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Former AG hits passage of Defence (Amendment) Bill
The controversial Defence (Amendment) Bill which was passed in Parliament last Friday is unconstitutional and is another example of government’s public relations exercise, says former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, during a news briefing at Gaston Court, Chaguanas, yesterday. “What the government did on Friday was to pass a “Flying Squad” in the army and in the Police Service under the direction and control of the prime minister, the national security minister and the Cabinet,” Maharaj said.
What was even worse, he added, was that the Police Service Social and Welfare Association (PSSWA) was against the measure. Maharaj said for the initiative to work depended on the co-operation of police officers but this was not the case. “When a soldier takes the accused person to the police station to be charged that would depend upon the co-operation of the Police Service. “A government cannot fight crime by fighting the police, you have to fight the criminal,” Maharaj urged.
He said by passing the bill the government was trying to give the impression it was fighting crime but in fact had no crime plan. “If the government wanted to add police officers all they had to do was to add police to the Police Service,” Maharaj said. He said a “foundation principle” of the Constitution mandated that a police officer be independent of the political directorate to do investigations and prosecutions.
“You cannot have a defence force personnel who depends upon the minister of national security for appointment, for promotion, for transfer, for benefits be subject of influence of the minister of national security and by extension under the influence of the Cabinet.
“If you have that you are changing the constitution to a country like Zimbabwe. What they are saying is they are the Robert Mugabe of T&T. In Guyana there was the House of Israel, a private army of President Forbes Burnham. That is what they are trying to do in T&T, it has nothing to do with crime.” He also accused the government of wanting to create a permanent state of emergency and wanting to “lock up” those who were opposed to its ideals.
When the vote was taken on Friday, all 29 PP Government members were present in Parliament, giving the administration more than enough votes which were required to pass the bill. The legislation would now move to the Senate for debate. The government also requires a three-fifths special majority for passage of the bill in the Senate. The PSSWA has planned a candlelight vigil for Wednesday in protest of the bill.
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