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Mature teamwork on ‘spying bill’

Friday, December 3, 2010

With the Interception of Communications Bill 2010 having been passed by the two Houses of Parliament and expected to be quickly assented to by the President, the country seems to be on the way to establishing a legal, organised system for the security agencies of the State to pursue the criminal establishments that have been running rampage over the last decade and a half. It was a particularly mature approach to fine-tuning the legislation by the Government and Opposition, the former disposed to listening to reasoned argument, the latter bringing constructive criticism to the bill.

The Prime Minister, in presenting the significantly amended bill in the House of Representatives, went a long way to removing political figures from involvement in the operations. One example is that it would be the heads of the security services who will seek leave of the court to allow for the interception of communications without the involvement of the Minister of National Security. That makes for greater assurance against political persecution and prosecution and will obviously bring greater transparency, as far as that is possible and allowable, in the business of gathering criminal intelligence.

It was also very practical for the Government to take advice in redrafting technical aspects of the law provided by representatives of the Law Association, who were particularly useful on the administrative aspects of the bill. For too long succeeding governments have acted as if they alone, a small body of men and women with narrow political motivations, had all the answers to every conceivable problem faced by the society, all the while ignoring advice of technical non-political groups, institutions and individuals. Perhaps the lowering of the testosterone levels at the top of the political directorate helped. Men are notorious for their inability to take advice, to want to hold to their original positions notwithstanding clear indications that it would be advisable to compromise.

Indeed, even towards the end of the debate late Tuesday night/Wednesday morning in the Senate, the Government, Opposition and Independents made a few technical amendments to the law, with the House of Representatives agreeing to most of the amendments. And again in a mature spirit, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar gave her word to return to the Parliament in quick time to remove the power of the minister to make adjustments to the bill. Even in the most vigorous of democracies, a bipartisan approach to legislation in the national interest is a recognised and often practised way of achieving the best laws possible.
As a means of understanding the importance of co-ordinated action beyond the pale of party interest, we need to reflect for a moment on information now coming through on the secretive mode of operating by the previous regime. Daily, there is shock and consternation as revelations of the unilateral action of the previous government and Prime Minister, seeming to have acted on his own even without the knowledge of his Cabinet colleagues, come filtering through. But passing the legislation is only the start of an exercise which has to eventually redound to the benefit of the society in its desire to shake this crime monkey off our backs. When the time comes for implementation of the interception powers, they must be judiciously used and on the basis of intelligence to take a hold on criminals.

On another aspect of the sordid illegal operations of the Strategic Intelligence Agency, it is clearly not enough for the Commissioner of Police to say that the probe into those matters is over. The country must know if evidence has been found to indict wrongdoers and what is going to happen, otherwise it would be reasonable for many to draw the conclusion that much politics was involved.


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