OPPOSITION Leader Dr Keith Rowley said the country should be concerned about giving soldiers police powers, noting that National Security Minister Jack Warner had used soldiers to destroy the camp of protesters last year.
Rowley was contributing to debate yesterday in the Lower House on The Defence (Amendment) Bill 2013 at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.
He responded to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan's statement that Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams and Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier Kenrick Maharaj were in support of the plan to give soldiers police powers.
Rowley noted that the National Security Minister does not have special direction over the Commissioner of Police but has direction over the Chief of Defence Staff.
He said a similar law in the 1960s led to South American governments being run by military and paramilitary directorates for which it took decades to "peel their fingers" from that power.
Rowley pointed out that Warner used the "might" of the Defence Force, led by Maharaj, to destroy the camp of Highway Re-Route Movement protesters in Debe last June.
"We have been warned," he stressed.
Drawing a parallel with this country, Rowley said the South American countries under military rule "lost their way one step at a time, one clause at a time".
He predicted the second stage of the Government's plan "may be worse than the first".
He also questioned how soldiers would be remunerated for these additional duties. He said one of the problems of joint patrols by police and soldiers was antagonism: police view soldiers not as police and soldiers get fixed remuneration while police receive overtime.
Rowley predicted the plan will do "precious little" to assist police but instead will demoralise officers, describing the plan as "Government accepting that the Police Service is not in a position to respond to criminal elements".
He noted that there was a need to improve the "brainpower" and specific skills in the police and until the country reaches a stage with improved crime detection "(we) not going anywhere".
"The Police Service is not up to the job at this point in time and needs to be strengthened."
Rowley said while Government members were saying that only selected soldiers will assist the police, according to the Bill, any member of the Defence Force will have police powers.
He pointed out that the countries that have soldiers with police powers were Somalia, which has no government and high piracy; Haiti; Israel, which is surrounded by enemies; Afghanistan; Mexico; Honduras; Venezuela; Northern Ireland, which had to deal with insurgents; and US troops in Iraq.