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Division still over soldiers’ arrest powers
Months after Parliament defeated a bill to give soldiers the powers of arrest, the association representing police officers is once more rejecting Chief of Defence Staff Major Gen Kenrick Maharaj call for legislative support for this initiative. However, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, who piloted the Miscellaneous Provisions (Defence and Police Complaints) Act 2013, welcomed Maharaj’s call for greater powers for soldiers and said that vindicated his stance.
In a telephone interview from New York, USA, where he is attending an international conference, the Attorney General said, “It is refreshing to hear the Chief of Defence Staff speak about the new strategic role for the Defence Force.
“His call for greater legal powers echoes the sentiments I expressed when I piloted this bill and I therefore welcome the belated breaking of his silence. It vindicates my position and stance that this is, in fact, a long overdue and much needed legislative intervention whose time has come.”
Speaking at the Prayer Plus Finding Solutions to Crime meeting of heads of the Christian Faith at the Trinidad Hilton on Tuesday, Maharaj said the Defence Force did not enjoy the primacy of law enforcement or the authority to arrest but that was something it would continue to engage. He also said with the Police Service being stretched, the Defence Force at some point would have to contemplate the idea and notion of being able to do independent operations.
President of the Police Social Welfare Association Insp Anand Ramesar said the police were totally against such a move. Ramesar said it was clear that the Chief of Defence Staff did not understand the role of the army in a democratic society. He said the soldiers and police have worked together in the past and coming out of that there was a clear understanding that there is no role for any member of the Defence Force to play in relation to exercising powers of arrest.
“We are clear the role of the police must be separate from the army and the police must remain impartial at all times.”
However, Ramlogan said: “I remain of the firm view that the Soldier/Police Bill, which was defeated, is a necessary measure in our society. This was an excellent policy initiative by the Government which the Opposition did not support on the basis that soldiers are trained to kill and people fear them.”
He said when he piloted the bill, he thought he would have garnered Opposition and Independent Senators support “because bandits are not aiming for your elbows and ankles. They are shooting to kill and the fact that they will fear soldiers with limited powers, is for me, a good thing.” He referred to the state of emergency imposed by his government three years ago and noted that soldiers were vested with police powers within that period.
“And none of the anticipated excesses of power occurred. Ironically, there are numerous allegations of police brutality and there is much room for improvement in our policing.”
Continuing his advocacy for soldiers to be vested with increased powers, Ramlogan said: “Soldiers are extremely disciplined and well trained and we trust them with our youths in the Civilian Conservation Corps, in the national mentorship programme, cadets and now Life Sport. So why peddelmischevious fear and paint them as killing machines?”
“We need all hands on deck if we are to win the fight against crime,” he added.