PM: Special Branch report just a guide – DPP could have used building

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

EMPTY: The unoccupied Office of the DPP building on Park Street in East Port of Spain. FILE PHOTO –

A SPECIAL Branch security report is just a security guide and does not have to be enforced, the Prime Minister said as he explained the leasing of a building for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) which was not occupied over security issues raised by the elite unit in the TTPS.

At a media briefing on Thursday, Dr Rowley spoke for the first time since raising the issue of the DPP not moving into the $24 million, six-storey building on the corner of Park and Henry Street, Port of Spain.

He first mentioned the building on March 9 – a day after DPP Roger Gaspard complained of his office being short-staffed.

At a PNM public meeting in Barataria on March 9, Rowley said that for three years, the building remained unoccupied. He said the building was leased in a way to address concerns raised by the DPP in the past on needing space.

FIGHTING MOOD: An animated Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley speaks during the post Cabinet press briefing on Thursday at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s. PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE –

In 2020, the National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO) had a ceremonial handing-over of the building which was retrofitted to accommodate the DPP’s executive secretariat, administrative and support units, processing units and units for indictment and vault usage, for roughly $7 million annually, after some $20 million in retrofitting.

The Special Branch reported that the building was not safe and suggested other work be done. This was rejected by the owner of the building.

Rowley, who along with the President and Chief Justice, receives round-the-clock protection by Special Branch officers, said this unit does not “create the law or common sense” in the country.

“They make assessments for clients and they make recommendations. That recommendation that was made, in the context of Special Branch, is a recommendation. And then the decision-makers will respond to recommendations.”

Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard. FILE PHOTO –

As an example, he said Special Branch advised against him occupying the Prime Minister’s residence in St Ann’s as he could be exposed to the danger of people using sniper rifles from the nearby Hilton Hotel.

“What do you do, don’t use the building (the PM’s residence)? That’s not a feasible option. Build a tunnel to come in? That is not feasible either. Build a bulletproof shed to cover the whole road? That wasn’t feasible either. But of course you use the other entrance, because there is another entrance.”

Rowley said there comes a time when one must consider what is feasible, what is affordable and what is reasonable.

This is not the first time he has dismissed a Special Branch report.

Last year, Rowley said Special Branch reports are graded (and thus) are taken with a bit of salt, depending on where it came from and who is the subject of the report.

“A responsible Prime Minister will know two things: one, take the Special Branch as intelligence, and two, distinguish between intelligence and evidence.”

At the time, he was commenting on a 2019 leaked Special Branch report alleging impropriety in the acquiring of properties by Youth Development and National Service Minister Foster Cummings.

Rowley on Thursday said the building cost the state $600,000 monthly for three years when it was leased (for the DPP) but was never occupied. He said as security concerns were raised, these were addressed and the last security concern was the need to erect a wall, which was rejected by the landlord at a time when the lease was almost at an end. That building is now being leased on a month to month basis, he said.

Rowley said government is zealously seeking to get out of renting buildings hence the construction of Government buildings including the Ministry of Health head office on Queen’s Park East and the Ministry of Social Development on Tragarete Road.