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Two-year sunset clause for precepted soldiers says AG
The Government’s proposal to precept soldiers to assist police in the anti-crime crusade will have a two-year “sunset clause” limit, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said yesterday, pointing out that the PNM Government had used soldiers in its own fight against crime. “It is sheer unadultered hypocrisy for the PNM now to object to using soldiers to assist in the anti-crime fight,” Ramlogan said during yesterday’s House of Representatives debate on the Defence (Amendment) Bill.
He said the amendment would give soldiers the same protection as police and allow them to assist the police. Ramlogan said there had been a divergence of opinion on whether the bill required a special majority. “After mature deliberation and consideration, the Government intends to circulate amendments and we will be going forward on the basis that it requires a special majority,” he said.
This will be a three-fifths majority, he added. He said amendments will also allow the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) to hear any complaints about soldiers who assist police in law enforcement. “Government has listened carefully to public comment and we sought to introduce this provision to give protection to members of the public who have queried how they will be able to air their grievances and about redress mechanisms, so the PCA will be an avenue for redress,” the AG said.
Ramlogan said citizens were unable to enjoy their constitutional right of enjoyment of property and some have to barricade themselves in their homes while criminals roam free. Citing a manpower shortage in the Police Service, Ramlogan said although T&T has 7,715 officers and a strength of around 6,288, only approximately 2,000 officers are usually on duty because of shift systems, leave or suspensions. He said there was need to supplement police with other state resources.
Ramlogan said the PNM had used soldiers to work with the police in its Operation Anaconda, Operation Baghdad, Operation Weed and Seed and in its Special Anti-Crime Unit, which lacked legal status. He said soldiers were also used alongside police in the Richplain crime-fighting model which the PNM had used and had projected using in Laventille.
Ramlogan said with Sautt, all the soldiers were precepted to act as Special Reserve Police. He noted Sautt had 400 soldiers and 81 police officers. He asked PNM leader Keith Rowley what he had done about that when he was part of the PNM Government. Ramlogan said a 2006 report for the PNM Government by Justice Ulric Cross pointed out that legislation was needed to have the army involved in fighting crime. He said Cross told the PNM they had to amend the Defence Act.
Ramlogan also held up a copy of a March 2008 newspaper front page which said the then PNM Government was considering amending the Defence Act. It was headlined “Soldiers Can Arrest.” “They (PNM) seem to have political amnesia,” Ramlogan added. “And that group which is speaking out against this bill, where were they and were they talking out then, when the PNM used soldiers and were proposing to amend the Defence Act to allow soldiers to arrest?” he said.
He said customs, transport and licensing officers had the same immunities as police, and soliders would be discriminated against unless they received the same conditions.
Quoting statistics showing the rise in murders under the PNM administration, the AG said T&T now needs the “extra arms and legs” of army officers to assist in handling crime and to get value for its money. He said the budget for the army was $1.1 billion this year. Ramlogan said only certain army officers would be chosen for the crime-fighting task and the entire force would not be used.
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