The anti-gang legislation flopped in Parliament as Opposition members withheld support yesterday.
THE House of Representatives debated the Anti-Gang (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which sought to extend the life of the 2018 Anti-Gang Act for two-and-a-half more years.
The Opposition had lent its support to the bill in 2018.
The bill required a special three-fifths majority of Members of the House and Senate to be passed.
A total of 19 Opposition members abstained when the vote was taken while 20 Government members voted in favour of the legislation.
In his contribution in the House of Representatives earlier yesterday, Opposition MP Saddam Hosein proffered why the Opposition would not support the bill as he noted statistics show the anti-gang law has not been effective in reducing murders.
The Government has the narrative that it is reducing crime utilising this legislation, he argued. Hosein recalled that in 2018 when the anti-gang law was passed there were 517 murders.
He said in 2019 there were 536 murders—the second highest number of murders in the country’s history.
Hosein said before the Act was passed in 2017 there were 495 murders and in 2016 there were 462.
“So the statistics are showing us that when the Anti-Gang Act was not law the murder rate was less and therefore the legislation has made no impact on the murder rate,” he said.
“This is called legislative insanity, you are doing the exact thing over and over and expecting a different result,” he said.
He said the Government was bereft of plans and failed to institute any additional operations or implementation of policies to reduce crime.
“Madam Speaker, if this bill is passed here in this Parliament and gets the approval of the Senate, will any person in Trinidad and Tobago feel safer? The answer to that is no,” he said.
Hosein slammed National Security Minister Stuart Young’s assertion that if the bill was not passed people may not be charged.
He said every offence in the anti-gang law was already law somewhere else in a different Act of Parliament or formed part of the common law.
He said the Opposition will not be any “rubber stamp” for legislation after Government comes with a narrative that “all hell will break loose” if the bill was not passed.
He also questioned Young’s claim that there was no complaint of abuse with the anti-gang law.
Hosein noted a matter involving Kevon Stuart who was awarded $300,000 in damages under the anti-gang law.
He reminded in the last debate of the legislation in 2018 the Parliament heard there were 2,484 gang members in the country.
He said today the country is being told there are roughly 1,000 gang members.
“Well, if you know all of these gang members and you reduce the number of gang members by let’s say just 1,000, then why don’t we have 1,000 charges because it is illegal to be a gang member,” he said.
He said the number of murders was reduced this year not because of Government’s anti-crime measures or the anti-gang law but because of Covid-19 lockdown measures.
Young: Legislation effective
Minister Young argued that the legislation had been effective in the crime fight.
He said a “major gang leader” was recently held under the anti-gang legislation.
“Last night into this morning, over the last 24 hours, a major gang leader a gang called the “Six Gang” in Trinidad and Tobago was arrested and charged under this legislation,” he said.
Young said the legislation was needed to ensure the continuity of several ongoing gang investigations.
“However, the success of these ongoing gang investigations requires the continuity of this Act so that the evidential threshold can be met to facilitate the arrests, charges and prosecutions of persons in pursuit of law and order,” he said.
Griffith: Petty politics
In an immediate response to the Opposition abstaining from voting on the bill, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith last evening referred to it as “petty politics”.
“Unfortunately, petty politics yet again takes precedence over doing what is right for the country,” said Griffith.
“We just arrested a major person of interest involved in gang activity, over 70 in the last few years. It was a major deterrent that contributed to over 115 less murders this year compared to the same period last year.
“It seems that this bill was an issue for some politicians. Heaven forbid, if and when gang-related murders increase, I hope that those who rejected the bill would be prepared to answer to their God and the citizens of this country,” Griffith added.