• 03 JUL 2024

Prime Minister’s Statements in Parliament – Wednesday 03rd July, 2024

Prime Minister’s Statement

July 03, 2024

Madam Speaker,

I am authorised by the Cabinet to issue the following statement:

Issue 1: Strategic Services Agency (SSA)


In the Annual Report of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) for the year 2022 it was noted that the SSA was established in 1995, in accordance with Chapter 15:06 of the Laws of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, and became operational on July 01, 1996.


The primary purpose of the SSA is to guide the formulation and implementation of national policies on illicit trafficking of dangerous drugs and related criminal activities.


The main functions of the Agency are outlined by Section 6 (1) of the SSA Act, as expanded by the SSA (Amendment) Act, No.4 of 2016 (assented to by the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago on May 31, 2016), which are to:


  • act as an office for centralising information that could facilitate the detection and prevention of serious crime, for co-ordinating operations for the suppression of serious crime and for co-operating with the Services or the corresponding services of other countries.
  • develop strategic intelligence and make recommendations to Government on the formation of policies in relation to serious crime.
  • prepare crime prevention strategies
  • disseminate information and intelligence to the Services;
  • provide intelligence and analytical support for the appropriate operational and intelligence arms of the Services;
  • assist in identifying sophisticated criminal activity and those who engage in it;
  • help the law enforcement effort by identifying links between individuals and organisations involved in serious crime;
  • provide strategic intelligence
  • identify new trends in, and patterns of criminal activity;
  •  provide a nucleus of specialist intelligence personnel
  • establish channels of communication with the Services and the corresponding Services of other countries.


The receipt by the National Security Council of certain information from the Special Branch of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service warranted an immediate intervention and the installation of new leadership at the SSA.


Since March 4, 2024, an extensive internal review and audit of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) has been ongoing.


Between March 4 and April 21, 2024, Planning and Preliminary Review activities were completed by the Acting SSA Director, Brigadier General (Ret’d.) Anthony W J Phillips-Spencer, who was appointed on March 2, 2024.


These activities focused on the SSA’s:

  • leadership and management;
  • Its independent intelligence operations, inter-agency operations and international cooperation activities; and
  • Its human resource management, and the financial and accounting management policies and practices.


Notwithstanding the ongoing audit, the core business of the SSA remained uninterrupted.


After the initial public disclosure of these developments the primary objective is now to retool the agency and regain the public trust and the confidence of all stakeholders, both national and international.


The audit continues to be guided by the strategic pillars of Professional Stewardship, Institutional Integrity and Organizational Governance.


The Audit has so far found that what was happening at the SSA rendered the entity:


  1. increasingly incapable of securing public trust.


  1. It was discovered that the SSA had adopted an unapproved organizational design/structure and staffing, without the required authority of a decision, either by the Cabinet, the National Security Council or the Minister of National Security. For example, the SSA established and operated, a highly trained and militarised so-called “Tactical Response Unit” for operational purposes. As part of the audit review this unit was examined and abolished in March 2024.  Its operations prior to March 2024 is under review by SSA and the TTPS.


Why would an intelligence-gathering organization, with a mandate to collect and share information with operational units in other law enforcement and defence agencies, find it necessary, to secretly have an operational unit of that nature and magnitude?


For what purpose was such a Unit established, in an intelligence-gathering agency? What was their role? What did they actually do? These questions are still to be fully understood and answered and form the subject of police investigation. In the meantime The National Security Council views this development with great concern.


Madam Speaker, in March 2024, twenty-eight (28) employees were terminated; either for violations of the SSA Act and Regulations, or for anomalous recruitment or faulty promotion processes and practices.


  1. The audit also found disturbing practices of nepotism and opportunism. For example, several family members and associates of particular persons; and of a particular church, were found to have been surreptitiously employed in this agency. Such persons belonged to a cult which was arming itself while preaching a doctrine for trained military and paramilitary personnel with a religious calling to be the most suitable to replace the country’s political leadership. They were exerting high levels of influence on the affairs of the agency to the detriment of National Security. Many of these persons were never polygraphed or otherwise screened or integrity-tested, this being an absolute essential given the nature and mandate of the agency. The audit currently includes a preliminary review of the Polygraph Policy, published in April 2022.


  1. Instances of dishonesty and deep deception have also been discovered. For example, the composition of a Strategic Services Agency’s delegation, was authorised to travel abroad on official business, after which, a non-employee of the agency was inexplicably inserted into the delegation, in the place of an employee who was approved for the delegation.



