PM: SSA probe not compromised

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Dr Keith Rowley –

THE Prime Minister has said that his statement in the House of Representatives on July 3 about the findings of an audit into the operations of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) has not compromised any investigation into the SSA.

In a Whatsapp response to questions from Newsday on Monday, Dr Rowley said, “My statement in the Parliament was a carefully crafted body of information with just enough details to advise the public on the nature and extent of an issue without unnecessarily identifying persons or other entities for whom an interest exists.”

He continued, “The fact that there are interests to be recognised in no way prevents the Government from from giving the Parliament information about the administration or the country in general. Have you not seen persons calling for more information or even surmising that there are more questions for which answers are to be had? The Parliament, now being informed, would do as it sees fit to get all the clarification and answers required.”

Rowley added, “This in no way compromises any investigation. In fact, you would have heard me stating very clearly that many lines of criminal investigations and various audits are under way and we must allow these to proceed to conclusion.”

In his statement, Rowley reminded MPs that an extensive internal review and audit of the SSA has been ongoing since March 4.

Between March 4 and April 21, he continued, planning and preliminary review activities were completed by acting SSA director Brig-General Anthony Phillips-Spencer.

On March 2, Phillips-Spencer was appointed acting SSA director by President Christine Kangaloo.

Prior to this appointment, Phillips-Spencer was TT’s ambassador to Washington, DC.

Rowley highlighted some of the audit’s findings.

These included the surreptitious hiring of people who were said to belong to a cult which “was arming itself while preaching a doctrine for trained military and paramilitary personnel with a religious calling to be the most suitable persons to replace the country’s political leadership,” increased acquisition of firearms and ammunition by the SSA.

Rowley said the audit also showed that former SSA director, acting Major Roger Best, initiated the procurement of high-grade military bolt-action rifles, complete with the most modern silences and other accessories and the agency was involved in training “specially selected questionably hired personnel in the skill and use of such weapons.

Best was fired from his post on May 19.

He added this happened before an amendment to the Firearms Act last November which allowed the SSA to have and keep firearms.

On November 1, 2023, Rowley continued, Best made a request to government for SSA staffers to bear arms in certain restricted circumstances and offered persuasive reasons for it.

He said Cabinet approved this request and Parliament subsequently authorised SSA staffers to keep and carry concealed pistols whether on duty or not.

Rowley added this matter has engaged the police’s attention.

He said the police were also investigating the whereabouts and use of 70,000 rounds of ammunition purchased by the SSA, which are unrecorded and unaccounted for.

Rowley added that current and former SSA members are the subject of continued police investigations with respect to certain motor vehicles, currently and previously assigned to the agency.

“Without saying much more, suffice it to say that there is much more investigative work to be done as the requisite policing agencies continue to follow the evidence.”

Rowley said efforts were under way to rebuild the SSA to ensure that it discharged its core mandate and operated within the law.

Asked whether he would lay the SSA audit report in Parliament, Rowley replied, “Did you see me lay any report in Parliament? Which law says that if a report exists that one has to refrain from mentioning its existence?”

He said, “The media has to be careful that it does not allow itself to be an echo chamber for vested interests.”

Subsequent to Rowley’s statement in the House on July 3, Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal called on him to make the SSA audit report public and send a copy of it to the Parliament’s National Security Joint Select Committee (JSC).

Moonilal is a member of that JSC.