Soldiers to get police powers
By Andre Bagoo Friday, March 8 2013
GOVERNMENT will seek a special majority for the passage of the Defence (Amendment) Bill 2013 which proposes to bestow police powers on soldiers.
While the legislation tabled in Parliament last week suggested the Government was moving to pass the bill by way of a special majority, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan yesterday said the Government would seek to pass the bill with a three-fifths majority, “as a precaution.”
“There is a divergence of legal opinions as to whether a simple or special majority is needed and so, as a precaution, we are seeking a three-fifths majority,” Ramlogan said. He said he would pilot the bill in Parliament today, which was tabled in his name in the House last Friday.
While the Government is expected to comfortably get a three-fifths majority in the House of Representatives (the PP holds 29 seats; a three-fifths majority is 25 votes), the difference will mean the Government will need the support of either the Independents or the Opposition in the Senate. (The Government holds 15 Senate seats, Independents nine and the Opposition six.)
The possibility of the insertion of a “sunset” clause limiting the life-span of the legislation also emerged yesterday. Government sources said that they are prepared to also table an amendment to the bill to insert such a sunset clause.
“It is an option we are prepared to undertake,” a senior Government source said, ahead of today’s debate of the legislation in the Parliament.
Ramlogan would not rule out the insertion of a sunset clause, saying, “We are going to debate the bill and whatever options come up we will consider it.”
Opposition members have reportedly indicated to the press that they will not support the bill.
The bill proposes to give soldiers the same powers as police officers. It contains two clauses. The second clause proposes to amend Section 5 of the Defence Act to insert a new subsection.
The new subsection is to read: “When any member of the Defence Force, having been charged under subsection (2) with the duty of assisting any member of the Police Service in the maintenance of law and order is engaged in so doing, he shall have the same powers, authorities, privileges and immunities as are given by law to members of the Police Service.”
The version of the bill tabled last week did not indicate that it required a special majority.
National Security Minister Jack Warner is expected to contribute to the debate on the legislation. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar will miss the start of the debate as she is due to attend the funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas.