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Another dead end
Talks between Government and the Opposition to re-introduce the Anti-Gang Bill in Parliament to stem the country’s rising crime and murders ran into another dead end yesterday, as Government was thrown on its back foot with a number of surprises by the Opposition which they did not cater for.
This was revealed by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi during a press conference at the Parliament building, following an hour-long meeting with the Opposition to discuss the bill, which was defeated last year due to their lack of support.
However, in a press release soon after, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar expressed the view that they were “cautiously optimistic after the meeting.”
The release said the Opposition reiterated its call for the sunset clause of no longer than 24 months, saying there was no agreement on this issue, which was critical in order to allow Parliament to review the matter.
Heading the Government’s team at the meeting was Al-Rawi, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young and Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General Fitzgerald Hinds, while Dr Roodal Moonilal led the Opposition’s team comprising Senators Gerald Ramdeen and Anita Haynes and MP Rodney Charles at the Parliament Building
In the course of their discussion, Al-Rawi said they confirmed three small amendments suggested by Ramdeen.
However, when the issue of the sunset clause arose, Al-Rawi said Moonilal “quite surprisingly” requested “that the clause be reduced to 18 months, even though the Opposition Leader had suggested two years.
Then he suggested that we go to a Joint Select Committee, which was not on the table at the parliamentary debate. This took me by surprise.”
Al-Rawi said he saw no need for a consultation for a JSC by the national community, since this had already been done under the tenure of the then People’s Partnership. That clause, he said, had a five-year time span.
For the five years the anti-gang law has been existence, Al-Rawi there has been no judicial criticism of the act. He said in 2010, the anti-gang and bail amendment bills came to the Parliament with the bills coming into effect in 2011.
During this time, Al-Rawi said there was a JSC which went into operation on which there was considerable consultation, saying the bill has not changed.
He explained that when the last anti-gang law was in effect it was tied to a radical provision in the Bail Act, which prevented the judiciary from giving bail for 120 days or at all.
“That is not a feature of this bill,” he said, adding there was no need for a sunset clause or JSC.
“To have this law die in 18 months would be a tragedy. On the last occasion the Opposition had to review it, but they allowed it to lapse. So is T&T to be thrown into turmoil with uncertainty? I really can see absolutely no reason other than politics for the anti-gang laws to be returned. They are not associated with the denial of bail, they are strictly in the contemplation of the court.”
He said in Government’s correspondence with Persad-Bissessar in the last five weeks, they raised only the sunset clause.
Asked if the meeting was a dead end since nothing was achieved, Al-Rawi said he was disappointed.
“This is where we stand. I am an eternal optimist. Today was a dead end in terms of what was offered on the table. It was a retreat from what was agreed in the Parliament itself. So what could be the possible failure of the anti-gang law be? “Come on, what more can be required to support this law?”
The AG said the country needs to step up to the Opposition to give the T&T Police Service the power to arrest gang leaders and its members, as he expressed deep concern about the country’s 80-plus murders for the year thus, most of which were gang related.
Asked what was the PM’s response to the Opposition demands, Al-Rawi said he too was disappointed.
The Government has a few months to return to the Parliament with the bill, Al-Rawi said.
In going forward, he said he would write Persad-Bissessar, telling her she needs to put aside politics and deal with the law.
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