Changing his tune from Friday, Rowley yesterday said Prime Minister (PM) Kamla Persad- Bissessar must have known about the existence of the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA) when the UNC was in power.
He also said the People’ Partnership Government was using the revelations to distract attention from many other issues affecting the country at this time, such as the state of the economy and the continued delay in appointing several State Boards.
On Friday, after the PM had revealed in Parliament that the phones of President George Maxwell Richards, the PM, members of the Cabinet of the People’s Partnership, members of the Opposition, including Rowley, Colm Imbert, Donna Cox and Pennelope Beckles, Rowley said he was appalled to think that his own phone had been tapped.
During the tea break that same afternoon, Rowley told reporters, “I am a public figure, and I can’t tell you how I feel to know that the prime minister of the Cabinet in which I served, was having information which I consider to be...I can’t tell you how I feel to know I was subjected to that.”
He went on to say “the Prime Minister has done nothing wrong in telling the country we have an illegal spy agency that was violating the rights of citizens, including the President, members of Cabinet, and persons who may be law-abiding citizens.”
At yesterday’s Women’s League conference, Opposition MP for Laventille East/Morvant, Donna Cox, who was minister in the Ministry of National Security under the last PNM Government, said she had nothing to hide and had noting to do with the running of the SIA because it did not fall under her portfolio.
“I have no problems with (having been wiretapped) because I have no cocoa in the sun. I have nothing to hide and they could continue to listen as far as I’m concerned.”
Cox also told Newsday she does not think the illegal wiretapping “has anything to do with the PNM. The PNM didn’t tap anybody’s phones, so I don’t see why it should affect the image of the PNM,” said Cox.
Meanwhile, Rowley asked the PM to correct him if his was wrong about possible abuse of the SIA and the Strategic Security Agency (SSA) by the Basdeo Panday-led government during its last term in office.
“Tell me that it is not correct to say that a lot of the information that came to us about the famous flat in London and the prime minister’s children and their private affairs in London came to them via the same SIA and similar spy agencies?”
Rowley also asked Persad-Bissessar to deny allegations that “the last time Mr Panday was in control of the SSA, and somebody else was in control of the SIA, and part of the collapse of the UNC government had to do with the countering of these two agencies in different hands. Tell us so. So when you tried to buss de mark on Friday, and you want to make it look like as if it is something that the PNM (did)” argued Rowley, “we will not accept that.”
Rowley then said the People’s Partnership’s first six months in office should be scrutinised.
“Government is still trying to appoint State Boards (which are) a serious section of the national economy.” Rowley said this allowed Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner to award several contracts at the Airports Authority because there was “an emergency” even as the economy grinds “to a halt.”
Rowley also wanted to know how many meetings the PM has held, since taking office in May, with the National Security Council.
He claimed the PM “was more concerned about travelling abroad, running around the country playing Madame Fix It, rather than looking after our national security issues.”
While Rowley said it was wrong of the SIA to overstep its bounds, he argued that there is a need for national security agencies to “eavesdrop and conduct clandestine affairs” in the best interest of the country.
However, he was adamant that this must be done within the rule of law, with protection afforded to law-abiding citizens.
Rowley also repeated his call for an in camera or private session of a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, to fully investigate the activities of the SIA and the person/s it was reporting to.