FORMER Government senator and minister in the National Security Ministry Subhas Panday believes giving soldiers the same powers as police officers is a way of forming "mongoose gangs" for political purposes.
Panday said Section 12 of the Defence Act states: "The Minister of National Security after consultation with the Prime Minister shall advise the President on appointments to commissions and promotions in the force above the rank of Major or Lieutenant Commander."
Senior Defence Force officials hold their office at the pleasure of the minister and are directly under control of the Government of the day, said Panday, who called a media conference in San Fernando yesterday to air his concerns.
"The top of the army is politically appointed. There is no transparency in the appointment of senior officers in the army.... That is why it is so frightening to give persons who are under the command of persons who have been politically appointed the power of arrest," said Panday.
He said the democracy of the country could be at risk.
"Some time in the future when the politics get hard, you could never know what 'mongoose gang' will be created to brutalise people, and that is why it is frightening to have such a power being given to the soldiers."
Panday said he was not casting aspersions on National Security Minister Jack Warner, who is considering empowering the soldiers, or the Government.
However, Panday described it as "a recipe of forming mongoose gangs for political purposes" as it could be used to "attack political opponents or any opponents who a government may feel is against them".
He said the Commissioner of Police may have looked at the move as being the soldier working together with the police. But, Panday said, the situation could lead to soldiers taking the law into their own hands.
Panday said the Minister of National Security may be anxious to deal with crime, but the population must make sure that structures are in place to ensure citizens' rights are not abused.
He suggested the intelligence the Defence Force gathers could instead be used to help the police fight crime.