  1. The audit found that there existed a clear need for improved management of the Controlled Equipment and Supplies Inventory (CESIM), to accommodate and treat with the increased stock of firearms and ammunition, now possessed by the SSA, as well as for security-related ICT and other technical equipment and supplies.


Madam Speaker, in 2017, the Agency purchased eight thousand (8,000) rounds of 9-millimetre (mm) ammunition, but by 2022, the amount purchased during that year was one hundred thousand (100,000) rounds!


While arming itself the Agency did not disaggregate ammunition held for operational use, from ammunition stored for the purpose of training, in accordance with international best practices. Similarly, whereas in 2016, the SSA held a mere twenty-four (24) firearms, consisting of pistols or revolvers, since 2021, the number of firearms held by the SSA, increased to one hundred and three (103), of different types and calibre, including military grade.


9 mm Ammunition Purchases: 2017- 2022

Year Quantity (Rounds)
2017 8,000
2018 7,500
2019 Nil
2020 16,000
2021 52,000
2022 100,000


Why would an intelligence-gathering agency need one hundred and three (103) firearms of different types, and calibre; and why would the agency in 2022, need one hundred thousand (100,000) rounds of ammunition?


But that is not all Madam Speaker. Shockingly, the audit discovered that the former Director of the SSA, initiated the procurement of high-grade military bolt-action rifles, complete with the most modern silencers and other accessories; and the SSA was engaged in training specially selected questionably hired personnel in the skill of the use of such weapons.  This Madam Speaker, BEFORE, the amendment to the Act in November of 2023.


It was only on the 1st of November 2023, upon the request from the then Director, SSA, for the agency to bear arms in certain restricted circumstances and persuasive reasons offered, that Cabinet approved and Parliament authorised SSA staffers, to keep and carry concealable pistols, whether on duty or not.  This matter, Madam Speaker, is gaining the attention of the Police as we speak!


One aspect of the audit, has so far revealed that the use/whereabouts of seventy thousand (70,000) rounds of ammunition, purchased by the SSA, remains unrecorded and unaccounted for.  This matter too, remains the subject of continuing audit and police investigation, while corrective action, in respect, of the management of arms and ammunition inventory has, been taken.


The corrective actions include a review of the Firearms and Ammunition Policy published in April 2022 as well as the procurement and use of vehicles, firearms and ammunition inventory checks, at all SSA locations.


Prior to that legal November 2023 authorisation, the National Security Council of the Government was not aware that the SSA possessed those levels of arms and ammunition or that the SSA was actively engaged in extensive weapons training, procuring and consuming large volumes of ammunition. There was never a budget in the SSA to purchase military grade weapons nor was the NSC ever informed of any such activities or that such capabilities were being developed within the SSA. This did not prevent the SSA from making part payment for military grade weapons with suppression capabilities.


Madam Speaker, as indicated earlier, several police investigations are ongoing.  Among the firearms and ammunition coming into the possession of the Strategic Services Agency in the period under review, several of them were issued from the Trinidad and Tobago Police Armoury to the Special Operations Response Team (SORT).  The necessary record keeping and statements of issue are quite muddled or in some instances even non-existent.


These firearms were chronicled in the Special Operations Response Team’s (SORT) Firearm register.


This Special Operations Response Team (SORT) has since been disbanded. It was disbanded because it became entangled in allegations of serious human rights abuses and exposed the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to United States sanctions flowing from the assumed violation of the United States, Leahy Act. This Madam Speaker involved the killings where it was said by a Commissioner of Police, and subordinates that persons in police custody actually died when they “fell off a chair”. Only recently this sick joke was repeated by a former Commissioner of Police who used the said explanation to assure the public that the unfortunates who fell off the chair “could never rape anybody again.”


The upshot, Madam Speaker, is that arms and ammunition belonging to the TTPS were transferred to the SSA without authority, ostensibly for official use, by the Guard Unit of the SSA, located at Camp Cumuto, a Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force facility, where the Strategic Services Agency also have a presence.


That issuance, was in clear breach of the Firearms Act of Trinidad and Tobago, resulting in police personnel being charged for certain criminal offenses in relation to it.


In addition, a former employee of the SSA, who was party to that transaction was also charged in relation to it.


Police investigations have since revealed that the “Guard Unit” at the SSA, never received the firearms and ammunition, as was declared to be the case, in the relevant documents.


An audit conducted in respect of firearms and ammunition, issued to the SSA, did not reveal the presence of those firearms and ammunition.


