FOR seven years the People's National Movement (PNM) was illegally precepting soldiers under SAUTT (Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago), Attorney General Anand Ramlogan declared during yesterday's sitting of the Lower House at the International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.
Ramlogan accused that party of "sheer, unadulterated political hypocrisy" for "its outcry" against the precepting of soldiers via the Defence Force Amendment Bill.
Piloting the measure in the House of Representatives yesterday, Ramlogan said the Bill would merely formalise "the reality on the ground".
"Is the PNM suffering from political amnesia?" he asked.
Ramlogan said all the crime plans—Operation Anaconda, Operation Bagdad; the Rich Plain (lockdown) Model, Weed and Seed and SAUTT involved the use of soldiers working with police to fight crime "without the legal protection".
"SAUTT was not about police officers, but about soldiers disguised and hidden in that agency to do their (the government's) bidding, headed by a soldier (Bridgadier Peter Joseph)," the Attorney General said, noting that SAUTT comprised 400 soldiers, "almost all of whom were precepted" and 81 policemen.
The AG revealed that the legislation before Parliament would have a sunset clause of two years.
He said the legislation, which would give "specially chosen" soldiers, who work with the police in joint exercises, the same powers, privileges and immunities as the police, was about getting "value for money".
Ramlogan said the budget for the Defence Force was $926 million in 2010, $941 million in 2011, $1 billion in 2012 and $1.175 billion in 2013. Yet these soldiers were not being fully utilised.
"It is nice to say we have an army in case we go to war or if another nation invades us. But how practical is that?" he asked.
Ramlogan said the man in the street understood this. He said he was buying corn soup "last night and a man told me, 'allyuh have them set of big, hard back men (soldiers) running up and down the hill in Teteron, getting strong for nothing. And yuh have dem big belly policemen trying to fight crime. Put the soldiers dey (to fight crime with the police)'."
Ramlogan said the Police Service, which had a sanctioned strength of 7,715, had in reality, at any given moment, only 2,000 officers in active duty (because of the shift system, sick leave, vacation leave, suspension etc).
"There is a clear requirement to supplement the Police Service, using the resources available to the State."
He said the Bill would provide supplementation of that number by adding extra pairs of fit, strong arms and legs which the country feeds and clothes.
Ramlogan shrugged off suggestions that the soldiers had a different training and might therefore abuse the powers which would be given to them under the legislation.
Noting that soldiers are clothed with the same powers as the power during a State of Emergency, the Attorney General asked how many soldiers killed, brutalised or tortured people during the State of Emergency in 1970 or in 2011. He said there were mature, disciplined and responsible actions from the soldiers during that period.
Ramlogan said the Bill would amend the definition of a policeman in the Police Complaints Authority Act so that it would include any soldier charged with assisting a police officer in the maintenance of law and order.
He said the correct way to involve soldiers in the fight against crime was the method being used by the Government.
The "illegal, unconstitutional and oppressive way is to do it by way of SAUTT," he added.
The Attorney General said both the Chief of Defence Staff and the Commissioner of Police expressed support for the initiative.