Jensen La Vende
THE Anti-Gang Law, is no more.
As a 30 month sunset clause ends this month, the Opposition on Friday did not support the Government’s attempt to extend its life. The bill failed at committee stage with a vote of 20 for and 19 abstaining. The law needed a three-fifths majority to pass which meant at least four Opposition MP’s needed to support the Bill.
This is the second time that the UNC has failed to support the law which it initially piloted as a part of the People’s Partnership government in 2011 and was given support by the then PNM opposition. The bill was given a 30 month sunset clause in 2018 and the Government was hoping to get a further extension for a similar period.
Immediately following the defeat of the bill, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith in a WhatsApp message said: “Unfortunately, petty politics, yet again, takes precedence over doing what is right for the country. 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.”
He added: “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.”
During the debate, Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein said the bill did nothing to address murders and the feeling of safety by residents. The Opposition MP said the seven-and-a-half- year law, was not effective as evident by the statistics.
“This law has had no impact whatsoever on the murder rate in TT. This is legislative insanity. This Government is incompetent and inept, bereft of any plans. They have no additional policies, only coming with laws with the expectation to reduce crime. Laws alone won’t reduce crime.”
Hosein said that many of the offences under the anti-gang legislation exists as part of other laws. Hosein asked how many charges were brought in the last 30 months for coercing someone to join a gang or persuading someone not to leave a gang or the number of property seized from gangsters?
“How many have been charged with counselling a gang member or gang leader or harbouring or concealing a gang member? This opposition is not going to be any robbery stamp to this PNM Government. They can’t come to this Parliament with all of this narrative and say this bill needs to pass otherwise all hell will break loose and the sky will fall.
Madame Speaker, we heard that so many times and the sky is still there.”
Griffith, while speaking during CNC3’s newscast on Friday night said the law was responsible for the reduction in murders this year. He added that the only time the law was abused was following its introduction during the state of emergency in 2011 where over 200 people were arrested under the law resulting in almost all being released without charge and many suing and winning their court cases. At the time of the abuse ,Griffith was national security adviser to the government.
Using statistics, Hosein argued that the law has not had any effect on the murder toll since in 2018, 22 gang-related murders were solved resulting in 28 arrests; 13 solved with ten arrests the following year and five gang-related murders solved this year so far, with 13 arrests. Even with these numbers he said, no one was charged under the Anti-Gang Act.
“We can’t just lock up people. We have to provide for them,” he said as he called for the State to provide opportunities for at-risk youths so they can stay away from gang violence.
In response to the bill’s failure, National Security Minister Stuart Young in a media release said: “Today the Opposition, did not support the continuation of the Anti-Gang Act. This will have very serious negative effects on the TT Police Service’s fight against gangs and criminality.”
He called on the population to take note of the Opposition’s refusal to support the law even though the police said it is necessary.