Saturday, March 16, 2013

Defence Amendment Bill passes; no support from PNM

Some of the government members pose with the PM after passing the Defence Amendment Bill
The Defence (Amendment) Bill 2013 won approval in the House of Representatives Friday with all 29 government members voting in favour with all 11 opposition MPs against. The bill goes to the Senate for debate next week.

The bill gives soldiers police powers with several safeguards to prevent abuse and to ensure there are checks and balances.

In winding up the debate, Attorney General Ramlogan took issue with the opposition for labelling soldiers as "killing machines".

"They stood here and vilified and attacked the soldiers...branding them killing machines, these men and women of the Defence Force who stood up for our country in our darkest hour in 1990 and defended the State," said Ramlogan.
Ramlogan rejected the idea of soldiers being called killers when they are the ones serving the people.

"These so-called killing machines...are running the Civilian Conservation Corps programme, interacting with the youths between 18 and 25. These are the same killing machines that we turn to help us with in the MYPART programme," Ramlogan said. He added, "If these guys are trained to kill...why are you allowing them to interact with youths in the country?" 

The AG said it is not right to call soldiers "killers" when they are the ones who go into schools and nursing homes and do renovation work. If they are "killing machines" Ramlogan said, how would the opposition describe the criminals who are responsible for killing citizens.
He said in the 1970 uprisings and the 1990 attempted coup no soldiers killed anyone. And during the 2011 State of Emergency soldiers performed well while working with the police.

Ramlogan said T&T did not do anything dramatically different from other states, noting that in Antigua the government has amended its legislation to give members of its defence force power to work with the police, outside of a state of emergency and period of war.

The AG said the Government has listened to all the concerns raised from different groups, including the Law Association and the Criminal Bar Association.

He said an amendment was proposed that within three months the Chief of Defence Staff must establish a code of conduct to govern soldiers when they are acting in accordance with police duties.

If a person is detained during a joint exercise involving soldiers and police and an item is seized, the soldier must hand over that item to the senior officer who he is assisting. Where such an officer is not available, then the soldier must take that item to the nearest police station.

In addition, he said if police and soldiers execute a search warrant for arms and ammunition the soldier has no power under current rules to stop anyone trying to escape. The same applies during road blocks, he said.

The AG noted that private security guards have more power that members of the defence force although they do not take an oath to serve the country.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai