Month: July 2018

PM justifies his support for Gary

Gary Griffith’s strong stance against wrongdoing and dealing with the controversial Life Sport programme were just two of the reasons why Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley fully endorsed him yesterday as this country’s new Commissioner of Police (CoP).

In wrapping up the debate, Rowley instructed the Leader of Government Business, Camille Robinson-Regis to lift the whip on all PNM MPs, allowing them to vote for or against Griffith.

When the votes were taken, the PNM MPs all voted in favour of Griffith while the Opposition’s 13 MPs abstained.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar was absent from the House, which Rowley said did not see as “an important one.” He said after Canadian Dwayne Gibbs was fired as CoP in July 2012, Persad-Bissessar never thought it important in her remaining three years in office to appoint another CoP.

Rowley said it was unacceptable for some members of the Police Service to say they will not support Griffith. Promising to make 10,000 copies of the police manpower audit available to the public, he said the contents of the audit reflect Government’s view that “the current Police Service is not able to heal itself.”

However, Barataria/San Juan MP Dr Fuad Khan seemed reluctant when called upon to vote. He was asked by the Parliament’s clerk the question three times before he gave an answer.

Questioned by reporters why he seemed so uncomfortable with his vote, Khan replied: “Go figure it out.” Khan had openly stated last week that the next CoP did not have to be a police officer.

Rowley also responded to Opposition MP Dr Roodal Moonilal who stated that if Griffith was selected by the House and appointed by the Police Service Commission he was likely to be a witness against former attorney general Anand Ramlogan who had been charged with witness tampering.

In 2015, Griffith was removed as national security minister by Persad-Bissessar over allegations that Ramlogan had sought to pervert the course of justice by asking the Director of the Police Complaints Authority to withdraw a statement he had made in support of the then Opposition Leader Rowley in a lawsuit.

Rowley said Griffith’s testimony in this matter was already on record. “The matter which generated that…it was the attorney general of the UNC who sued the Opposition Leader seeking to restrain his public speech…and Madame Speaker, when the Leader of Opposition sought to defend his right to speak and defend the public interest, the then attorney general discovered that there was witness testimony that would have made his lawsuit a difficult one to prosecute,” Rowley said.

“Subsequent to that, he has since discontinued the case against the Opposition Leader because I am no longer to be restrained by him,” Rowley said.

Rowley said when the Emailgate issue surfaced in 2013, Griffith was the only one “to have turned in his device and asked that open access be given to his email account.”

Back then, Rowley had read a thread of 31 email messages in Parliament purporting to be a conversation between four people, whose email accounts were similar to those of Persad-Bissessar, Ramlogan, Griffith and Suruj Rambachan. Following a probe into the matter, the police last year revealed that nothing of substance was found to file any criminal charges.

Rowley said while Moonilal had the temerity to ask him what made him change his mind to support Griffith, the PM said: “Let me give you a good reason.”

Rowley said under the last government, they opened a programme called Life Sport.

“It was supposed to be either $6 or $8 million worth. It eventually turned out to be a $400 million criminal empire that was being funded by the State. It led to murder and mayhem. It led to a level of criminality in the East-West corridor never seen before in the history of T&T.”

At that time, Rowley said Griffith was a member of the then People’s Partnership Cabinet. “And he was in the forefront of alerting the public and standing on what he believed in against a Cabinet that was prepared to defend Anil Roberts and Life Sport in T&T.”

Rowley said the stance Griffith took was the reason why he supported him, stating that he was made of a different mettle.

“That is a good reason for me to change my mind because he stood up for the people of T&T against a Cabinet that was prepared to bury and hide Life Sport. And most importantly, a man who stood up to his colleagues who would ask him to do wrong and do right by the people of T&T.”

He said our country had not yet overcome the effects of Life Sport. “Up to this day. Worst Madame Speaker…from the Opposition, I observed him (Griffith) becoming a pariah in the Government because he was prepared to speak truth to power.”

He said Persad-Bissessar fired Griffith in 2015 for speaking the truth in the same matter involving the former AG.

“He was prepared to be fired in a job that they love but he spoke the truth to the country and if there is a legal matter going on today his testimony is there and he will be crossed-examined in the court.”

The PM said all those who feel the Government had broken the law with Griffith’s nomination “the road to the courthouse is clear. The doors of the court are opened.”

Rowley said many people believed that anyone who served in the political arena should not be considered a CoP.

“We don’t share that view.”

All agencies on board for National Crime Prevention Plan – Dillon

Agencies of government, plus actors in the community and voluntary and private sectors, are being brought on board to help in the new National Crime Prevention Plan (NCPP).

