26 Jul 2008

Daly: Beware secret Govt

By Anna-Rose Madray Saturday, July 26 2008

Law Association president Martin Daly SC yesterday advised media personnel to maintain their vigilance as the Government continued to head down a path of authoritarianism and secrecy.

Daly said he noticed that the State has adopted an increasingly authoritarian manner in its response to crime. “This is coupled with a trend towards not giving information either to parliamentarians or to the media,” Daly said during a seminar hosted by the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago at Crowne Plaza, Port-of-Spain.

Daly questioned the efficacy of weekly post-Cabinet meetings where questions posed to ministerial heads were rarely answered as a result of “Cabinet secrecy”.

He further said it made little sense “attending briefings when all the information is answered the same way. How do we break this trend of secrecy?” asked Daly. “There really has to be a two-way street where information is concerned,” he added, while reminding members of the media to resist being “lulled into a false sense of security.”

“So you have a trend developing of an authoritarian response, you have a trend developing towards secrecy, and when you marry authoritarian approaches with secrecy you start heading down that cliched but truly slippery slope,” he said.

With reference to the army camp in Richplain, Diego Martin, set up in response to the murder of Regiment Corporal Ancil Wallace and his friend Noel Charles, Daly said no satisfactory reason has been given to justify the army’s presence there.

With crime becoming a dominant feature of the national landscape, Daly predicted, “We’re going to see an expanded use of the army as the situation deteriorates.”

Daly, however, asked if the Government wanted to utilise the army, where this was constitutionally acceptable, as in the case of a state of an emergency, “what is the reason for not declaring one?”

Although, he had previously been against the idea of calling a state of emergency, Daly said a carefully monitored and limited state of emergency, concentrated in key geographical areas in the country seemed the most favourable action to take in the fight against crime.

“Personally I don’t see any other way of getting hold of the caches of guns which appear to be in very large areas, and it would have the value of going into hot spot areas and getting out the guns.”

Daly also questioned the increasingly dominant role of the Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (SAUTT) in crime scene investigations that have traditionally been performed by the police.

We don’t know operationally what is the relationship between SAUTT and the police,” he said.

He also warned that media and legal practitioners would have to be on the look-out for greater levels of authoritarianism and a higher degree of secrecy on the part of the State as the situation worsened.

As a result, Daly said there was an urgent need to upgrade current legislation in response to crime.

We have no updated legislation dealing with this whole question (of) search and seizure and powers of arrest, he said, and added, “Our legislature has really degenerated into a kind of second-class calypso tent with very poor lyrics, because there is no work being done.”