But while Sandy in Parliament and in a press release claimed the new appointee was appointed to the SSA as an acting director, this was contradicted by an official press release from the Office of the President yesterday.
As the Opposition called for Ramnarine to be fired, Sandy told MPs that Ramnarine was appointed to act in the post for six months as part of a process of streamlining the SSA with the controversial Security Intelligence Agency (SIA).
Without naming Ramnarine, he said, “the appointed officer was installed to act for a period of six months in the office of director of the SSA.
The officer was not appointed to head the SIA...The appointment was made to assist in the rationalisation, streamlining and amalgamation of the SIA into the SSA. The merger has been ongoing for some time.”
A press release issued by the Ministry of National Security’s corporate communications unit mirrored Sandy’s statement.
But an official release from the Office of the President, issued at about the same time that Sandy spoke in Parliament yesterday, made no mention of an acting appointment and also said the new appointee would head the SIA, not the SSA, as claimed by Sandy.
“In the absence from the country of His Excellency Professor George Maxwell Richards, His Excellency Senator Timothy Hamel-Smith, Acting President of the Republic, issued the instrument of appointment to the new SIA director on Friday January 14, 2011,” the release said.
Questioned by Newsday on the issue outside one of the committee rooms at the Parliament yesterday, Sandy said the decision was taken last week. He was, however, reluctant to comment further.
Asked if he thought Ramnarine was a suitable person to helm the SSA, Sandy said, “I am not going there. I am not going there.” Questioned again on the issue via a note sent to him in Parliament, Sandy for a second time declined to comment.
“I am not prepared to discuss the appointment of any intelligence official,” he said when questioned over concerns over Ramnarine’s inexperience and apparent links to the Government. Even though Ramnarine’s status had already been made public in a press report yesterday, he said, “I think it is not only unfair to that person, especially with respect to personal safety, but also not in the best interest of national security. I respectfully request that you understand my position.”
In his statement to Parliament, Sandy made it clear that the decision to appoint came from the Council, chaired by Persad-Bissessar, and was endorsed by Cabinet, which is also chaired by Persad-Bissessar.
“The National Security Council deliberated on the matter and decided to accept the recommendation of the deputy director. The appointed officer has nine years experience at the SIA and is a graduate of the University of the West Indies,” he said. “The decision of the National Security Council was subsequently approved by Cabinet.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Suruj Rambachan, in a later contribution to the House, said Ramnarine holds a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree in information technology (IT) and is presently studying for a BSc degree in Psychology.
Rambachan told the Lower House the brouhaha over Ramnarine was very unfortunate.
“I want to reiterate for the benefit of the national population, that this is not just ‘anybody’ who has been chosen. We must not have anything against young people,” Rambachan said, adding it is wrong to say youth have no intelligence and are not mature. “We must talk about ability and talk about competence,” he said. “Mr Deputy Speaker, the person they spoke about (Ramnarine) has a BSc in information technology, is completing a BSc in Psychology, has international experience, and is nine years there (at the agency).
“What they (the Opposition) fail to recognise is the fight against crime is driven by intelligence and information and this person has the ability to deal with information. But more than that, not only collect information, but translate information into a manner in which it could be used to develop action plans in order to deal with criminals in this country. So Mr Deputy Speaker it is unfortunate that the name of that person has to be dragged into this debate.”
ROWLEY continues on Page 14AOpposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley however called for Ramnarine’s immediate removal from the post. Rowley declared that unless Persad-Bissessar takes this action, the Opposition PNM will have to seriously consider whether it participates with any collaborative effort with the Government in passing legislation through the Parliament in the future. He hinted that this includes hanging legislation which requires a three-fifths majority for passage in the House of Representatives.
Rowley unsuccessfully attempted to raise the issue of Ramnarine’s appointment as a definite matter of urgent public importance. He noted the SIA post was “vital and sensitive”. “The matter is urgent since the nature of the business conducted by the SIA is extremely sensitive and could easily be compromised to the nation’s detriment,” Rowley said. “The appointment of an unqualified junior officer could severely prejudice the public security interest and compromise the national security efforts both local and regional.”
Speaker Wade Mark refused Rowley’s application, noting the matter could be raised under another standing order. But during debate of firearms legislation, PNM Laventille East/Morvant MP Donna Cox referred to the issue.
Questioning Ramnarine’s qualifications, she said, “if this is the experience that is required then why didn’t you all hire me? Then again I am not a whistle-blower.”
At a news conference during the tea break at the Red House, Rowley described the appointment of Ramnarine as “the latest outrage” carried out by “a mismanaged government with an absent Prime Minister.” He questioned what experience did Ramnarine have to be appointed as interim SIA head for six months.
Recalling that Persad-Bissessar and members of her Government accused former prime minister Patrick Manning of using the SIA to spy on his political opponents, Rowley asked,“Is this person put there to do the work of the political directorate?”
Rowley called upon Persad-Bissessar, who did not attend yesterday’s sitting of the House, to tell the country whether during her six-month stint as head of the SIA, Ramnarine has been instructed to spy on members of the Opposition and “persons of interest to the Prime Minister.” “Is Miss Ramnarine placed there to do that?” he asked. Stating the Opposition will say more on this issue when it debates a private members motion on the SIA in the House next Friday, Rowley said Persad-Bissessar was “reckless” in appointing Ramnarine to this post and government ministers who remained silent on this matter were equally guilty. He called upon other leaders of the coalition, most notably Congress of the People (COP) leader and Finance Minister Winston Dookeran to join him in condemning Ramnarine’s appointment.