An army of "soldier police" under the direction of a National Security Minister as "dangerous" as Jack Warner has serious implications for the rights and freedoms of citizens of this country, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley has said.
Criticising the Defence (Amendment) Bill, Rowley said: "Jack Warner has already demonstrated to us how he would use that kind of power." He pointed to the situation of Warner using a simple meeting of people to misrepresent it as some kind of "subversive plot".
The Opposition Leader was speaking on Monday night at a public meeting at Bournes Road, St James.
"He (Warner) said (in the debate last Friday that) we need soldier and police on the streets together'. Why? Because the same man who didn't know that (Mervyn) Cordner's army (New Flying Squad) is owed money for work done for six months, ....said he had information about two meetings- one in Maraval, the other in St Joseph...."
Noting that the Constitution gave persons fundamental rights— such as the right to freedom of movement and freedom of association, Rowley said a group of people were meeting to discuss governance. "If you saw the e-mail invitation, you would be proud of them...But Jack Warner comes to the Parliament and tells the country that these people are setting about to overthrow the Government. And he goes on with his reckless irresponsibility by naming my former schoolmate, George Bell, a decent citizen who was a senior manager at BWIA, who worked at the Tobago RHA....and to call Vernon De Lima's name and accuse them of subversion.
"Now if you really believed there was a subversive plot there, how would you handle that? Would you go to Parliament and blurt it out? But it is because he knows that it is not true why he came to the Parliament and said that?..... No National Security Minister worth his salt would have gotten any information about any subversive plot and come to Parliament and blurt out anybody's name and location of the meeting. And then use that to justify changing the Constitution to create 'soldier- police' (soldiers who operate as police) ".
"And of course it doesn't occur to him that it is these people's fundamental right to meet every night if they want to, in every house, and Jack Warner has absolutely no control over that. And it is because he does not accept that he is so dangerous with a piece of legislation that would give him...power over a military unit," he said.
Rowley said the Government has come with a one-clause bill to create "soldier police". He said PNM said "no way". He said the act was not about giving precept powers to soldiers. "Under the current law the Commissioner of Police can precept anybody he thinks is fit. The law as it stands, can allow that precepting," the PNM leader stated. He said the Government which started out with the argument that the bill would precept 1,000 soldiers had now brought to Parliament a law which gives soldiers the entire powers of the police. He said soldiers will have the right to detain persons, to search them etc , with that power being directed by the Minister.
"Soldiers will now have police powers without the protection that exists in the Police Act, because soldiers fall under the Defence Act," he said. He said while the police powers are accompanied by serious responsibilities on the part of the Police " that you the people can challenge in any court of law", it was not so with the soldiers in the Defence Act".
Rowley stated further that with the amendment, soldiers can be "hand-picked, the same way they picked Reshmi (Ramnarine) and others", supposedly trained but of course directed and instructed, held on a leash and then let go against whoever they (the Government) want.
"You put God out your thoughts and give that kind of power to Jack Warner or to a defeated PP Government, and you would rue the day you were so mad," he said.
Rowley recalled that Warner told the Parliament last year that during the floods in Diego Martin last August, he (Warner) sent people to keep surveillance outside Rowley's constituency office "to see what I was doing". Rowley added that "within days of getting the job" (of National Security Minister) Warner took soldiers to Debe and removed Wayne Kublalsingh and the Re-Route Movement.