Security Minister has no power over soldiers
By NEWSDAY STAFF Wednesday, March 13 2013
click on pic to zoom in
'Ram-ley': Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley confers with new ally former UNC attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC during a public meeting on m...
Soldiers would be accountable to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and not the National Security Minister when they gain powers of arrest under the Defence (Amendment) Bill, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar assured yesterday.
Persad-Bissessar said when debate on the legislation resumes in Parliament today, several questions and concerns raised would be addressed.
“When the soldiers work alongside the police, their reporting would be through their Chief of Defence (Staff), who is their commanding officer. At such time where they are on operational work, which that would be classified as, then they would report to CDS without the direction and control of the Minister of National Security,” she said.
Speaking with reporters, after touring the Inter-Agency Task Force Headquarters in El Socorro and meeting with police and soldiers there, Persad-Bissessar noted that the soldiers would not operate as the military at those times, but as police, and they would work along with police officers. She said the Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Kenrick Maharaj, and Acting Commissioner of Police, Stephen Williams, were consulted before the step was made to amend the Bill.
Persad-Bissessar said she was satisfied with efforts made by Police and the Defence Force, and pointed out that they seemed to work well together, as they have been doing for years.
“They have been doing it (working together), but they have been doing it without legislation, as so many other things we saw with the SIA and the SAUTT and so on, all of those things were done without legal process. What this legislation would do is codify what has been happening in practice,” she said.
Persad-Bissessar described the country as being at war with crime, and therefore said it was necessary to use all available resources. She recalled that the country spent over $1 billion on the Defence Force per annum, and it was only fair that they did their part. “Let’s get the best value for our money in terms of where we need it most now, and that is to deal with the crime in the country,” she said.
“They have been trained, they are there, we are paying them and they are willing and able so we will utilise their services,” she continued.
In addition, Persad-Bissessar stated that soldiers were not brutish killing machines, but well trained officers of the State who were willing to help. She noted that during the State of Emergency in 2011, they were not accused of abuse or brutish acts, but worked well with citizens.
However, Government would be amending the Police Complaints Act so that, if soldiers “step out of bounds,” citizens would have a form of redress.
Government MPs yesterday drew up plans to table the amendment to the Defence (Amendment) Bill which will limit the potential of pressure being exerted by Cabinet on soldiers exercising police powers. There are concerns that soldiers should not be subject to control by the executive in the exercise of police powers. Section 8 (1) notes that the Defence Council, on which the Minister of National Security and two Cabinet members sit, has powers to discipline soldiers. There is concern that this power could indirectly influence soldiers in the exercise of police duties.
The Minister of National Security already has powers to issue directives to the Chief of Defence Staff and the Police Commissioner. However the scope of these powers has been subject to much debate. Some are of the view that the Minister of National Security cannot issue operational directives to the police. Minister of National Security Jack Warner, Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal and the Police Social and Welfare Association met yesterday at the Ministry of National Security, Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain on the issue.
Moonilal said Government was considering an amendment to the legislation to remove precepted officers from under the purview of the National Security Minister.
“A matter was raised...concerning the authority of a minister, who is effectively a politician, to give directions to soldiers when undertaking police duties,” Moonilal said. “That is a matter we have heard in the public domain and ...we are contemplating initiating an amendment to deal with that to remove completely any authority of a minister or politician to direct soldiers.”
The police association has been circulating a petition collecting signatures from police officers on the Government’s plan to precept soldiers.
President of the Police Social and Welfare Association Sgt Anand Ramesar described yesterday’s meeting as informative, but said the session did very little to alleviate the association’s concerns.
“We are convinced more than ever that the concerns of the membership with that particular legislation and how it would cause some level of dis-functionality in the Police Service have indeed been validated and it leaves us more worried than ever,” he said.
He said the association planned to hold a general council meeting to get a mandate on how to proceed on the issue.