(Trinidad Guardian) The Anti-Gang Bill, 2018 was unanimously passed in the Lower House with a vote of 37 for and none against at 8.20 pm last night.
All 21 Government and 16 Opposition members who were present at the time of the vote backed the bill.
The only absent members were Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe, Communications Minister Maxie Cuffie and Opposition members Dr Tim Gopeesingh and Dr Lackram Bodoe.
When Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi piloted the bill yesterday, he said it was “déjà, déjà vu.” He described the bill as a critical piece of law that would benefit the country in its fight against crime.
The bill makes it an offence to be a member of a gang, to be in possession of a bullet-proof vest, to participate in, or contribute to, the activities of a gang, to support or invite support for a gang, or to harbour or conceal gang members or recruit persons to a gang. Because the bill is inconsistent with Sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution a special three-fifths majority of the members was required for it to be passed. The Government did not get initial support for the bill and it failed on on December 7, when 21 Government MPs voted for but 12 Opposition MP’s voted against it, with one abstention from St Augustine MP Prakash Ramadhar.
Yesterday, Al-Rawi said the T&T Police Service deserved the law to help them in their crime fight. He, however, warned that it will not be a “panacea” or a cure all for all of this country’s crime woes. Since December 7 when the last bill was defeated there had been 131 murders recorded, he said, but only 39 of those were classified as being gang related.
Al-Rawi said when the Opposition initially failed to support the bill it was one of his “worst days in parliament.”
Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar was the only Opposition member to speak on the bill last night. Since the TTPS was adamant that the bill would assist, she aid the Opposition agreed to find a way to make it happen in a bi-partisan approach.
“When we did not support it, it was not out of spite, it was not out of malice, it was not out of ill will, it was always in the best interest of the country. And I want to make it very clear that when we did not support it, it was not that we were being unpatriotic, that was not the issue at all. In fact, we were being patriotic to protect the rights of the majority of the citizens of our country,” she said.
One of the concerns the Opposition had was the bill’s sunset clause.
The Government originally suggested a four-year sunset clause while the Opposition said a two year sunset clause would be better.
They agreed on the two-year period. The sunset clause means that the legislation will automatically expire after the two-year period and an extension will have to be sought in Parliament.
The bill now goes to the Senate for a vote.