Edmund Dillon expressed that the goal is to change hearts and minds before individuals embark on a life of crime.

While he has high hopes of his new initiative, he noted the NCPP is largely being supported by the use of existing resources of infrastructure and manpower.

He said talks have already begun with the two pilot areas, the Diego Martin and Chaguanas municipalities.

“We’ve engaged all the municipalities including Tobago, and of course the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. We also had the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs, Community Development and Culture and Public Utilities. So this thing is grounded in a whole of government approach, what we call ‘citizen-centred but community-driven.’ It is a bottom-up approach to the issue of prevention.”

He said the NCPP will empower and educate communities in a preventative philosophy, to keep youngsters away from crime, and so avert the need for “hard” law enforcement.

“As a community let us see how we can prevent those elements from engaging in a mind-set of crime. How can we develop a kind of physical space, because there is always a causal factor between the physical environment and the causes of crime.”

When asked about the NCPP’s cost,

Dillon replied, “What we have been doing is utilising existing structures.” He said the NCPP will be based at various community crime prevention councils spread across the country’s municipalities.”

The councils will be made up from NGOs, faith-based organizations, youth groups, councillors, village councils, police officers, fire officers, municipal police and chambers of commerce.

“It is a cross-section. At that level it’s voluntary. You reach out to those people who can play a part, if each person asks themselves, ‘What can I do to prevent crime in my community?’ And secondly, ‘What can my community do to prevent crime?’”

When asked about any central hub to co-ordinate this spread of community-level activities, he said that “The secretariat is manned by a manager. There is an inter-ministerial team and then a council of members. It is a whole of government approach,” Dillon said.

“Issues identified at community level can be treated by a number of ministries at the same time, whether Education, Sport and Youth and Public Utilities.”

On responding to whether the programme would be monitored, he said, “We are going to have measurables. We have a monitoring and evaluation unit. We’ll monitor which specific issues have been identified, how solutions have been determined, what are the time limits of response and feedback. So we’ll treat this in terms of issues, treatment of the issues, solutions and feedback.”

Gary Griffith approved for CoP

Former National Security Minister, Gary Griffith has been approved by the House of Representatives as the next Commissioner of Police.

19 Government MPs voted for while 13 Opposition Members abstained.

PM vows to help tighten T&T’s borders

Over 150 illegal ports of entry have been identified in T&T by the T&T Coast Guard (TTCG) and with rising concerns over the increasing illegal entry of arms and ammunition and people, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has vowed to help tighten the borders. This was after his tour of the TTCG’s Staubles Bay, Chaguaramas headquarters last Friday.

He was also told that out of the 24 of the TTCG’s Interceptors only five were operational. In addressing that issue, Rowley said Cabinet had already made a decision to spend the money to repair the vessels.

“We had the manufacturer look at most of them and they have reported back to us…We were told that not with an exorbitant price we can get them back into service and we are going to do that rather than go and buy a new stock and let them go the same way,” Rowley said.

“We are going to spend the money to bring them back into the service and in terms of maintenance and/or spare parts, we will be handling those things differently. We are treating with the Coast Guard’s issues to improve their ability to eliminate the penetration of borders by locals and foreigners who come here and bring arms ammunition and people with the intention of which to act in an unlawful manner inside T&T.”

Rowley also announced that the Government will be seeking to purchase two 58.5 metres Cape Class vessels from the Australian shipyard Austal “specially designed for the assignment that we have here.”

“Yesterday, Cabinet, having received a presentation earlier, took a decision yesterday as part of the strengthening of our border patrol exercise, that the Government of T&T will use the financing available through the Australian facility that we would issue an order to the ship-maker Austal,” Rowley said.

“Once we agree on the negotiations of price and terms of delivery and those discussions are on the way, once we are satisfied with the assistance of Australian government, we will set about to obtain the two vessels which will give the Coast Guard the capability which it does not now have.”

PM announces Coast Guard to get two new vessels

Today, PM Keith Rowley visited the Coast Guard Headquarters at Staubles Bay, Chaguaramas.

The PM received a brief from senior officers of the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard regarding their ongoing activities as well as toured the facility and vessels.

After his tour, the PM announced during a press conference that Cabinet has decided to place an order with ship maker Austal for two vessels for the coast guard through a financing arrangement courtesy the Australian Government.

This, he said, as a part of the Government’s efforts to secure T&T’s borders and provide the coast guard with capabilities that it currently does not possess.

The vessels are expected to be ready before the end of 2020.