However, Madam Speaker, on the 5th of March, 2024, a self-described “spy”, who was also appointed a Special Reserve Police Officer, by the then Commissioner of Police, appeared at the Cumuto Barracks and voluntarily handed over a cache of firearms and ammunition, to a member of the National Operations Task Force, located at the same camp. Subsequent investigations confirmed that these weapons came from the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service by way of transfer to the SSA before it was authorised to have any such weapons.


These firearms were submitted to the relevant national security agency for analysis; and were confirmed to be automatic weapons. Arising out of these related matters, the Police personnel and former SSA employees were all arrested and charged for several criminal offenses. It is still to be determined where these weapons were stashed, whether they were ever fired and if so, in what operations, for what purpose and under whose authority and direct control.


Madam Speaker, the matters relating to the two bolt-action sniper rifles, of which I spoke earlier, is indeed under further police investigation.


Several members of the SSA and former members are the subject of continued investigations by the TTPS, in respect of certain motor vehicles, currently and previously assigned to the SSA.


Madam Speaker without saying much more, suffice it to say that there is much more investigative work to be done as the requisite policing agencies continue to follow the evidence. Efforts are well underway to rebuild the SSA to ensure that its core mandate is discharged and that it operates within the law in the hands of people who respect their role and appreciate their training thereby making the rejuvenated SSA, stronger, more professional and even more fit for purpose.



Issue 2: Firearms


Another matter I propose to address today, Madam Speaker, is that of the serious concerns surrounding the Firearm Licensing regime in Trinidad and Tobago. Madam Speaker, you will recall that there was and remains, tremendous misgivings, outrage and concerns expressed in the national community, regarding allegations of rampant corruption and malpractices, relating to the issuance of Firearms Users Licenses (FUL); variations and Firearm Import Permits in Trinidad and Tobago. You will recall that when this matter came to the attention of the National Security Council, we initiated two investigations.


The first by a Retired Assistant Commissioner of Police Arthur Barrington and Retired Chief of Defense Staff, Rear Admiral Hayden Pritchard; and the other (The Craig Report July 2022) which was carried out by a team of four (4) retired Senior police officers, supported by four (4) serving police officers, assigned to that investigation by the then Commissioner of Police, Mr. Mc Donald Jacob.


Madam Speaker, a third enquiry was conducted by Retired Justice of Appeal, Stanley John, who was so appointed by the Police Service Commission. The outpourings of these three reports, further highlighted the need for a comprehensive review of the firearms licensing regime in Trinidad and Tobago.


It was my stated intention to lay the Craig Report (Retired Police Officers, supported by serving police officers,) in the Parliament, for the attention of and greater interrogation by the relevant Committee. It should be noted that the Hon. Attorney General had offered this report to the Commissioner for his response.


The moment I announced my intention, the former Commissioner of Police, Gary Griffith, took the matter to the court, asking the court to stop the Government from laying the Craig report in the Parliament, for the attention of the Parliament; and for public knowledge and scrutiny.


Like Retired Justice of Appeal, Stanley John, I considered that the contents of his report raised, not only troubling allegations about extreme corruption, but also serious matters of national security.


The court injuncted the Audit Report (Craig Report) blocking the Government from making that report available to the public, through its Parliament; and among other things, ordered that the contents of that report be investigated by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, and only thereafter, could the report be made public. Interestingly Madam Speaker, it was the judge who having seen the report stated that no Prime Minister seeing such a report could have failed to act for to do so would have been a dereliction of duty on the part of the Prime Minister. However, the court process is still underway on that report.


Madam Speaker, that apart, the Barrington/Pritchard report, found that some firearms dealers had direct contact with; and free, unfettered access to the TTPS’ Firearms Users License (FUL) Section and process, in relation to the status of their client’s multitude of applications.


It found that several members of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, were involved in the lucrative business side of the acquisition and training of civilians; and this introduced several risks, including the manipulation of the process for personal gain, as well as serious matters of conflict of interest.


Some citizens confirmed paying firearm’s dealers for services in the award of Firearms User’s Licences (FULs).


Madam Speaker, the Barrington/ Pritchard team found that as a practice, certain members of the TTPS and some firearms dealers, were charging large sums of money for successful applications for FULs. Several persons interviewed, confirmed this.


The current Police Commissioner ( Earla Harewood-Christopher) initiated an investigation of the Firearms Licencing regime for the period 2016 to 2021. This investigation was conducted by reviewing large numbers of firearms users’ files, and listed firearms dealers, together with major books and registers at the Firearms Section. As well as interviews with several individuals.


Currently there are 20 police officers before the courts for Firearm Related offences.


