Hinds: FUL audit was needed despite inconvenience

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds. Photo by Jeff Mayers

NATIONAL Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds on Tuesday defended the temporary suspension of the issuance of various permits to use firearms by saying “the bigger picture” demanded an audit into suspicious activity surrounding this.

He was in the Senate replying to a listed question from Opposition Senator Wade Mark who asked about remedying of the challenges faced by security officers to obtain their firearm user’s employee’s certificates.

While the Firearms Act allows an applicant for a firearm user’s licence (FUL) to first be awarded a provisional licence and then an FUL (section 16), it also allows an FUL holder to apply for a

firearm user’s employee’s certificate on behalf of someone else doing business for the holder with the holder’s firearm (section 18).

Hinds said, “According to information received from the Commissioner of Police, the operations of the Firearms Section of the TT police service were suspended in September 2021 as a result of an audit and criminal investigation being conducted by the financial investigation branch of the TT police service, Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of the TT police service and the Professional Standards Bureau, which looks after internal serious allegations, of the TT police service.

“Notwithstanding this, on completion of some aspects of these inquiries, the supplemental section of the (firearms) unit was reopened for business in February 2022. In this regard, applications for firearm user’s employee’s certificate that do not fall within the area of suspicious transaction are currently being reviewed for prompt processing.”

Mark asked if Hinds knew that challenges to get firearm user’s employee’s certificates were impeding the provision of top-class security services to clients.

Hinds replied, “The grant and processing of those grants of firearm user’s licences and all the other permits and licences within the ambit of the Firearms Act of TT do have economic and financial implications.

“But the audit of which I spoke was absolutely necessary, as a tremendous amount of suspicious financial activity surrounded it.

“As a consequence it became necessary to implement the audit and the series of investigations that I have properly and truthfully described.

“That was necessary, and notwithstanding the inconveniences that such suspension might have caused, the bigger picture was the possibility of crime and criminality in respect of the firearms regime (which) required and continues to require the attention of law enforcement and is of concern to all the people of TT.”

Mark asked about any time frame for addressing a backlog of applications for firearm user’s employee’s certificates, but Senate vice president Dr Muhammad Yunus disallowed the question.

Last November Hinds announced the audit, after an investigation by retired judge Justice Stanley John, which itself followed a probe by retired ACP Arthur Barrington and retired chief of defence staff Haydn Pritchard. The current audit is being done by a team which includes retired ACP Virgil Wellington, retired ACP Raymond Craig and Insp Leonard Charles.

Meanwhile, the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) is also investigating the grant of firearm permits.