Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley says the Government's decision to implement a limited state of emergency was triggered by last Thursday's killings in Jonestown, Arima, where four men were shot dead and three were injured by two gunmen. He said the Government was placed in an embarrassing situation and reacted by instituting a limited state of emergency. Rowley said if the Government had the interest of the wider population, it would have used the provisions in the Anti-Gang Act to act against criminals. "If Government was acting against criminals and taking into consideration the effects that a state of emergency would have on the wider population, it would have used the Anti-Gang legislation and all its wider provisions," he said.
Rowley spoke for close to 60 minutes on events since the state of emergency was announced by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on Sunday. He said his initial reaction to her announcement was one of concern and that he deliberately tempered his response at the time by saying he did not understand what was being advanced; and until the Government clarified its position and objectives, he would be better able to speak out. He was addressing reporters at a news conference at the Office of the Opposition Leader, Charles Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. Also present were Opposition MPs Marlene McDonald and Nileung Hypolite and Opposition senator Terrance Deyalsingh.
Rowley said: "This (killings) happened to occur at a time when Government was engaging in an aggressive public relations campaign that crime was on the decline, murders were down and they were comparing year on year...taking credit for their performance by comparing 2010 to 2011. "And in the midst of that aggressive campaign seeking kudos from the population, this (killings) happened," he added. He said the Government's response was to protect its image and not seek the interest of the population. He added that the Government chose the option of a limited state of emergency with a series of downsides instead of the way of legislation.
He said the Opposition was demanding that what was put in place by the Parliament for the people was what they should get. "Section 12 of the Anti-Gang Act which was not in existence when many persons were talking about a state of emergency," Rowley said. "This Act came into being in 2011. "The work was done in 2010 by the Parliament, Government the Opposition and Independents. "So we now have a tool to do exactly what the Prime Minister has said is going to be done now under a state of emergency." According to the Act, a police officer may arrest without a warrant; may enter without a warrant and search any place or detain a person without a warrant.
Rowley, however, said the legislation was to target gang members and criminals; to spare law-abiding citizens and to keep the economy intact. Asked if it were wise to hold discussions with the Prime Minister, Rowley said: "The Prime Minister is not willing to hold any dialogue with me and it is not a question of me and the Prime Minister. "The Prime Minister has a responsibility for the country's administration," he added.
"We took it upon ourselves to offer but we were rebuffed in the most bombastic way." He said by using a state of emergency, the Government was putting a damper on trade union activity; tension in the T&T Police Service and civil unrest by citizens. "They get all these as bonuses under a state of emergency and these bonuses weren't available under the use of the Anti-Gang legislation and that is the thinking, methodology and the practice of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago," he said.