Penal Debe Chamber of Commerce president Rampersad Sieuraj.

Business groups are calling on the Government and Opposition to reconsider and revisit the Anti-Gang Bill.

Last Friday, an amendment which sought to extend the life of the bill by 30 months was not supported by the Opposition.

The Opposition’s support was needed to pass the bill.

Under Parliament’s regulations, a bill that has been defeated cannot be brought back to the Parliament before six months.

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi meets today with the Confederation of Regional Business Chambers on the bill. The Confederation represents T&T’s 14 regional chamber bodies between Sangre Grande and Point Fortin.

Some groups such as the T&T Chamber spoke to both Government and Opposition before the debate last week, to get a better understanding of the bill.

Chamber CEO Gabriel Faria said the Opposition in its recent meeting with Chamber representatives had expressed concern on the bill, “But we were hopeful they’d have facilitated its passage—even if it was with a shorter sunset clause.”

“We’re very concerned at the outcome. The country is seeing escalation of crime on various fronts so we’re disappointed the Opposition didn’t support the bill,” he said.

He called for the Opposition to identify what structure of the bill they would be willing to support for bipartisan passage.

“We feel it’s irresponsible not to work in bipartisan interest for the people,” Faria added.

San Fernando Chamber head Kiran Singh said, “We’re deeply concerned —and worried about the failure of the bill.”

He said, “My concern is the direct link between its failure and any increase in criminal activity since this causes a decline in business activity and investor confidence.”

“This must be taken into consideration—and we must use an all-round approach in how we deal with crime. It has decreased a bit whether due to the pandemic, increased police presence and intelligence work, but we want this to continue in 2021 because we’re dealing with a pandemic. That only exacerbates the situation where we’re faced with loaded shotguns. How will we survive?”

Singh said citizens would have looked forward to something that would generate psychological fear among criminal elements. Singh noted surges in home invasions and the elderly being, particularly at risk.

“So yes, while the procurement legislation is important we also need to ensure our MPs hold up their responsibilities as people who were elected to carry out the wishes of the public who voted for them, including to ensure they are protected.”

San Juan Business Association president Vivek Charran said, “We hope both sides can examine the bill again. We’ve noted the Police Commissioner‘s called for the bill too and we know crime is indeed the foremost contributor to T&T’s problems, affecting all beyond business—so we do need the proposed law.”

“We need constructive conversation here. We’re not on politics or the blame game we’d just like both sides to revisit it.”

Sangre Grande Chamber President Ricardo Mohammed added, “Businesses are highly concerned and are looking to security based on the pandemic’s fallout and current trends including home invasions. We’d like Government and Opposition to put the people’s needs first. This shouldn’t be seen as a way to score political mileage for votes. T&T’s security is of utmost priority.”

The Penal/Debe Chamber called for the UNC and PNM to act responsibly by doing what was necessary to secure passage of the bill and had questions for both sides.

President Rampersad Sieuraj said, “The Commissioner of Police has stated publicly that this (Anti-Gang) law is required in the fight against crime. The Opposition’s non-support is on the premise it’s ‘bad’ law. Okay, if so, wasn’t this package drafted by a UNC administration? Also, the UNC is on record that its support is conditional on passing of the procurement legislation. Is the UNC prepared to support ‘bad law’ to get the procurement legislation?”

The chamber head also questioned if the UNC presented amendments to the Government and a Joint Select Committee.

Sieuraj added, “This population is taken on the road of political hypocrisy by the politicians—all politicians are the real problem in T&T. If the UNC calls for passage of the procurement legislation, isn’t that a legitimate demand? Isn’t this country rife with ‘white-collar’ crime? The little ‘black boy’ don’t bring in tonnes of drugs! Why can’t we have both the Anti-Gang and procurement legislation on our statue books at the same time?”