UNC POINTE-A-PIERRE MP David Lee and PNM Lopinot/Bon Air West MP Marvin Gonzales, on Saturday, continued to debate why the Opposition refused to support the Anti-Gang Bill Amendment Bill 2020, and why the bill is essential to help the police to deal with criminal gangs in TT.
The bill was defeated in the House of Representatives on Friday, after the Opposition did not support it. The bill required a three-fifths majority (25 votes) for passage but the UNC's 19 MPs abstained while the 20 Government MPs present voted for the bill.
Defending the UNC's position on the bill, in a statement Lee declared, "We are not there to rubber-stamp legislation that places a band-aid over an open wound while the Government ignores the wound that is festering."
Lee alleged the PNM has placed thousands of young people on the path to crime by cutting expenditure on education, presiding over massive job losses and the closure of businesses. He reiterated the UNC's view the bill was draconian legislation which gives the police the power to violate citizens' constitutional rights and there was no evidence to show the legislation was effective. Lee charged it was "an absolute and blatant lie" that the UNC withholds its support on three-fifth majority legislation.
Gonzales, the Public Utilities Minister, also in a statement, countered, "It was shocking to see the Opposition Leader (Kamla Persad-Bissessar) leading her caucus to abstain from supporting this critical legislation which provides an important platform to allow our national police service to continue to investigate and prosecute persons who engage in criminal gang activities that undermine the peace, order and security of the citizens of TT."
A former police and lawyer, Gonzales reminded the public that the Anti-Gang Bill was first introduced by Persad-Bissessar's PP government in 2012. He recalled the PNM opposition then supported the bill when she appealed for bipartisan support and patriotism.
"Today for no logical reason, and in a blatant show of unpatriotism, the Opposition UNC and their leader, withheld their support despite the Police Commissioner's and the police service's plea to have the bill passed."
Gonzales said many of his constituents have been the victims of gang activities and the UNC must be condemned for "this act of treachery against the citizens of TT."
He condemned Naparima MP Rodney Charles for pretending to speak for African people in TT, by his refusal to support the bill. He said Charles failed to use his opportunity in the debate to apologise to members of the African community "who mainly suffered at the hands of the UNC's illegal state of emergency that carted away hundreds of young black men into a makeshift prison."
He said these men were released on the instructions of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions due to the absence of credible evidence.
Despite his criticism, Gonzales called on the party to abandon its partisan interests and stand in defence of law-abiding citizens.