UNC wants joint select committee to probe SSA

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Dr Roodal Moonilal –

THE Opposition UNC wants the Parliament’s National Security Joint Select Committee (JSC) to investigate the circumstances which led to Strategic Services Agency (SSA) director Major Roger Best being sent on administrative leave, TT Ambassador to Washington, DC, Brig-Gen Anthony Phillips-Spencer being made acting SSA director and the agency’s operations being reviewed.

The UNC made this call in a signed letter to JSC chairman, Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland, from Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal and Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial.

Moonilal and Lutchemedial are the opposition’s representatives on this committee.

In their letter, they called for the committee to summon National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, his immediate predecessor Energy Minister Stuart Young, Commissioner of Police (CoP) Erla Harewood-Christopher and other National Security Ministry officials to appear before the JSC “and answer questions into the sudden and suspicious decision to send the director of the SSA and instal an acting director in his stead.”

Moonilal and Lutchmedial said, “This position is no ordinary management post in the public service.”

They added the SSA director has the power to authorise the interception of private communications amongst citizens, which includes not only those who oppose the Government but members of the sitting government too.

They recalled that shortly after the PNM won the September 7, 2015 general election, SSA director Bisnath Maharaj was fired.

“This action was held to be illegal and in breach of Maharaj’s constitutional rights.”

Moonilal and Lutchmedial said the subsequent installation of an interim director was also deemed illegal.

“This latest action is just one in a series of actions which suggest that there may be attempts by the political directorate to exert influence and control over persons who hold power to access private and sensitive information.

They said the JSC should make expeditious enquiries.

Moonilal and Lutchmedial added that Hinds and Young’s testimonies before the committee were important because they exercised ministerial control as members of the Cabinet that took decisions about the SSA.

A statement on Sunday 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.”

Dr 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 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.

Speaking with the media after the opening of a new public library in Diego Martin, Rowley said the decision to send Best on administrative leave and undertake a review of SSA operations was based on information the Government 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 and everything there.

Rowley reminded the media that Phillips-Spencer was appointed to act as SSA head on Saturday and the agency continues to function.

He also reiterated that Best was sent on administrative leave and has not been replaced.

Rowley could not say whether or not there would be any other personnel changes at the SSA.

Referring to claims made by the UNC and others about the review of SSA operations being related to Government spying on people or intercepting communications without their knowledge, Rowley said, “I heard some conversations from persons trying to stir up discord.”

Under the Interception of Communications Act, the SSA director, police commissioner and Defence Force chief of staff are the only three people who can legally authorise the interception of communications.

Rowley added, “The SSA has a wider function. Interception is only one.

“I have heard a lot of comments. That (interception of communications) is not the main issue. There are other issues.”

He did not elaborate on what those issues were.