Marlene: Soldier Bill ‘unworkable’
By Andre Bagoo Saturday, March 16 2013
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Listen to me!: Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and Laventille East/Morvant MP Donna Cox, right, look on as Opposition Chief Whip Marlene McDonald sl...
OPPOSITION Chief Whip Marlene Mc Donald yesterday asked how will the population be able to tell soldiers who have been given police powers apart from those who have not.
“How will we differentiate them?” the Port-of-Spain South MP said, in making her contribution to debate on the Defence (Amendment) Bill.
She rejected the idea that arm-bands could do the trick and noted the law bans anyone who is not a police officer to wear a police uniform. She also questioned which authority will reprimand soldiers who are found to have broken rules.
“Who will be reprimanding the soldier?” she queried. “They are not under the control of the Police Commissioner...This bill is unworkable and it cannot be fixed. It cannot. Because at the end of the day these officers still remain members of the Defence Force. They will have absolutely no liability for negligence, but will have powers and immunity.”
The legislation proposes that the soldiers answer to the Police Complaints Authority and the Chief of Defence Staff.
Mc Donald argued that the State should simply hire more police officers under existing provisions of the Constitution.
“Take this bill back and do proper consultations instead of this piecemeal amendment,” Mc Donald urged. “Hire more officers. Do a man-power audit of the Police Service and train them. Let’s do it the proper way under the Constitution.”
She said in other instances where the State has given State officials police powers, the exercise of those powers has been limited to their exercise of their functions.
For example, customs officers who have been given police powers exercise those powers only to fulfill their large duty as customs officers.
Mc Donald argued that in this instance, the legislation does not limit the scope of the exercise of the new powers to Defence Force functions.
She also argued the Defence Force performs duties that are distinct from the Police Service, a claim which was controversial in yesterday’s debate.
“These powers are outside of the scope of the soldiers’ jobs,” she said.
Mc Donald said the officers would have powers without liability.
“What this amendment is doing is giving the soldier/police wide-ranging powers and no liability or responsibility,” she said. She also said soldiers would not be operating under the Police Service Regulations because they are soldiers.
Mc Donald spoke before Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar contributed to the debate. The Prime Minister announced amendments to the legislation and responded to some of the points raised by Mc Donald.