Remember when- Trinidad’s 1990 failed Coup attempt

Twenty-eight years ago on Friday July 27, 1990, the country experienced what to this day many described as its darkest hour, when armed insurrectionists stormed the country’s seat of democracy, the Parliament at the Red House, shot the then prime minister and held several people including a number of parliamentarians hostage.

Simultaneously, 72 other rebels attacked the lone television station TTT. Leader of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen, Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, then appeared on TV and announced that the Government had been overthrown and he was negotiating with the army. Bakr urged calm and said there should be no looting.

The armed insurgents ordered then Prime Minister ANR Robinson to call off the security forces. However, he instead instructed the military to attack with full force. Robinson was then beaten and shot in his right leg.

Despite calls by the leader of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen for calm and no looting, violence and looting erupted in Port of Spain. Looters wreaked havoc in the capital city, with businesses being raided of appliances and food.

After six days of negotiation, the insurrection ended on August 1, 1990, with an amnesty granting the insurrectionists their freedom. By then, 24 people including Member of Parliament Leo Des Vignes was killed during the insurgency and Port-of-Spain was reduced to rubble and destruction. Apart from businesses being looted, buildings were also set fire.

An eternal flame which was set up in remembrance of those killed, burns no more and is now according to Parliament sources, in storage as the renovations at the Red House are yet to be completed.

Whenever those repairs are completed the eternal flame which once stood on the Abercromby Street side of the Parliament will be moved to the Knox Street side of the Parliament, where the remains of the first people will also be interred.

Joseph Toney, who was minister of National Security at the time said he was “shocked when the men walked in with guns, it was the last thing on the mind of anyone that individuals would arm themselves and storm the Parliament and claim the government.”

The Jamaat al Muslimeen, which led the insurrection, claimed they did it because of social conditions after IMF conditionalities were imposed by the then NAR government led by Prime Minister ANR Robinson.

Toney said, “When we came into government the treasury was virtually empty after 30 years of continuous PNM rule and after we had an oil boom in the 1970’s. We had no other alternative but to go to the IMF to get sustenance and programmes to take the country forward.”

He admitted that the IMF programmes were “harsh, there is no doubt about that.” But he said the then government shared in the burden. “People did make sacrifices and lost part of their salaries and cost of living allowances (COLA) but government ministers also took cuts in their salaries and gave up COLA,” he said.

Toney said while many saw the programmes as “tough and caused much pain,” they had the required effect “they stabilised the country and led us to a path of growth.”

Toney described the insurrection as “senseless, unwarranted, it solved no problems but created many, many more problems for the country. Many people needlessly lost their lives and many people lost their property.”

Twenty-eight years later Toney said he believes that the country is “reaping what was sown in the events of 1990.”

He said, “The use of guns became more prevalent after those events and certain individuals because they wore the Muslim garb, the headpiece, the gown and army boots, they felt emboldened and they felt they were untouchable.”

Toney defended the amnesty which led to the freedom of the insurgents and which led to the end of the insurrection four days later on August 1 saying, “I don’t know what would have happened had they not had the amnesty because that of course brought all the happenings at both the Red House and TTT to a halt. Now I don’t know if it was a turn of events that also saved the Muslimeen but I daresay I welcome it. It saved my life.”

After receiving the promise of amnesty from the government. The group was arrested and taken into custody. They were tried for treason, however, they were released as the Court of Appeal upheld that they were promised an amnesty.

In 2010, then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced a Commission of Inquiry into the events surrounding the 1990 attempted coup.

The findings of the Inquiry can be read here: 1990 Coup

CEPEP’s Vanished Expenditure Records

Yesterday, Chairman Ashton Ford revealed that the Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme’s (CEPEP) expenditure records for the period 2013 to 2015, amounting to more than $1.5 billion in funds, cannot be found.

He said there is no trace of the accounting information on the computer system and he had received information that documents had been deliberately destroyed.

“I was told that there was a shredding spree prior to the September 7, 2015, General Election”.

Ford said, as it stands now, the audit for that period cannot be completed because the records cannot be found. He said the records relate to the company’s expenses, including payments to contractors and staff for that period. Ford said the management encountered this situation when they were appointed in 2016.

Speaking earlier at yesterday’s press conference, CEPEP general manager Keith Eddy said from what he understands the accounts for the three years involved annual expenses of between $500 and $600 million.

“We have been unable to recover any of the information, hence it is very difficult for the current management team to check the 2015 external audit which was done on the company, given that we have no information that we could double check. So we keep trying to work with the auditor in order to get the audit closed off,” Eddy said.

