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Tuesday 23 January 2018

Theodore: PNM starved Army of resources

THE DEFENCE Force was placed under a “period of austerity” by the PNM and the NAR after the Army mutiny of 1970, former Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier Joseph Theodore said yesterday as he testified at the Commission of Inquiry into the events of July, 1990.

Theodore indicated that the PNM Government may have placed the army under a secret policy aimed at starving it of resources, a policy which resulted in budget constraints which crippled vital aspects of the army’s functioning and which had, in his view, a direct and negative impact on the Army’s ability to respond to the July 27, 1990, attack by the Jamaat al Muslimeem.

“The suggestion is that the Army was deliberately starved of resources,” inquiry chairman Sir David Simmons told Theodore as proceedings continued at the Caribbean Court of Justice, Port-of-Spain. “Was that your sense of things when you left? Some have said that after 1970 there was a deliberate policy position on the part of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago – well that was the PNM of course – to starve the army of necessary resources.

“I don’t know how deliberate it would have been, but in fact we were hard-pressed to get most of the items required,” he said, noting this included some medical supplies. “The army was given a lower priority it would seem to me.” Sir David continued, “I think in the 1980s money was no problem and there would be no reason at that point to deny the Army unless there was a policy position. There may have been a secret agenda?”

“This may well be so,” Theodore said. “By that point we were pretty low down on the priority.” The NAR came into power in 1986, for the first time placing the country under non-PNM rule. But by 1990, there were still clear problems with resources. And the repercussions of this would be felt by July 27, 1990.

“Were you satisfied with the quality and quantity of resources available to the army in 1990?” Sir David Simmons asked.

“Not at all,” Theodore replied. “There was the matter of uniforms; transportation; adequate signals: communication equipment — those were the three main issues that we had to deal with. All these matters were brought to the attention of the ministry (of national security). For quite some time the Regiment remained very short of these items. I am not quite sure when it did start (to improve). It might have been years later.”

Sir David asked, “The deficiency in transportation and communications, did they affect your operations during the attempted coup?”

“Absolutely,” Theodore replied. As an example, he noted that instead of being able to communicate on secure radio waves meant for the Army alone, officers would have to employ the time-consuming process of using runners. In several instances communications between the Red House – where hostages had been taken – and military and other officials trying to negotiate a solution, were compromised. In addition to not having enough resources, the Army was also denied key intelligence reports (by agencies such as the police Special Branch) which – days before the July 27, 1990, attack – warned that something dire was imminent.

“We received no specific information up to that day, that anything untoward was expected,” Theodore said. “And quite frankly it came as quite a surprise to us when the attack on the Red House took place.”

He said the Army had no specific contingency plan for events like that of 1990, even after the experience of 1970 when several hundred Army troops mutinied in support of black power rioters, seized the arsenal, and held hostages. “The Army did not prepare specifically for what occurred in July, 1990,” Theodore said. Questioned by commissioner Haffizool Ali-Mohammed as the appropriateness of this, Theodore said, “It would have been ideal if we had created contingency plans for any actual events.”

Theodore said even during the attack of July 1990, key aspects of what was going on were unknown to the army, such as the negotiations surrounding the so-called amnesty agreement.

“I never saw it,” the witness, who would later become a minister of national security under the UNC, said. “To this day I have never seen it. I never saw the amnesty, and I never made myself interested in anything of the sort. Surely we ought to have been told. No minister came to me and said ‘this is what we would like you to do’. Our instructions from the beginning stood.

“Even the “Points of Agreement” document was not shared with the Defence Force,” Theodore said. “I was never made privy to this. We were left to negotiate,” he said.

Inquiry counsel Avory Sinanan SC asked, “but should you not have known what was going on?”

“It would have been useful. It might have been useful,” Theodore said. He said he was getting information from Muslimeem attacker Bilah Abdullah (who lead the group which stormed the Red House). “But Bilal Abdullah could tell you anything,” Sinanan noted.

“It seems to me that there was a lacuna,” inquiry chairman Sir David noted. “He was kept in the dark.”


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