• 05 MAY 2016

Post Cabinet Briefing Summary – Thursday 5th May, 2016

The Minister of Public Administration and Communications, the Honourable Maxie Cuffie, hosted the Post Cabinet Press Briefing today (Thursday 5th May, 2016) at the Office of the Prime Minister, St. Clair, Port of Spain.

At the briefing the Minister of Finance, the Honourable Colm Imbert, addressed claims made in an article by the Trinidad Guardian newspaper article entitled “CLICO posts performance after pressure – Healthy $5b 2014 profit”. According to the minister, the article gave the impression that the Colonial Life Insurance Company (Trinidad) Ltd (CLICO) made a profit of five (5) billion dollars in 2014. This has led to subsequent speculation that CLICO should therefore be removed from under the control of the Central Bank.

Minister Imbert explained that the article is referring to an accounting transaction – the proceeds of the sale of the MHTL Methanol Company – and therefore does not assist the company in the manner in which the article implies. In fact, CLICO’s balance sheet deficit at the end of 2014 was 934 million dollars as, although there was a profit, there was also a loss of income of approximately 4.7 billion dollars. Based on the information available to the Minister of Finance, CLICO is still insolvent because its liabilities exceed its assets and the company is still in deficit of approximately one (1) billion dollars.

The Minister of National Security, the Hon. Major General (Ret’d) Edmund Dillon, provided some background information on the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) during the briefing. He noted that the Government, in an examination of the national security apparatus, found that there was not an integrated approach to deal with crime and security. Subsequently, the Government has enhanced the SSA by incorporating in a legal framework, the National Operations Centre (NOC) and the National Security Training Academy (NSTA). The aim is to produce a coordinated and integrated structure to deal with crime and criminality.

The SSA is responsible for the conducting and coordinating an intelligence approach to crime and criminality in Trinidad and Tobago. The main tasks consist of analysing and reducing identified threats, providing surveillance and protection, ensuring effective crisis management and the integration of intelligence. Minister Dillon noted that, in accordance to Chapter 4 of the SSA Act, staff will be employed as necessary for the due performance of the agency’s duties and functions as it continues to evolve.

The Minister of National Security also commented on the crime rate. He announced that increased focus will be placed on prediction and intelligence, deterrence and police presence as well as detection and prosecution. Maritime security, the seizure of weapons and school violence are also being targeted.

Additionally the Attorney General, the Honourable Faris Al Rawi, addressed the misleading allegations against the SSA Bill which are being purported by the Opposition. The SSA Bill, which is currently before the Parliament, currently seeks to amend, in main form, the broadening of the definition of serious crime so that the SSA can have the ability to coordinate intelligence functions under the nation’s laws in relation to a host of crimes. Previously, the Act dealt solely with drug related matters.

The SSA currently, on the basis of that authority, has been engaged in activities in a fairly wide range of surveillance. However, the Government has noted that information has not been coordinated by the respective agencies and there has been very little to show, by way of results, for the intelligence gathering efforts.

Moreover, the NOC – a multibillion dollar entity – which was acquired by the previous administration was under the auspices of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). The Government is of the opinion that it is inappropriate to have the OPM managing security assets or dealing with intelligence activities. Therefore, in seeking to ensure that the information is shared responsibly and the NOC is utilised appropriately, the Government sought to place those entities under the umbrella of the SSA.

The Government refutes claims made by the Opposition which suggest that this is an attempt to implement mechanisms to spy on citizens. These claims are aimed at inciting fear. It must be noted that the only way that surveillance is permitted on anyone is under Section 6 of the Interception of Communication Act and the processes outlined in that chapter. Any action to deal with arrests, prosecution and conviction is not conducted by the SSA or politicians but by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

The Attorney General noted that these claims ought to be considered a continuation of the Opposition’s obstructionist agenda. Member of Parliament Barry Padarath, for example, is a claimant in litigation against the mechanism for the appointment of a Commissioner of Police.

The Honourable Stuart Young, Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, also addressed the levels of accountability which are built into the SSA Bill. Firstly, there are two (2) select committees of Parliament which have jurisdiction over the SSA. Secondly, the SSA is also susceptible to the jurisdiction of the Auditor General. Minister Young emphasised that the proposed amendments do not enable the SSA to intercept communications. All interception is governed by the Interception of Communications Act.

In addition, the Minister clarified some confusion surrounding a statement made by the President of the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA), Mr. Daren Lee Singh. Mr. Lee Singh’s remarks about serious crime were with regard to the Cybercrime Bill and not the SSA Bill as explained in a press released by the TTPBA today.

Also present was the Minister of Works and Transport, the Honourable Fitzgerald Hinds who commented on the successful implementation of speed measuring devices by the TTPS. These devices, which will be used to detect excessive speeding, are part of the strategy to decrease the number of road accidents and fatalities in Trinidad and Tobago.

Minister Hinds asserted that, according to police and traffic management reports, this new measure is having a deterrent effect as motorists have been observed to be driving at slower speeds. The Minister also highlighted that the use of these speed measuring devices will provide a more efficient and modern means for law enforcement to detect persons using excessive speed and prosecute said individuals.


Articles referenced:

Alexander, Gail: “CLICO posts performance after pressure – Healthy $5b 2014 profit”– The Trinidad and Tobago Guardian ( https://www.guardian.co.tt/news/2016-05-05/clico-posts-performance-after-pressure-healthy-5b-2014-profit )