Eddy said they are trying to source the information through bank records and now trying “to build the whole accounting profile all over again.” Asked how the information went missing in the first place, Eddy said the management team was “just told when we got here that there was no information available through the computer system that they were using.” He said they also could find no paperwork.

“But the information was also kept on the server, which I guess would have crashed or whatever and we just don’t have the information,” he said. Noting that several attempts have been made to recover the data, he said they even enquired from Price Waterhouse Coopers whether they had “any kind of software or anything” to help them recover the information, but to no avail.

Addressing recent claims of possible collusion and favouritism in the award of CEPEP contracts raised this week by former People’s Partnership minister Devant Maharaj, Ford said there was absolutely no truth to claims that People’s National Movement party supporters were being favoured for contracts.

However, he asked, “But what is wrong with PNM people getting contracts and the UNC kept it for eight years and the media remain quiet. Why?” Asked if Minister of Rural Development and Local Government Kazim Hosein has anything to do with the award of contracts, he said, “The Minister is like everybody else. People call the minister for help, they call the MP for help, they call the mayor for help, they call the councillor, the chairman, the opposition call us and we work with them.

“Because let me tell you when you have this company, this company cannot say they cleaning A because A is PNM and leaving out B. You have to clean the country and that is the point I am making and that is why Dr Moonilal can say it is nothing strange for people to call and ask for help. He said it and they were there for eight years. And now people getting contract they want to know if it is PNM. Is that fair?”

Asked if it was normal practice for a minister to ask that a contract is given to a specific person, he said, “We cannot guarantee that. You have to go through a process.

“When the Tender Committee meet they have to make sure that the people fulfil the requirements and no minister can help you there and no MP can help you there, you know. If you do not fulfil that requirement that is it.”

He noted that some contractors have been with CEPEP for eight years. An informant who leaked a voice recording of an alleged conversation between Hosein and La Brea MP Nicole Olivierre over the award of CEPEP contracts has reportedly gone into hiding after receiving threats on the issue, but Ford said that was the joke of the century.

“Work with whoever is appointed” – Young

Acting Attorney General, Stuart Young expressed that former national security minister Gary Griffith’s status as a witness in a case against former attorney general Anand Ramlogan does not debar him from being appointed the next Commissioner of Police (CoP).

Leader of Government Business Camille Robinson-Regis yesterday said she received a notification from President Paula-Mae Weekes of the Police Service Commission (PSC)’s nomination of Griffith as CoP. She said the House will sit on Monday at 1.30 pm to debate the nomination.

Young said: “We are following the process of law, the Constitution and the particular order for the appointment of CoP.”

While Robinson-Regis previously said the selection process used by the PSC was flawed, Young said one needed to carefully examine what happened from the first meeting of the Special Select Committee (SSC), appointed to examine the process, to debate on the nominations of Deodat Dulalchan, Harold Phillip and Stephen Williams to clearly identify “what the issues and what the difficulties were with the process and procedure.”

The SSC’s report had stated that having regard to its observations/findings, the SSC considered “that in many respects the manner in which the entire process was conducted by the PSC was defective and unreliable and may expose the PSC to allegations of arbitrariness and lack of transparency.”

However, another SSC member, UNC MP Ganga Singh, said the SSC didn’t find anything illegal.

Another SSC member, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, agreed members had signed off on the report and “….on Monday any questions will be answered.”

Young said, “It did not rule out the order of merit list.”

Saying the law is “very, very clear” about the legitimacy of the list, he said, “The procedure set out is that a name comes forward. It is up to the majority of Parliament to say yea or nay and to go through the list as has happened in the past.”

Young made it clear that any person who is still on the list can be chosen as CoP.

On Griffith being involved in the witness-tampering case which Police Complaints Authority director David West brought against Ramlogan, Young said, “I don’t see that as precluding him at all.”

He added, “In fact, if it’s anything, it might be an endorsement on his character that he was fearless and ready to stand up for the truth at a particularly difficult time.”

Griffith and Ramlogan were fired in February 2015 by then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar after West made his complaint to the police against Ramlogan.

Griffith claimed he was pressured by his former Cabinet colleagues not to support West’s complaint. Persad-Bissessar also called for West to resign.

On the Police Social and Welfare Association saying it will not work with Griffith if he is appointed, Young said, “ I think it is wrong to take an attitude up front that they are not going to work with any particular person unless there is a very, very good reason.

“I think they are anticipating a lot if Mr Griffith is selected as the CoP.”

Young hoped as a citizen that the members of the Police Service “would do what is right for the country and work with who is decided as the next CoP.”

