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They wont act to save lives
More people in T&T will die as a result of the Opposition United National Congress’ refusal to support the anti-gang bill in Parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has said.
“What we saw was MPs refusing to use their vote to save lives and protect communities,” Rowley added on the defeat of the bill after marathon 14-hour debate.
“How many more must die? ... we can do no more. This is worse than Section 34 since it affects all citizens.”
After debate, which started at 10 am Wednesday and ended at 12.55 am yesterday, T&T was still without law to deal with the country’s 211 gangs and 2,459 gang members. The bill was meant to maintain public safety and order through discouraging membership in criminal gangs and suppression of criminal gang activity.
Despite amendments by Government and Opposition proposals, both were gridlocked on a “sunset clause” period by which time the bill would end and be reviewed. Government wanted four years; the Opposition, 18 months.
In the end, 21 Government MPs voted for the bill and 12 UNC MPs against. Opposition (COP) MP Prakash Ramadhar abstained.
Stung, Rowley and most of the Government MPs walked out of the Parliament Chamber calling the Opposition “unpatriotic...”
Ending the session, House Leader Camille Robinson-Regis said, “Despite the Opposition’s unpatriotic display, we’ll continue to act in the people’s interest.”
Nine hours later, Rowley summoned media to the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, where he trashed the Opposition’s action for almost two hours
“T&T’s business has been gutted and undermined in the Parliament,” he declared.
“Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her UNC gang voted to maintain the status quo, where those who are recruiting children in schools are arming them with guns, taking them from their mother’s breast and putting them on the streets to kill innocent citizens.”
He said even Wednesday Piarco International Airport $5m robbery failed to impact on the Opposition’s consideration of the crime situation.
“Every single objection they raised, we gave in to,” he said.
Rowley added he did something he normally doesn’t. He met the Opposition whip behind the House Speaker’s chair to ask what was needed for support and both matters were done
Accusing the UNC of seeking obstacles, he said the a new issue arose with the sunset clause. However, he said police couldn’t eliminate the gang scourge in 18 months and time was needed for personnel to enter gangs and get evidence.
He accused the UNC of refusing support and preserving the status quo on gangs and crime for political purposes: in the hope crime worsens and voters will be disgusted with the current administration and put the UNC into office.
“You have to get them to act for you, you put them there; right now they’re acting for themselves,” he said.
“I ask the Opposition, I ask every mother, father, family, I ask every pastor, pundit and imam to ask the UNC, what it is about making gang activity illegal that’s so offensive to the UNC?
“If the bill saved only one life, got one gang leader or prevented one child from joining a gang it would be worth it - but they (UNC) virtually said, ‘go to hell.’”
Citing the UNC’s action as the “politics of crime,” Rowley said, “The PNM has done its part, we’ll serve the Lord...”
Government’s next step is to remain resolute, Rowley added, because T&T would at some time have to criminalise gang activity as the gangs wouldn’t offer this country any respite.
“Meantime, we’ll continue to redouble efforts to stem crime, using other laws,” he said.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi meanwhile said the anti-gang bill cannot be returned to Parliament for another six months. He said there wasn’t any UNC objection on the bill until the final vote.
“When they said ‘No’ It was shell shocking after 14 hours of work,” Al-Rawi said.