pposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar says the UNC only agreed to support the Civil Asset Recovery and Management and Unexplained Wealth Bill, 2019, after it ensured the fundamental rights of citizens were not eroded and that the property of innocent citizens would not be in jeopardy.
The bill was passed unanimously Monday night after the Government and Opposition agreed to several changes to the initial bill proposed by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi during an almost 12-hourlong session.
Persad-Bissessar said the UNC piloted more than 60 amendments to ensure that the property of law-abiding citizens could only be subject to the provisions of the legislation where it was acquired and associated with the commission of specified offences in the Proceeds of Crime Act.
She said this was a significant change from the original bill where the Government proposed that proceedings could be commenced for any offence, which would have placed the property of thousands of citizens at risk of being taken by the State.
Persad-Bissessar said she also convinced the Government to remove the clauses throughout the bill that allowed any police officer and any customs officer to commence proceedings under the bill and to replace this with the Comptroller of Customs and Excise and the Commissioner of Police or any officer above the rank of inspector.
"This ensured that the fears of citizens that they will be targeted by lower-ranking officers who abuse the powers conferred by the legislation was eliminated," Persad-Bissessar said.
"Citizens’ right to privacy was secured and protected as the Government quickly accepted the Opposition’s suggestion that made it compulsory that any documents filed under the act be sealed by the court and not be for the eyes of every member of the public. This protected citizens’ private and confidential information from falling into the wrong hands."
She added, “From the outset the Opposition maintained its position that while we support any legislation that allows law enforcement to combat the criminal element and go after ill-gotten gains, we will not support legislation that compromises the rights of citizens, undermines the rule of law and places in the hands of law enforcement the ability to target innocent citizens and unlawfully take away their property.”
Persad-Bissessar reiterated her party’s commitment to working to protect the rights of citizens and to hold the Government accountable and in check.
"The country is better off with the passage of this legislation, which now strikes the right balance between the citizen and the State due to the work of the Opposition," she said.
- by Rhondor Dowlat