UNC’s Rushton Paray said, “I don’t know him personally but I’ve experienced his National Security work over 2013-14 when I saw the most amount of police in my area. Whether he’s confirmed or not, it’ll be an exciting time. I look forward to whoever’s chosen dealing with the crime situation.”

UNC’s Rudy Indarsingh said, “Gary is a competent person having served in the Defence Force.”

Young urged reporters to “wait on Monday to see what Parliament decides.”

PM and BHP discuss future plans for T&T

Prime Minister Dr the Honourable Keith Rowley and Minister of Communications, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister and Minister in the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs, the Honourable Stuart Young met with a high- level delegation from BHP Billiton at the Diplomatic Centre on July 25, 2018.

Steve Pastor, Global President Petroleum BHP Billiton led the delegation which included Derek Cardno, Vice President Drilling, Vincent Pereira, President BHP Trinidad and Tobago and Sheldon Narine Corporate Affairs Advisor.

The team provided the Prime Minister with an update on their recent drilling programme, including deep-water drilling, seismic work and future plans in Trinidad and Tobago.

The meeting also focused on the important role Trinidad and Tobago plays in BHP’s oil and gas business. BHP expressed gratitude for the positive working relationship it enjoys with Trinidad and Tobago and reiterated that it intends to continue investing in this country in the coming decades.

January 2015- AG accused of WITNESS TAMPERING

Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan became the first Attorney General in the history of Trinidad and Tobago to be accused of witness tampering. He was accused of offering David West Directorship of the Police Complaint Authority, if he (West) withdrew a witness statement filed in a defamation lawsuit involving the Attorney General and Opposition Leader at the time, Dr. Keith Rowley.

In January 2017, Police contacted several former Peoples’ Partnership ministers for interviews and met with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in their probe of witness -tampering allegations made against former attorney general Anand Ramlogan by Police Complaints Authority (PCA) director David West.

The “witness-tampering” investigation, was instituted by Acting Police Commissioner at the time, Stephen Williams in January 2015. This, after West’s allegation, made at the time, against Ramlogan of an “attempt to pervert the course of justice”.

West alleged that Ramlogan “asked” him to withdraw as a witness in a matter involving then opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley. Ramlogan strongly denied this. Less than a week after the issue broke in 2015, former PP prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar revoked the appointments of Ramlogan as well as then National Security Minister Gary Griffith. Griffith gave a statement supporting West’s claim. It was alleged that Griffith, on Ramlogan’s advice, telephoned West to query whether West had withdrawn his statement.

Since the 2015 probe started, at least six former PP ministers were contacted by police. Some former ministers and other people have been interviewed more than once.

At the start of the probe, Griffith gave several statements to police and was interviewed.

Griffith had also alleged he was “pressured” by Cabinet colleagues, including Vasant Bharath, not to support West’s complaint.

Bharath and others categorically denied this.

Since the start of 2017, several other ex-PP ministers were contacted.

This included Bharath, ex-minister Ramadhar, former Minister Suruj Rambachan and UNC MP Roodal Moonilal .

These were the series of events…

•Ramlogan denied allegations that he asked West to withdraw his (West’s) witness statement in a defamation lawsuit Ramlogan had against then opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley.

• The lawsuit concerned comments about the controversial Section 34 issue and extradition proceedings involving businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson.

• It was alleged Ramlogan “promised” West he would be appointed PCA director if he withdrew from the defamation matter.

• Ramlogan reportedly said he’d only become aware of West filing a witness statement in the matter when it was given to his attorneys in December 2014.

•West said his recollection of what transpired was “diametrically opposed to” Ramlogan’s denial that he ever approached him.

•West said he reported the matter to the Police Commissioner.

•Then legal affairs minister Prakash Ramadhar attempted to speak with West on the allegations.

•West said the PCA was an independent body, didn’t report to a minister, and it would have been inappropriate to meet Ramadhar.

• Within a week of the issue, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar sought the resignations of both Ramlogan and Gary Griffith.

• She said it was alleged Griffith, on Ramlogan’s advice, telephoned West to query whether West had withdrawn a statement, the alleged incident forms part of the police enquiry and Griffith confirmed he made the call.

• Persad-Bissessar said she’d read the statements from both as well as West’s reported statements and found facts conflicted.

• She expressed concern about West (for a “compromised” PCA post resulting from the situation) and then opposition leader Rowley (for not reporting the claims when consultation on West’s nomination for PCA head arose).

On August 29th 2017, Anand Ramlogan was arrested at his home in Palmiste on the grounds of misbehavior in public office and perverting the course of justice.

Ramlogan was granted bail in the sum of $750,000 covering both charges.