ST JOHN’S, Antigua – What Minister of National Security Dr Errol Cort introduced as a Bill that was “not controversial” turned out to be anything but, during a spirited debate on the Office of National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy (ONDCP) Amendment Act.
In yesterday’s sitting of the Upper House, the minister debated the Act that would extend the scope of the ONDCP to include three new areas; the trafficking of persons, smuggling of migrants and the issue of illegal firearms offences.
These areas would affect the Trafficking in Persons Prevention Act of 2010, Migrant Smuggling Prevention Act of 2010 and the Firearms Act.
Dr Cort noted that the addition of the segments are crucial to the “harmonious operation” of the ONDCP in combatting the growing prevalence of gun violence and human trafficking and smuggling in Antigua & Barbuda.
“We all know that when you are dealing with matters pertinent to drug trafficking … there is always issues of firearms being involved and with movement of these boats you have smuggling of people and trafficking of people,” Dr Cort rationalised.
Members of the opposition Antigua Labour Party (ALP), raised objections to some of the finer details of the Act.
The first parliamentarian to voice concern was Minority Leader, Senator Gail Christian, who questioned the oversight parameters attached to the Act and if they would ostensibly serve the same purpose.
“What concerns me … and what has always concerned me is the relationship between the police force that has unlimited powers to investigate these offences anyway and the additional powers that are now being given to the ONDCP.”
Senator Christian also called for the establishment of a Standing Committee to deal with the oversight issues concerning the ONDCP.
The Standing Committee was introduced in the primary 2003 legislation governing the ONDCP Act.
Opposition member, Senator Lenox Weston, questioned the motives and reach of the amendment and the increased license it would afford the ONDCP to investigate political persons and private individuals.
“When I read this (Act amendment) I trembled in my boots, and politically I remember those police states of Pinochet and those disappearing individuals,” Weston said referencing the military dictatorship headed by Chilean General Augusto Pinochet.
He added, “Somebody with evil in their hearts or just through ignorance triggers and investigating locks them up in a cell somewhere … As legislator I think that we owe it to ourselves to understand that there are many measures that we need to put in place (to protect from) arbitrary action.”
In response to the opposition senator’s claim, United Progressive Party Senator Malaka Parker said that the expanded duties of the ONDCP are necessary for national security.
“ONDCP should also be empowered to address comprehensively all the illegal comprehensive activities that are taking place via that network, via those channels and is often intertwined in those criminal activities.”
She continued, “It would be very foolhardy to establish an ONDCP and give it the sort of mandate that we have given it and cut it off at the legs.”
The second and third reading of the Bill were tabled and the Amendment to the ONDCP Act was passed into law.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)