The Defence Amendment Bill is a "half-picked duck" that is unworkable and cannot be fixed, PNM Chief Whip Marlene McDonald said yesterday.
What is worse, the Bill represents the first step in the "institutionalisation of the involvement of the military in matters of civilian government", she said.
"If we start this trend, we would start breeding a culture of military involvement in the day-to-day affairs of this country. This is not what the country voted for."
McDonald said the Minister of National Security would be responsible for hiring these "soldier police". But she said this flew in the face of the idea behind the setting up of the Police Service Commission, which was to insulate the Police Service (those exercising police powers) from the "long hands" of the politicians.
"Police are accountable for the use of excessive force, while the soldier isn't," McDonald said.
She said the soldier exercising police powers would not fall under the regulations of the Police Act, nor would they be accountable to the Police Complaints Authority (PCA).
"The soldier is not responsible and liable for his actions."
She said the soldiers could claim "combat immunity" if they injure someone or damage property. McDonald said she was convinced that the Bill was preparing the groundwork for a showdown between police and soldiers.
At one point, Sports Minister Anil Roberts tried to pour cold water on McDonald's arguments, saying that even her own colleagues were not providing table-thumping support.
"I don't need any clap, D'Abadie/O'Meara. Mr Speaker I don't want to answer him yuh know. Mr Speaker, I am addressing you, cause when I learn to speak Spanish I will go back and talk to him."
This caused an uproar.
"Oh God!" shouted MPs.
But McDonald had another round to fire.
"And if I can't talk to him here, I would go down by Room 201."
"Aiyaiyaiy!" MPs chorused, while a surprised Roberts seemed lost for words.
McDonald said the amendment to the PCA Act would not bring the soldier/police under the remit of the PCA. She also stated that the amendment which said the soldiers reported to the Chief of Defence Staff did not override the constitutional provision which states that the Chief of Defence Staff reports to the Minister of National Security.
"The Minister would be in charge," she said, noting that the soldiers would be responsible to the Chief of Defence Staff (who reports to the Minister) and not the Commissioner of Police.
"The soldier/police is neither fish, nor fowl," she said, as she urged Government to withdraw the "unconstitutional, ill-conceived" Bill and engage in proper consultation.