PM: Government acted responsibly with SSA

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley speaks at Conversations with the Prime Minister, at Skiffle Bunch Pan Theatre, Coffee Street, San Fernando, on March 5. – Photo by Lincoln Holder

THE Prime Minister said the Government did not act irresponsibly when it took the decision to send Strategic Services Agency (SSA) director on administrative leave, appoint Trinidad and Tobago Ambassador to Washington DC Brig-Gen Anthony Phillips-Spencer as acting director and review the agency’s operations.

Dr Rowley made those statements at a Conversations with the Prime Minister forum at Skiffle Bunch Pan Yard, Coffee Street, San Fernando, on March 5.

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.”

Rowley 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 from Washington, DC, on March 2 and appointed acting SSA director by President Christine Kangaloo .

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

On Tuesday, Rowley told his audience, “Your government is not an irresponsible government. You don’t see us doing that everyday. You see us doing it when it is required.”

In his first comments on the SSA decision after the opening of a new public library in Diego Martin on March 4, Rowley said, “It was all part of the response and the remit to the information being taken by the police.”

On Tuesday, Rowley did not shed any light on what that information was.

“I know many of you don’t know why. I couldn’t tell you everything that we know, but we have to act on everything that we know.”

He said this was another instance of government “putting the public interest first, sticking to our oath of office without fear or favour, malice or ill will, taking the decisions that have to be taken.”

Rowley also condemned the Opposition UNC for refusing the overtures of the Government to hold bipartisan talks to address crime.

In an October 12 letter, Rowley wrote to Persad-Bissessar about scheduling bipartisan crime talks immediately after the budget debate in Parliament. Rowley proposed several pieces of anti-crime legislation for discussion.

Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, was nominated as the leader of the Government’s team to the talks.

Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, Housing Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales and Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister Randall Mitchell were the other members.

On November 3, Armour wrote to Persad-Bissessar asking her to nominate her team for the talks.

Persad-Bissessar criticised Rowley for not planning to attend the talks, and no UNC team was nominated.

Rowley said, “Up to this day, the Opposition has not named anybody to sit down with the government team to discuss the matters that we are all familiar with.”

He recalled that when Kangaloo called on the Government and the Opposition to hold bipartisan talks on crime, it was not an invitation to both sides to hold a series of public meetings and behave like they are “partners in crime.”

Rowley said the town-hall anti-crime meetings being hosted by the UNC demonstrate that it is only interested in using crime to further its political campaign for next year’s general election.

He questioned why the UNC invited former St Lucia prime minister Allan Chastanet to speak at its last meeting in Sangre Grande on Monday.

After reminding his audience that the UNC has been un-co-operative in helping Government to address crime over the last eight years, Rowley said there is no advice that Chastanet could give to solve crime in Trinidad and Tobago.

“No thanks, Tropical Trump.”

Chastanet’s government was voted out of office in the July 26, 2021 general election.

In May 2022, St Lucia Prime Minister Phillip J Pierre promised to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate acts of alleged public corruption under Chastanet’s administration.