In respect of FULs, certain anomalies were observed. Among them were:


  • Approximately 7,000 licenses were issued, given the relatively short period, August 2018 to September 2021. In that short period, he would have granted more FULs than several Police Commissioners, combined over the years.
  • Some applications for the grant of provisional permits, which is a precursor document to the FUL, were not properly or entirely completed.
  • Several applications for provisional permits were unsigned by the applicants, and yet they were approved.
  • Licensed firearm dealers were dropping several incomplete applications to the Firearms Section on behalf of their clients. Evidence was seen where files in which Divisional Heads did not recommend the grant of an FUL, yet they were approved.
  • Several FULs which were approved were without the requisite Certificate of Character, a required document.


This resulted in persons who would ordinarily be refused, being granted FULs.


 Other Real Examples;

The General Manager of a store was charged for possession of drugs in 2012 and granted an FUL in 2021.


Another applicant who was similarly charged was granted an FUL in 2021. The audit revealed that he had a series of offenses committed before obtaining his FUL. In 2011, he committed the offense of issuing threats. In 2013, failing a breath sample. In 2016, issuing threats to kill. On the 11th of September 2022, he made threats to his ex-girlfriend and the police had to intervene and investigate. This investigation led to the seizure of his firearm.


There was yet another case, where at the time of the issuance of the firearm to this applicant, he had not yet attained the stipulated age of 25 which is a basic pre-requisite of the law. He was subsequently charged with four (4) counts of providing false documents.


Many persons who had to answer allegations involving domestic violence were granted FULs and variations. Some were even on a charge of rape.


One such example is a businessman, who attained an FUL in 2002. In 2020, he was a suspect in reports of a threat to kill. Yet in 2021, he acquired variations and attained one (1) Carbine, one (1) Banshee, one (1) 5.56 Rifle, one (1) Shotgun and one (1) Pistol.


This police audit found that historically Commissioners of Police, exercised a huge level of care and restraint, in granting variations that enabled the holder of the FUL to purchase several firearms at the same time.  This policy was dramatically changed.


In fact, Madam Speaker, during the period under review, one thousand, eight hundred and fifty-five (1,855) variations were granted and the following observations were made there:


  • In Trinidad and Tobago, there are some three hundred and ninety-eight (398) persons with three or more variations to their FUL.
  • Six hundred and twenty-five (625) persons with variations for Rifles and Sub-machine guns.
  • Several applications were seen, in which the application forms were not signed nor dated.
  • Forms were also missing from files, as well as other pertinent information.
  • Persons were granted variations on the same day of their application, with obviously no investigation in relation to it.
  • Some persons who so applied were granted eight (8) variations on the same day.
  • Licenses were granted to people who purchased high-powered and sophisticated weapons. These weapons were converted to fully automatic weapons, that are prohibited under the Act. These weapons include FN Scar 7.62 Rifle, the IWI Tavor 5.56 Rifle, CZ Scorpion, CMMG Banshee, M&P 15-22 and the Carbine. Those are the types of weapons, that the then Commissioner of Police authorised for entry into this country, ostensibly for personal protection.
  • Some licensed dealers were granted approval to import large numbers of high capacity drum magazines with a capacity of 100 rounds of ammunition.
  • In some cases, entire families were granted variations. There are some families with twenty-five (25) weapons and in one particular case, thirty-three (33) weapons in the household. Additionally, the audit revealed that there are housewives who acquired variations for eight (8) and hold as much as ten (10) weapons.
  • Additionally, during the period August 2018 and September 2021, there was an enormous rise in the grant of import permits, to certain favoured firearm dealers, for the importation of firearms, ammunition, and firearm components/accessories on a regular basis. Of all the firearm dealers in Trinidad and Tobago, only fifteen (15) were heavily active and seemed to be favoured.


The total amount of permits granted for the period 2016 – 2021 were seven hundred and thirty-nine (739); whereas the total granted from 18/08/2018 – 06/09/2021 is Five Hundred and Seventy-Four (574).


By way of another example, Madam Speaker, a Firearm Import Permit was issued to the owner of a company in Port of Spain, who was granted permission to import fifteen thousand (15,000) rounds of training ammunition, “on behalf of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.”  Investigations later revealed that this person is not a Licenced Firearm Dealer. One can only conclude that the police either do not know or pretends not to know who the firearm dealers are in this country.


The audit discovered that loose sheets of paper were often used to list the quantities of firearms, ammunition and components/accessories requested for importation and not the prescribed forms established under the law.


