PM on SSA probe: I will not engage in ‘tipping off’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley answers urgent questions during a sitting of the House of Representatives in Parliament on March 6. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

THE Prime Minister rejected what he described as efforts by the Opposition UNC for him to engage in “tipping off” with respect to an ongoing review of operations of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA), which has seen its director being sent on administrative leave and an interim director appointed.

Dr Rowley also said the operations of the SSA have not been compromised as a result of these events.

Rowley took this position as he responded to questions from Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal in the House of Representatives on March 6.

Moonilal was asking about a government decision to send SSA director Major Roger Best on administrative leave, appoint Trinidad and Tobago Ambassador to Washington, DC, Brig-Gen Anthony Phillips-Spencer as acting SSA director and review the agency’s operations.

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 has initiated an extensive review and audit of all personnel, equipment and processes in the SSA.

Moonilal filed two questions about the SSA to Rowley which had some similar wording.

After some initial confusion by Rowley, Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George clarified to him which of the questions Moonilal was asking.

She asked Moonilal to repeat his question.

Moonilal asked, “Prime Minister, are you aware or have knowledge that retired Major Roger Best, head of the SSA, is the subject of any police investigation or enquiry? Is that clear?”

Rowley replied, “It is very clear. I am not prepared to discuss confidential police work with you or anybody. That’s called tipping off.”

Moonilal asked Rowley to confirm whether the SSA “has been undertaking surveillance and intelligence-gathering on two senior Cabinet ministers in this country that led to the dismissal of the head of the SSA?”

Annisette-George told Moonilal, “That question is out of order, in accordance with the standing orders.”

Moonilal asked whether the findings of the SSA review would be laid in Parliament.

Annisette-George ruled that this question was out of order..

Moonilal asked if the if police action at the SSA’s offices at Knowsley in Port of Spain on Sunday had disrupted the agency’s operations.

Rowley replied, “No.”

Moonilal asked if Government’s decision was based on advice from the police.

Rowley said, “The Cabinet received no advice from the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS).”

He reiterated that Cabinet received information from the TTPS and acted on the basis of that information.

Moonilal asked if this information came from Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher.

Rowley said, “I am not prepared to engage in any debate on this matter as a responsible prime minister or a responsible government. These matters will take their course and eventually end up where they are supposed to.”