
He said since the bill was defeated in the Parliament last December there had been 131 murders recorded, with 39 being classified as gang related.
Opposition leader Kamla Persad Bissessar, who was the only opposition member to speak on the bill last night, said since the TTPS was adamant that the bill would assist, her members agreed to find a way to make it happen in a bi-partisan approach.
“When we did not support it, it was not out of spite, it was not out of malice, it was not out of ill will, it was always in the best interest of the country. And I want to make it very clear that when we did not support it, it was not that we were being unpatriotic, that was not the issue at all. In fact, we were being patriotic to protect the rights of the majority of the citizens of our country,” she said.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley said that the government would reluctantly agree to the two year period as advocated for the duration of the sunset clause, even though his administration had originally wanted a four year term limit and had reduced it to three years.
The bill now goes to the Senate for a vote. – CMC