Large amounts of firearms, ammunition and components/accessories were approved for importation during the 2018-2021period.  The actual amounts could not be quantified since some Firearms Dealers were not submitting their returns to the Commissioner of Police, as required by Section 26 and Regulation 10 of the Firearms Act 16:01.


The enquiries also revealed further anomalies. By way of example, upon an inspection of the stocks and registers of one (1) dealer under Section 26 of the Act the dealer indicated that he was not in possession of registers for three (3) years and that his books had been stolen by a former employee. However, no report of this “theft” has ever been reported to the TTPS.


In addition, some dealers have not been able to produce copies of firearms import permits previously granted to them and used to import firearms and ammunition into the country.


There have also been instances of dealers importing firearms and ammunition in their personal name and in their business name which makes the tracking of imports extremely difficult. Some dealers have also merged their imports and stocks with those of rifle associations of which they are members adding to the difficulty in accounting for firearms and ammunition in the country. Even more worrisome is that the Customs records in so far as they are available provide little comfort in computing and collating the firearms and ammunition trade. Customs is the place where records of all imports are expected to be available and accessible, sadly this has not been found to be the case.


In one case, an individual received a Dealer’s Licence in 2020 and then proceeded to import eleven thousand, eight hundred and ten (11,810) firearms; one million and ninety thousand (1,090,000) rounds of ammunition and three hundred and thirty thousand (330,000) component parts/accessories. It should be noted, that prior to obtaining the license, he was arrested and charged after being held with cocaine, at an International Airport, after disembarking from a flight from Trinidad and Tobago.


Another example, Madam Speaker, a serving Police Officer, owner of a security firm, obtained his dealers license in 2020. He was granted twenty-one (21) Firearms Import Permits for the importation of some twenty-one thousand, five hundred and thirty-three (21,533) firearms; twenty-three million, fifteen thousand (23,015,000) rounds of ammunition; and one thousand, six hundred and forty-eight (1,648) component parts/accessories. Two other dealers, one his spouse was granted licenses to import in excess of ten million (10,000,000) rounds of assorted ammunition.


In another case, another dealer was granted permission to import nine million (9,000,000) rounds of assorted ammunition, during the same period. The excessive amounts of firearms, ammunition and components/accessories that was approved for importation into Trinidad and Tobago begs the question whether the market of LEGAL FIREARM OWNERS in Trinidad and Tobago was robust enough to support that level of arms and ammunition.


In another case, another dealer was granted approval to import twenty-two thousand, six hundred and ten firearms (22,610), ten million, four hundred and seventy-seven thousand, five hundred rounds of ammunition (10,477,500) and twenty-six thousand, nine hundred (26,900) component parts/ accessories. Investigations revealed that there is no file legitimizing her role as a firearms dealer at the Firearms Section. The only documentation available is a letter from her husband, to the then Commissioner of Police requesting that his name be removed as an import dealer and replaced by hers.


Although he had surrendered his import licence, he subsequently applied to import firearms, ammunition and components/accessories and was shockingly granted further approval.


Dealers were granted approval to also import large amounts of component parts/accessories. One dealer was granted permission to import the largest amount three hundred and thirty thousand (330,000) component part/ accessories. Several firearms could be assembled from these components and they also act as a hindrance for tracing such firearms as these firearms would not be on the IBIS database at the Forensic Centre.


Investigations conducted by the TTPS have also revealed that approximately 100 firearms possessed under FULs issued under the Act that is to say, licenses under which firearms are lawfully possessed were detected as involved in incidents of crime including murders, suicides and robberies which occurred during 2017-2021.

Additionally, intelligence received from our foreign partners indicate that 30 firearms which were brought into the country by licensed firearms dealers were found in the possession of persons who were not FUL holders and were used in crimes including murder.


There is no doubt that the international firearms trade and traffickers in this business consistently would try to use our many bays and beaches to bring firearms, ammunition and other illegal items into our country. This is a state of affairs at every border of every country and we have been plagued with this problem and have been expending considerable resources to ameliorate and hopefully eliminate this problem. However, that being said it is clear from what I have just told colleagues here in this House that we do not only have a problem of illegal entry, that is bad enough but we also have the legal entry of the various items contributing to our intractable situation.


We cannot now disagree that we have had and continue to have a very real problem with our ports of legal entry, our internal agencies and establishments and many of our guards who are supposed to guard us.


I want to give the population the assurance that the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and the National Security Council are as alarmed as you are, and considerable sustained effort is being expended to rectify this state of affairs and hold the relevant people accountable.


Madam Speaker, I thank you and my colleagues for your patience.