There have been strong reactions to the headline in Saturday’s T&T Guardian, Victory for Gangsters. That is not surprising given the views that have been expressed on either side of this issue, particularly from those holding partisan positions.
This media house has taken a firm position not to take political sides but to report honestly and clearly on the outcome of the debate that took place in the House of Representatives on the Anti-Gang Bill, particularly because after three hours of debate and an unusually brief committee stage, this country is back to square one on legislation that is a critical element in the battle against criminal gangs.
Guardian Media stands firmly on the side of the safety and security of citizens. It is regrettable that this opportunity for bipartisanship, for a setting aside of political differences, came to nought.
All of the 19 United National Congress MPs who abstained from voting on Friday have guaranteed that by month-end there will be no legislative framework to fight criminal gangs when the current law expires.
The bill, which required a special three-fifths majority, was given a 30-month sunset clause in 2018 and the Government was hoping to get a further extension on Friday. Instead, for the second time in five years, the Opposition has failed to support the very legislation that it introduced early in the term of its People’s Partnership administration in 2011.
During the debate, Opposition MPs, notably Naparima representative Rodney Charles and San Juan/Barataria’s Saddam Hosein, passionately argued that the legislation had little impact on the high levels of crime in the country. Charles even claimed that the reduction in homicides this year was mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What T&T now awaits are viable alternatives that can be swiftly debated and passed to stop the deadly rampage of gangsters who account for most of the murders and other violent crimes committed in this country.
If, as the Opposition contends, the bill was flawed and ineffective, they should come up with recommendations for the strong anti-gang law that T&T urgently needs. Politics must not stand in the way of passing strong anti-crime laws.
Earlier this year the Opposition opted not to support a bill to deny bail for 120 days to anyone caught in illegal possession of military-grade weapons. The Bail (Amendment) (No 2) Bill 2019 was defeated by a margin of 19 votes for, zero votes against, and 19 abstentions. Friday's sequence of events was eerily similar.
Instead of flexing their political muscles and persisting with these efforts at legislative brinksmanship every time a special majority is required, this nation’s lawmakers need to display patriotism and maturity by working together to implement laws to effectively fight crime.
The criminals have been allowed the upper hand for far too long and a heavy price has been paid, at the expense of the economy and the well-being of society.
It is time for Government and the Opposition to put country before party and get down to work on reviving, strengthening, and passing the defeated Anti-Gang and Bail (Amendment) Bills.