WITH $1 billion being spent on the Defence Force, Government was trying to get a little more value for money by giving soldiers police powers, said Leader of Government Business in the House Dr Roodal Moonilal.
"Can any citizen say we are properly utilising the Defence Force?" he asked rhetorically.
Moonilal said Government wanted to utilise the human capital of soldiers to protect citizens and communities and asked, "What's wrong with that?"
He was contributing to debate yesterday on the Defence (Amendment) Bill at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain. The Bill seeks to provide police powers to soldiers.
He took a shot at the Express before referring to responses to Monday's "Big Question" on the Bill, showing citizens' support for the initiative.
"Mr Speaker, a newspaper that I could say, without doubt, is not a newspaper that is independent or perhaps more than independent... but it is not a newspaper that will always support the Government and ,in fact, will never support the Government..."
Moonilal noted that out of ten responses, seven people were in favour of soldiers receiving police powers, and there were similar findings in a report in the Tobago News.
He also noted in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Caribbean Human Development Report 2012, the two Caribbean nations with the highest homicide rates, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, also had the highest level of citizen support for military involvement in crime-fighting.
He said the report found the common sentiment was that while police and other agencies were not able to keep up with crime, the military was viewed as a slack resource on the payroll and they are viewed with more confidence than the police.
Moonilal pointed out the involvement of the Jamaican military in crime-fighting has reduced crime in that nation.
He stressed Government will put checks and balances to ensure the rights of citizens are protected and soldiers "cannot and will not" abuse that authority.
The minister reminded the House of the two-year sunset clause in the Bill, noting if the initiative failed and the "ramifications are horrible", they will not need to continue it.
Moonilal said Government was willing to consider changes to the Bill, including the role of the National Security Minister, but for the Opposition to say that they do not support the measure "full stop" was not acceptable.
"I ask you to check your conscience, heart and mind, and not your (balisier party) tie."
He also took the opportunity to poke fun at Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley for appearing on the same platform as former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj at a public meeting in St James on Monday night.
Dubbing the new political combo "Ramley", Moonilal noted they looked "very chummy" in newspaper photographs.
He recalled in 2007, Rowley told Parliament if he saw Maharaj coming in one direction, he would go in the other, but they were now "backing into each other", and he also publicly stated he did not trust him.
"He has brought his great party and his great philosophy into disrepute by doing that. But that is a matter that he will deal with at his general council when appropriate reports are laid against him for that."