The Government announced the state of emergency five days after a $20 million drug bust was carried out on August 16 and the threat of gang warfare arose. The date of the drug bust was given by President George Maxwell Richards in his statement on the reasons for the state of emergency which was announced by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar last Sunday. The Government has said that the initiative averted an impending "crisis" and had cited the drug bust and possible reprisals and gang warfare that could have flowed from this. Richards' statement was presented to House Speaker Wade Mark on Thursday, according to constitutional requirement Section 9 (1).
It was subsequently circulated to members of Parliament. The statement will be debated in the House of Representatives from 10 am next week Friday as is constitutionally required. At that sitting, the Government will say whether the state of emergency-15 days in the first instance-will be extended. Richards, in his statement, said:
"The country has been witnessing within recent times the tragedy of multiple murders and an upsurge in gang-related violence. "During the period 19-21 August 2011, there were 11 murders for this year. "Our criminal intelligence gathered by national security agencies shows that the escalation in violent criminal activity is linked to recent successes of the police in certain drug trafficking and interdiction exercises which led to the seizure of large quantities of drugs with a street value of several millions of dollars. Drugs with a street value in excess of $20 million were seized in just one raid on August 16, 2011."There is the real risk of reprisal and retaliation by gangs that will compromise and endanger public safety, law and order. "Innocent citizens going about their daily business have lost their lives as a result of the actions of these gangs merely being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
"The present unprecedented escalation in murders and other serious acts of violence and lawlessness warrants the adoption of more decisive and stronger action to ensure the safety of the public. "There is urgent need to address this threat to public safety and the upsurge in violent crime in the shortest possible time. "The majority of these murders are occurring in specified geographical areas across Trinidad and Tobago, often committed by members of criminal gangs or persons involved in the drug and arms trade. "The statistics from the Police Service reveal that the murders are disproportionately occurring in certain geographical areas where these gangs are based. "As a consequence of these events and facts, I am satisfied that the nature and extent of these events endangers public safety to an extent that warrants the declaration of a state of emergency."
Next week Friday's House debate on Richards' statement will be led off by the Prime Minister and Attorney General as well as Opposition Leader Keith Rowley and chief whip Marlene McDonald, each side indicated yesterday. McDonald said PNM MPs were all expected to be present since the situation involved a state of emergency. Government has stated that the state of emergency could be extended for up to a maximum of six months-in two three-months period-by simple majority vote.
This will not require Opposition PNM support. To extend the state of emergency beyond six months, however, a three-fifth majority vote, involving Opposition support will be necessary. The PNM has said that the Government could have conducted its search and seizure and arrests via Anti-Gang legislation rather than invoking a state of emergency.