'Soldiers will be under defence chief, not Warner'
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said yesterday further amendments to the Defence (Amendment) bill will be presented to the Parliament today which will address concerns raised with respect to the precepting of members of the Defence Force.
Speaking to reporters following a tour of the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF) at Aranjuez, Persad-Bissessar said the issue of the Minister of National Security's authority over the Defence Force will be addressed.
"We are contemplating a situation where, when the soldiers work alongside the police, that their reporting will be through their Chief of Defence Staff who is their commanding officer and at such times when they are on operational work ... then they will report to CDS without the direction and control of the Minister of National Security. I think that was one of the concerns that was raised. We propose to bring an amendment tomorrow to deal with that concern," said Persad-Bissessar.
Persad-Bissessar said concerns about redress over abuse from members of the Defence Force will also be addressed.
"There was a concern about abuse and so on, first of all I do not hold the view that soldiers are more brutish than others. I do believe that they are well trained officers of the State but even if there should be some stepping out of bounds we are amending the Police Complaints Act, for persons to get remedy and redress if when they are working as police officers they should step out of bounds," she said.
She added that soldiers, just like other citizens, were subject to the justice system if they committed an offence.
Persad-Bissessar said she was satisfied with the dent made in the crime situation from the joint patrols of the army and police.
"There are some who are attempting to vilify our soldiers and they are persons, they have served our country with great merit, as our police officers. It does not appear that the policemen and the soldiers have a problem working together, they have been doing it but they have been doing it without legislation," said Persad-Bissessar.
The legislation, she said, was simply codifying what was already in place.
Persad-Bissessar said it was not fair to paint soldiers in a negative light as she pointed out the great job they did during the state of emergency.
"They were not accused of abuse and brutishness and so on during that time."
She said both the Chief of Defence Staff and the Commissioner of Police were consulted before the legislation was brought to the House.
This move, she stressed, was needed to win the war on crime.
"Yes we are in a state of war, it is the criminals who are waging war on us and therefore we must defend and protect our land and our citizens and the best way to do it is to use all available personnel and that gives us both the Defence Force and police officers and I am being told we spend over a billion dollars on the Defence Force per annum and therefore they themselves do not seem to have a problem in helping," said Persad-Bissessar.
Questioned on claims that the government wanted to create a military state, she said: "That is totally not true, To militarise the state you will have to have a host of other structures and systems which are not contemplated at all."
"There has been a military police training in the Defence Force so it is not that they are trained killing machines as it's being made out. They are just like us, they are trained, they are there, they are willing and able and therefore we will utilise their services," she said.