National Security JSC rejects request to probe SSA changes

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

JSC Chairman and Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland – File photo

THE Parliament’s National Security Joint Select Committee (JSC) has rejected a request from its two opposition members – Dr Roodal Moonilal and Jayanti Lutchmedial – to investigate recent events involving the Strategic Services Agency (SSA).

These included its director Major Roger Best being sent on administrative leave on March 2; Ambassador to Washington, DC, Brig-Gen Anthony Phillips-Spencer being made acting SSA director; and the agency’s operations being reviewed.

Moonilal and Lutchmedial made their request to committee chairman, Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland, in a letter dated March 5.

The JSC met virtually on March 11 to consider their request.

After the meeting, Scotland said the committee met in plenary session and a vote was taken.

“The request was denied.”

He added, “Proper parliamentary procedures and protocols were followed.”

Moonilal, who is Oropouche East MP and a UNC deputy political leader, confirmed the request was denied.

He said the virtual meeting took place at 3 pm.

“After a very brief discussion, (the committee) decided by majority that the request will not be upheld.

“So that the JSC on national security will not examine or interrogate the SSA, the officials of the Ministry of National Security or police on this ongoing, very serious development.”

The other members of the JSC are Independent Senator Dr Paul Richards; and PNM members Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister Randall Mitchell; Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy; Point Fortin MP Kennedy Richards; and Minister in the Ministry of Works and Transport Richie Sookhai.

Moonilal said he was disappointed by this development.

“There is a scarcity of official information on this. What we are really receiving are newspaper reports, which are not really official.”

He said these reports may or may not be accurate.

Moonilal believed the JSC’s rejection of the request could be related to concerns about premature comments being made publicly while certain investigations are ongoing.

He claimed there is no information in the public domain that speaks to any investigation into matters concerning the SSA.

“There is no police investigation (into the SSA), that we know of, which has been officially communicated.”

Moonilal said the committee could have met in camera to examine the SSA matter.

He added this approach would not have the committee’s meeting being broadcast live on TV, radio or online if there is a concern that sensitive information could be raised that could be detrimental to any investigation.

A statement on March 3 from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) said, “The National Security Council (NSC) has recommended to the Cabinet that the head of the SSA be replaced immediately and that new leadership and management be installed with despatch.”

The Prime Minister is the chairman of the NSC and head of the Cabinet.

The OPM added, “This recommendation has been effected and as of Saturday March 2 the head of the SSA (Best) has been sent on administrative leave.”

Best was appointed in July 2019 on a three-year contract.

Phillips-Spencer was recalled on March 2 and President Christine Kangaloo appointed him acting SSA director.

The OPM said Phillips-Spencer is initiating an extensive review and audit of all personnel, equipment and processes in the SSA.

Speaking with the media on March 4, Rowley said the decision to send Best on administrative leave and review SSA operations was based on information the Government had received from the police.

Contrary to claims by the Opposition UNC and others, Rowley said nothing was removed from the SSA’s office. He said additional security was put in in place there to secure the SSA’s premises at Knowsley, Queen’s Park West, Port of Spain.

He maintained these positions when Moonilal questioned him on the topic in the House of Representatives on March 6, and when he spoke at a PNM public meeting in Chaguanas on March 7.