Parliament meets today for what is described as a mere formality, to confirm Justice Paula Mae-Weekes as this country’s sixth President.
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Kamla wants to revisit Anti-Gang Bill
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar says Parliament should not wait until the end of September to revisit Anti-Gang legislation which failed to get the support of her party in December.
In a letter to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday, she said: “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 as leaders we are duty bound to find a bipartisan solution to ensure the passage of this legislation with the required constitutional majority.”
On December 7, the Bill failed to get the required three-fifths majority. Although 21 Government MPs supported the legislation, 12 Opposition MP’s voted against it and there was one abstention.
The Anti-Gang Bill 2017 seeks to maintain public safety and order by discouraging membership n criminal gangs, suppressing criminal gang activity and other related matters. It makes it an offence to be a member of a gang, be in possession of a bullet-proof vest, participate in, or contribute to, gang activities, support or invite support for a gang, or harbour or conceal gang members, or recruit persons to a gang.
After the legislation failed in Parliament, Rowley warned that “more people will die as a result of the action of the UNC.”
“We appealed to them, if what we do stops only one gang leader or saves one life . . . they have virtually told us all to go to hell,” he said.
This week, shortly after the murder of 15-year-old Joshua Andrews, Rowley said killings continued because of the Opposition’s failure to support the legislation.
In a letter to Rowley requesting a meeting on the matter, Persad-Bissessar said citizens have been experiencing an unprecedented level of criminal activity, with 494 murders in 2017 and 23 in the first ten days of this year.
“No place in Trinidad and Tobago feels safe,” she said.
She called for a meeting between Government and Opposition aimed at a “bipartisan legislative approach in the fight against crime and the criminal element” and suggested they start with the Anti-Gang Bill and the Anti-Terrorism Amendment Bill.
Standing Order 78 of the House of Representatives bars reintroduction of the Bill in the current Parliamentary session but Persad-Bissessar said provisions under 122 and 126 allow the legislation to return to Parliament as long as there is agreement on both sides of the House.
She reiterated: “A tight rein must be kept on this law given the past and potential future abuse of powers proposed in the legislation.” That is why the Opposition had proposed a short sunset clause, she added
The Opposition Leader said it was important to get feedback from members of the criminal justice system, including te Law Association, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Criminal Bar Association. She proposed that a committee comprising three Opposition and three Government members critically examine the two pieces of legislation and meet with stakeholders to ensure what is taken to Parliament has full support.
Contacted for comment, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi described Persad-Bissessar’s proposal as “an interesting development.”
“Certainly from our perspective we will be very happy to advance any proposals which redound to the benefit of the citizens,” he said.
Al-Rawi said it was a tragedy that the Anti-Gang law was not passed on the first occasion. He said the murder of Joshua Andrews is an indication of how desperately the legislation is needed since that killing was “rooted in gang and criminal activity.”
WHAT THE STANDING ORDERS SAY
Standing Order 122:
Suspension of Standing Orders
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.
A motion under this standing order shall be decided without amendment or debate.
Standing Order 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.