Cornered by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in Parliament on Friday on the scandalous revelations of the PNM Government’s unconstitutional violation of rights by the illegal tapping of public and private citizens’ phones, and unable to intimidate House Speaker Wade Mark into allowing him (Manning) to disregard parliamentary procedure which permits no debate or comment on a minister’s statement, Mr Manning rushed to have a press conference in a committee room of the Red House even as the House was still in progress.
And this was his response to the exposure of the PNM’s wire-tapping of the phones of President George Maxwell Richards, of Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar, of former Chief Justice Sat Sharma, and even the new PNM leader Dr Keith Rowley among others: He angrily told reporters that the present Government was dismantling the security services of the country to “pay back” the drug lords who had financed the PP’s election campaign!
What a shocking thing to come from the mouth of a man who presided over the worst period of crime in this country’s history, largely fuelled by the said drug business.
His was a period where the government used high technology and directed it at spying on his own perceived enemies, while the kidnappers and criminals got away with murder.
We totally reject Mr Manning’s claim that he never told the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA) whose phones to tap. This, he would have us believe, was entirely up to the SIA. Does Mr Manning take us all for fools? Obviously he does.
His own successor and now PNM leader Dr Keith Rowley, described Friday’s revelations as filling him with “shame” and “sadness.” Rowley added: “. . . that the Prime Minister of the Cabinet in which I served was having information which I consider . . . (pause) I can’t tell you how I feel to know I was the subject of that.”
He urged the population not to blame the PNM in general for such an outrage. But how can we not, given the fact that the PNM government was comprised not only of a Prime Minister but of many others ably supported by thousands of people who, we suspect, knew what was going on but turned a blind eye because it was more convenient to so do.
Now that Keith Rowley, Colm Imbert, Pennelope Beckles-Robinson, and Donna Cox realised their leader was spying on them, it is easy to do the Pontius Pilate and wash their hands of the entire sordid affair. But blame, they and all members of the PNM must accept for their failure to keep Manning in check.
This issue must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible must be held accountable.
The Government on Friday tabled in Parliament the “Interception of Communications Bill” through which any necessary security wiretapping will have to be authorised by warrant of a judge at the request of the Ministry of National Security. We must never again lose our way where instead of protecting the constitutional rights of citizens, a government that swears to uphold the Constitution and the law can so easily violate the rights of many.
What a sad day for Trinidad and Tobago.