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PM: Citizens will be protected
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar says mechanisms will be put in place to protect citizens from abuse by soldiers who may be given the same powers as police. Persad-Bissessar made the comment yesterday as she defended the Government’s proposed amendment to the Defence Act at the opening of the $2.5 million National Energy Skills Centre Debe Campus at SS Erin Road, Debe.
She said soldiers operating under the amendment “will not be operating as a police force unto themselves, on their own. They will be working alongside police officers.” The amendment, which will be debated in Parliament on Friday, seeks to give soldiers the same powers as police officers. The Opposition PNM said yesterday it would not support the move.
On Monday, former minister in the Ministry of National Security Subhas Panday, an attorney, described the amendment as “dangerous.” He said it was flawed, since there were no checks and balances to guard against abuse by soldiers. Yesterday, however, Persad-Bissessar dismissed his statement, saying checks and balances would be implemented for the application of the amendment.
“I think the criminals are far more dangerous than any piece of legislation,” she said. “We are in a situation where there is an upsurge, especially in murders, and this one way of utilising persons who are in the employ of the State, whether as police officers or defence officers.”
Persad-Bissessar said the proposed legislation would be used in tandem with an amendment to the Police Complaints Authority Act. She said through this amendment, soldiers who acted alongside police and had the same duties as the police would fall under the jurisdiction of the Police Complaints Authority. The Prime Minister added that such mechanisms would take care of concerns and “will also allow for a ramping-up of our personnel in the very, very important and most needed fight against crime.”
She explained that while the Defence Act made provision for soldiers to work alongside police, it did not state that when they were working together they would have the same powers. The amendment, she said, would give soldiers powers such as the power of arrest.
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