Notwithstanding objections raised by four Independent Senators as well as the Opposition, in the Senate on Tuesday, Government yesterday stood its ground on the Strategic Services Agency (Amendment) Bill 2016.
Five Cabinet ministers, including Acting Prime Minister Colm Imbert, came out fighting.
They attended the Cabinet media briefing for the purpose of defending the legislation.
At various points, the Ministers dismissed objections raised to the legislation as, “extremely ridiculous”; “obstructionist”; “misleading misinformation”; “fearmongering”; “blatantly hypocritical” and “surprising”.
First off the bat was National Security Minister Edmund Dillon who said the legislation which would widen the remit of the SSA to include any matters related to the detection of “serious crimes” – was meant to give the National Operations Centre (NOC) and the National Secu- rity Training Academy a legal structure. He noted the murder rate and also stated, “We have in fact even included the prisons which we feel is an important source of intelligence in the fight against crime.” Next was Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi who said while the SSA was initially meant to pursue drug offences, it is doing otherwise.
“The SSA, currently, on the basis of that authority has been engaged in activities of a fairly wide range of surveillance,” Al-Rawi said. “That is to be found in terms of the evidence of what that actually do in the annual reports of the SSA.” He said there was a problem related to information silos.
“The left hand seemed not to talk to the right hand,” the Attorney General said. Al-Rawi said opponents of the Bill have an, “extremely ridiculous position” in relation to warnings about State spying.
Next up was Minister in the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs Stuart Young who said, “I think it is important when considering the proposed SAS bill that the public is made aware that...the SSA Bill sorry, that the public is made aware of the misleading misinformation being put into the public domain.
The Bill is a simple one, it has five clauses.” Young said two Parliament committees would have oversight.
Fitzgerald Hinds, chairman of the Joint Select Committee on National Security, said of opposition to the Bill: “It is not simply surprising for me, it is blatantly hypocritical! In the UK their intelligence gathering agency reports directly to the Prime Minister of that country.
This is not unique to Trinidad and Tobago.
I cannot understand.
All this bill is doing is widening the remit...
the definition. Nothing new, nothing strange.
What they afraid of?” For his part, Acting PM Imbert said objections to how the Director of the SSA is applied were odd given the age of the current provisions.
“For it to come up now 21 years later as an issue is a bit surprising,” said the Acting Prime Minister.
“It is not new its been there for 21 years and nobody complained about it before.”
(See Page 9A)