Sunday, April 7, 2013

Government faces more political challenges - Guest column by Dr Hamid Ghany

File: PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar addressing reporters at a post cabinet briefing
Whether one regards the deferral of the debate in the Senate on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Defence and Police Complaints) Bill 2013 to April 23 as a retooling or a retreat exercise, the reality is that business as usual cannot be an option where the fight against crime is concerned. 

The Government has shown that it is willing to engage in further consultation and amendments to the legislation before it will proceed.

To a large extent, this would have been driven by the views of the independent senators who were leaning in the direction of voting against the bill, which requires a three-fifths majority (or 19 senators). The Government can only count on the support of 15 senators and needs to get the support of four more from either the Opposition or independent benches. 

The debate is between strengthening the hand of the State to aggressively tackle the problem of crime in the society by broadening the scope of the powers of arrest that are available to law enforcement officers against the philosophical arguments about constitutional propriety of police and army similarity of powers and the need for proof of success elsewhere.

The reality is that we have to decide whether we want to enhance the powers of the State to fight crime in this country by this means or whether we want to continue with business as usual. 

The former is likely to bring success, while the latter will keep us in a state of uncertainty about where we go from here. Politically, if the Government is able to realistically address the problems of violent crime in the society through success from its legislative measures then its political stock will rise.Our political system is based on the premise of an adversarial relationship between a government and an opposition. It is not the business of any opposition to hand any government a political advantage which will compromise their own chances of recapturing power at a future date.

At the same time, it is the challenge for any a government to find a way to secure special majority legislation through political compromises that can make their agenda come to pass. The separation of political fortunes from national needs becomes evident.

We have just entered the compromise phase of this legislation in which certain amendments will be made over the next two and a half weeks to secure a better bill to enhance the powers of the State to address the crime problem.

The management of this process will require the Government to make adjustments to the bill in such a way that the Opposition may take a revised position on it and/or the independent senators who have not yet spoken in the debate will bring to bear a different approach to the first four of their colleagues who have already spoken.
Some people have argued that this legislation could lead to a dictatorship because of the enhanced powers being given to the Defence Force. 

Our society would not allow a dictatorship to happen here because our political soil is filled with democratic nutrients that would resist any such idea. Additionally, dictatorship cannot square with the current dialogue about the preparation for local government elections. The Government is not postponing the local government elections, which makes the dictatorship argument a non-starter.

Concurrent with all of this is the unfortunate propaganda that was advanced about this country becoming a pariah state on the world stage because of a report two Wednesdays ago by Reuters about a co-operating witness in an ongoing investigation by the FBI. 

Reports that the Government was seeking official confirmation of the details of that story not being met by an immediate response from the United States authorities were used as the evidence for that point of view.

Then the United States issued a favourable statement about its relationship with this country using the extradition proceedings in another matter as the basis for its statement. In one fell swoop the pariah propaganda was demolished, because the US is fully aware of the big picture and cannot allow its policy intentions towards this country to be distorted by those opposed to the Government for their own political convenience.

In many respects that statement by the US was an important one in terms of future relations between our countries because we have always had a very good relationship.

One does not know what is happening in respect of the matters raised in the Reuters story that involve the FBI and the IRS, but the one thing that can be noticed is that the rumours that were swirling in February and most of March regarding the family member of a government minister did not materialise in accordance with the rumours, but rather produced the individual instead as a co-operating witness and not as a defendant.

These two situations (the Defence and Police Complaints Bill and the Reuters story) represent major political challenges for the Government. Their ultimate political outcomes lie outside the ranks of the Government, one on the independent benches and the other in Washington.

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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