Cops worried about soldier power
Police say they are now more worried than ever following a meeting held yesterday between the Police Welfare Association , Leader of Government Business in Parliament, Dr Roodal Moonilal and National Security Minister Jack Warner.
The meeting which lasted just over an hour was held at the National Security Ministry building, Abercromby Street, Port of Spain.
Speaking to members of the media following the meeting, President of the association, Sgt Anand Ramesar, said his men were now more worried than when they entered the meeting.
The association, he said, having met with both ministers regarding the granting of powers of arrest for soldiers, was hoping to be able to address the concerns of his members.
"Having left that meeting we are convinced more than ever that the concerns of the membership with that legislation and how it would cause some level of disfunctionality in the police service, it leaves us more worried than ever," Ramesar said.
The legislation he spoke of is the Defence Amendment Bill, which was piloted in Parliament last Friday to give powers of arrest to some soldiers. The Bill is one of the Government's crime fighting plans.
Moonilal, the only minister to speak with members of the media following the meeting, described the meeting as cordial, adding that the Government would consider amending the Bill.
Moonilal said: "The association has serious concerns along the lines of human resource development of the police service, morale of the police officers and matters involving the operational command of the police. We assured them that these are matters can be looked at for amendment. Our minds are not closed on the matter, we would try our best in the legislation .... to factor in some of these issues being raised."
Ramesar said he would be meeting with the general council of his association today to get a mandate from them before making the next step. He added that nothing said in the meeting would allay the fears of his men.
"Most of what was said confirms some of the stress we are claiming that would arise from the legislation. The ministers put forward their position..... I don't think that the ministers’ position dominated in terms of argument but I think we would not have been able to change his mind," Ramesar said.
Moonilal said one matter that was raised concerned the authority of a minister, who is a politician, to give direction to soldiers while undertaking police duties. He added that an amendment to remove completely any authority of any minister or politician from directing soldiers when doing police duties was considered.
"There are very important issues as to how we can improve crime fighting abilities. This is one course of action; we are looking at removing bail for firearm offences, looking at removing the jury in certain circumstances and reviewing the death penalty. We have placed a sunset clause that in 24 months the legislation comes to an end so if for any reason this does not work there is no need to continue," Moonilal said.
Moonilal added that the budget for the Defence Force was $1billion with 5,000 officers. He said only a portion of the officers would be precepted in the crime fighting plans.