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Saturday 22 September 2018
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PRESIDENT WRITES SPEAKER

PRESIDENT George Maxwell Richards has informed the Speaker of the House of Representatives Wade Mark of the reasons for his declaration of a nationwide state of emergency on Sunday, explaining that he took the decision to proclaim an emergency because of a recent upsurge in murder and gang-activity and the need for “more decisive and stronger action” in dealing with crime.

As a result, a sitting of the House of Representatives has been fixed for next Friday, September 2. The sitting is scheduled to begin at 10 am and should go no later than 7.30 pm in light of curfew hours in place at the Port-of-Spain and other local government corporations.

In his statement of reasons for declaring a state of emergency the President noted a recent spike in crime from last Friday to this past Sunday which pushed the murder tally to 261.

“This country had been witnessing within recent times the tragedy of multiple murders and an upsurge in gang-related violence,” the President said. He explained that he acted on specific and confidential intelligence.

“Our criminal intelligence gathered by national security agencies show that the escalation in violent criminal activity is linked to the recent success of the police in certain drug trafficking and interdiction exercises which led to the seizure of large quantities of drugs with a street value of several millions of dollars.”

The fallout from this drug raid, he said, posed serious risks to the general public, not just drug- dealers.

“There is the real risk of reprisal and retaliation by gangs that will compromise and can continue to compromise and endanger public safety, law and order. Innocent citizens going about their daily business have lost their lives as a result of these gangs merely being at the wrong place and at the wrong time.”

This state of affairs, the President said, calls for more urgent action.

“The present unprecedented escalation in murders and other serious acts of violence and lawlessness warrants the adoption of more decisive and stronger action to ensure the safety of the public. There is urgent need to address this threat to public safety and the upsurge in violent crime in the shortest possible time.”

Minister of National Security John Sandy will next week table the President’s statement for debate, according to the Order Paper for next Friday’s sitting which was published yesterday.

The President’s statement was sent to the Speaker late on Tuesday afternoon and was yesterday despatched by the Speaker to all 41 MPs pursuant to Section 9(1) of the Constitution. Some MPs were served the statement at their homes, at work offices and at constituency offices. MPs were especially asked to sign a form to confirm receipt of the statement to ensure that there is no doubt that all MPs are in receipt of it ahead of next week’s debate.

Newsday understands that while there are plans for the hours of the debate of the State of Emergency to be limited, MPs may be issued with curfew permits to allow them to function for the 15-day duration of the state of emergency.

“All Members of Parliament would be given passes,” one official said yesterday. “Parliament is in for a possibly long debate.”

Section 9 (1) of the Constitution stipulates that after the President declares a state of emergency he must issue a statement giving the reasons for the declaration. That statement of grounds must be submitted to the Speaker within three days of the making of the formal emergency proclamation.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced a state of emergency, citing intelligence which had reached the National Security Council, the body in charge of the nation’s security. The Prime Minister linked a dramatic upsurge in the murder rate, which saw seven people murdered in one day last Friday, and a bloody weekend after that, to recent million-dollar drug hauls. Her comments raised the prospect of a wave of drug-trade related retaliation killings.

While the state of emergency was imposed nationwide, a curfew was ordered in six local government corporations: Port-of-Spain, San Fernando, Arima, Chaguanas, Diego Martin and San Juan/Laventille.

Questioned why only theses areas were targeted, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan on Monday said the National Security Council was acting on specific intelligence. At a press briefing yesterday he said the President acted on the basis of “intelligence received by security agencies.”

Next Friday’s sitting is scheduled to see the tabling of a total of 42 papers, including the President’s statement. Sandy is expected to raise a motion calling on MPs to “take note” of the statement.

The House will not be required to approve the state of emergency, unless a motion calling on the extension of the state of emergency beyond its initial 15 days is tabled. In that event a simple majority will be required.

Chief Justice Ivor Archie has also moved to advise the President to appoint the members of the special detention tribunal which is to act as the temporary body of appeal for all persons who are detained under orders issued by the Ministry of National Security.

It is understood that the tribunal will consist of three members: a chairman and two attorneys.

Under the Emergency Powers Regulations, 2011, the chairman must be an attorney entitled to practice under the laws of Trinidad and Tobago.

Under the regulations, the Minister of National Security may issue a detention order which allow the police to arrest that person without warrant. Where a person is detained under a detention order, their case shall be reviewed by the tribunal at any time during the period of that detention if the Minister desires and not earlier than six months after his first request for review. The Minister of National Security must, however, within seven days of a review request, bring it to the attention of the tribunal. The tribunal is to regulate its own affairs.

Official spokespersons for the Chief Justice yesterday said the members of the tribunal have already been chosen and appointed.

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