Really, Mr Attorney General? You, constitutional lawyer of repute, did not know until after the fact that the Defence (Amendment) Bill 2013 would require a special majority?
When even lay people could see the Bill's infringement of rights, are we really to accept that your government — headed by a lawyer no less — had to engage in "mature deliberation and consideration" after the bill was laid and hackles raised before realising that it needed amending for a special majority?
Mercifully, unlike Section 34, this one has been caught in time.
And so now, with the Government having abandoned its plan to push the Bill through the House on Friday night, all of us get the chance to consider more intently the implications of this new infringement on our rights as well as its usefulness in the fight against crime. More critically, the COP representatives in parliament as well as the Independent senators, now have more time to decide which way their vote should go on this bill. Indeed, who knows what new alignments of power might be prompted by this opportunity?
The Defence (Amendment) Bill arrived in Parliament at the precise moment of heightened bloodshed in this country.
Against a backdrop of horrific murders, devastating fires and the sound of bullets ricocheting off the walls of our terrified minds, it was offered by the Government as a desperately-needed solution in the fight against crime.
We, vulnerable and with our hands outstretched towards any port in this storm, might be inclined to grab at it. If strengthening the police by bringing in soldiers with full police powers will make us more secure, then so be it, we might think.
But on what terms, and to what effect?
If we allow ourselves to be blinded by fear and so lose our capacity for abstraction into the future, we could wake up one day to find ourselves on the road to repression. When that day comes, it won't matter in whose hand the power resides, whether this Government or another; what would matter is that one day in 2013, we, the people had voluntarily and legally given it.
Already, the heads of two key agencies, Gillian Lucky, director of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) and Ramesh Deosaran, chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC) have raised the alarm.
Speaking at the T&T Transparency Institute's conference on Friday, both expressed concerns about the bill's inherent conflicts, management challenges and potential for eroding the authority of the police service.
The most damning aspects of this bill, however, have been flagged by two of its key advocates, the Minister of National Security and the Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier General Kenrick Maharaj.
In piloting the bill, Minister Warner attempted to reassure the Parliament that there was nothing sinister about the bill since the powers to be given to soldiers were previously enjoyed by them under the 2011 state of emergency.
"During that time our soldiers did not abuse or misuse their authority and legal status as soldiers with police powers during the SOE. Indeed...our soldiers demonstrated commendable maturity, discipline and responsibility," said Mr Warner.
This is precisely the point.
The Defence (Amendment) Bill will give soldiers power and authority that are currently available to them only under the very special conditions of a state of emergency. We are now therefore moving into a dangerous new era, where, in so far as the relationship between the army and the citizenry of democratic Trinidad and Tobago is concerned, the new state of normalcy is the old state of emergency. By sleight of hand, parliament might put us under a partial state of emergency without the government having to declare a state of emergency.
As for Brigadier General Maharaj, he is in no doubt about where he and his soldiers stand in this or any other matter:
"Whatever policy decisions are taken by the Government with respect of their (plans for) defence and security, we translate policy into operational readiness and operational action," he told the media.
He is right, of course. Except for the aberration of 1970 when Lieutenants Shah, Lasalle, Barzie and their colleagues defied the Williams government and refused to take up arms against the people (later paying for it in jail), the army's sworn loyalty is to the government of the day. Unlike the police service, the culture of the army is built around obedience to authority. Matters of law and justice are outside its remit. When government and people are in conflict, they are expected to be on the government's side. To do otherwise could be treason.
There is no doubt that our crime-fighting capacity needs a serious boost. But we must think long and hard about grabbing the army as the most expedient option. This is a solution with a sting in the tail of a shortcut to danger.
As he wends his way towards his swearing-in in a week's time, one assumes that President-elect Anthony Carmona is keeping a very close eye on this one.
Having publicly committed himself to serving the nation with "due process", what does the former judge make of this piece of legislation? The impotence of his office may never be more acute than on the day he is called upon to sign into law legislation such as this.
We may not have to get there, however. Friday night's adjournment of the debate has provided time for national reflection. The Government's belated acknowledgement that the bill does indeed need a special majority has already changed the political dynamics inside the lower house. Already it has had to concede a second amendment for a sunset clause of two years. Much more negotiation can be expected between now and the resumption on Wednesday. If we pay close attention, we might see what muscle, if any, the COP is willing to flex inside the Government and what possibilities exist for alignments of common interest between the COP, TOP and MPs of the UNC.
If the bill passes the House and makes it way into the Senate, the Independents will come into focus.
But there's time yet. In politics, time, like truth, can be elastic.