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IN OUR DEFENCE
In the fight against crime we have become so desperate that it seems we are prepared to accept anything that is a promoted as a tool that will ensure that we win the crime war.
Before sharing my grave concerns about the measure to give members of the defence force all the powers of the police, I first express disappointment with senior government officials who still believe that big talk about waging a war against the criminals, without the requisite plans and infrastructure to back it up, will fool the population into a false sense of security.
We heard from ministers in the former regime who boldly declared, “criminals beware” and instead of detection rates improving and criminal activity decreasing, the bandits continued with their rampage against law-abiding citizens.
The few incentives that were actually working under the old guard were immediately dismantled by the current administration and, if there is truth in the statement that we were the winners in the cancellation of the OPVs matter, then I ask: what equipment and watercraft are being used at present to protect our borders? And if there is nothing patrolling and monitoring our waters, what is the timeframe for this matter to be regularised?
Study the bill
The debate in the Lower House on the Defence (Amendment) Bill may be concluded today and it is hoped that meaningful consideration will be given by the Government on the many issues raised about the risk of abuse and misuse of this piece of legislation. That further amendments to the bill are being brought to the Parliament in a piecemeal fashion, rather than in a comprehensive manner, so that the legislators have a full and fair opportunity to view the legislation and conduct a comprehensive analysis of the clauses, is a wholly unacceptable approach when dealing with laws that will have far-reaching consequences.
I suppose, however, that the justification for the laying-as-we-go process is that it shows the Government’s commitment to take all suggestions on board to ensure that they get it right.
It was shocking to hear a government minister indicate that the joint army and police patrols that have been used over the years with some success were actually contrary to the law.
Perhaps more alarming was that those learned in the law, who in the past had publicly defended this initiative and explained its legitimacy, did not correct the inaccuracy of the ministerial statement made with strong conviction.
The suggestion therefore that this legislation is needed in order to bring the conduct of the soldiers who are part of these exercises within the framework of the law is of no merit, since the soldiers on these patrols are present as a show of strength and support for the police, while the latter are executing their duties. Further, the fact that the soldiers are being given these wide powers because the number of police officers on active duty is less than half their recorded strength, begs the question: why not engage the services of the competent men and women who were trained and operated under the now defunct SAUTT?
The fact that the detection rate for solving serious and violent crimes remains low means that investigative techniques and skills need an immediate upgrade and there is a need for individuals who are familiar with the modern technology available to detect crime. As it stands, the legislation being debated has the inherent risk of creating a separate law-enforcement service which accounts to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and not the Commissioner of Police (CoP).
If there is a conflict with an instruction given by the CDS and the CoP, which will prevail and how will it affect the outcome of the particular matter? And what mechanism is in place to ensure that the CDF does not defy the legislation proposed, that the CDF will not be under the direction and control of the Minister of National Security? And if there is a breach, what is the sanction?
The options to withdraw the bill, send it to a joint select committee or include a clause that speaks to the Act coming into effect on a date to be proclaimed (while the logistics are being worked out), may not find favour with the Government. My suggestion therefore, should this bill be proceeded with, is that the military officers who are being given police powers be made to account to and take instructions from the CoP and that they should be bound by the same rules and regulations as police officers in the execution of law enforcement and subject to the same oversight provisions and sanctions as police officers, as provided in all the laws that govern the T&T Police Service.
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