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Rights? What rights?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Parliament watchers of more than just a few years would not have been overly shocked or surprised at the outcome of last week’s debate on the Anti-Gang Bill 2017.

It helps to be mindful of at least two things. One is that, contrary to the shock and horror being expressed by some, the mere failure of the Bill will not lead to any consequential acceleration of murderous violence by anybody. Poor police detection, a lethargic criminal justice system and low citizen participation in exposing criminals already do a fine job at that.

Add to that Clause 9 of the ill-fated Bill, which addresses actions supportive of gang activity by applying criminal complicity to anyone who “finances (gangs) in any manner.” We all know this has been the impact of official policy across the political divide spanning many years. But we also know that no politician or group of politicians will go to jail for this.

The other reason why we are not surprised at the outcome of debate on the Bill is we know that some politicians are capable of unbelievable hypocrisy even when it is easy to find past, positive positions on matters they now energetically shun and reject.I won’t say much more on that. Do the homework. The November 3, 2011 Report of the Joint Select Committee on the Anti-Gang Bill and Bail Amendment Bills (2010) is accessible online. Hypocrisy is the only word I can find, especially when it comes to one matter—that of respect for human rights.

We heard there was a concern about this last week. But the enthusiasm apparently began during the heat of the debate and ended shortly thereafter. The rather disturbing invoking of sedition was the least of the apostles and not the only reason why the Bill required a three-fifths majority to succeed. But you know there is numbness to this subject when not a peep was heard from any of them last Sunday while the rest of the world observed United Nations Human Rights Day. Human rights concerns don’t have a pattern of surviving high political appointments over here.

Interestingly, during a timely and ostensibly unrelated activity on Friday, the T&T Transparency Institute hosted an evening commemorative of Anti-Corruption Day. The panel discussion on the different dimensions of corruption focused on three important areas of concern—domestic violence, youth involvement in development and procurement legislation.

As Nikolai Edwards, Natalie O’Brady and Afra Raymond spoke, it was easy to draw important connections between corruption and rights—not only the better known civil and political rights, but the ritualistically unrecognised economic, social and cultural rights.

Efforts to secure the implementation of public procurement legislation is among the more significant human rights campaigns in recent memory, nuanced by the fact that while a right to know is not to be found in our constitution, transparency in the conduct of public business helps guarantee the two main categories of rights.

A rather belated pursuit of the Persad-Bissessar administration, this legislation has the ability to put a directly-administered dent in endemic corruption—even more significantly than any anti-gang law has the potential to immediately diminish criminal violence.

Raymond is however concerned that despite an undertaking by President Carmona that he “should be” in a position to appoint a Procurement Board by December 31, the history of the legislation discourages untrammeled hope.

Indeed, Raymond also set out a forceful case for the appointment of the Procurement Board to be subject to a high level of transparency. This makes eminent sense, but may have come too late.

Hopefully, the administrative arrangements to ensure this legislation is properly and effectively applied will be in place for the New Year for it to have any impact at all.

Until this happens, and we recognise a clear connection between law and behaviour in a high calibre piece of legislation, politicians expressing a concern about rights will continue to receive the cynicism they deserve.


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