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SECURITY CONCERNS

Published: 
Sunday, October 16, 2016

Just two Wednesdays ago, a press conference was held at the Office of the Prime Minister at which the Chief of Defence Staff and the acting Commissioner of Police named two former officers of the Defence Force who were held with a variety of guns and ammunition and several false number plates following a shooting incident in New Grant. This was a most disconcerting announcement about men who had high-level military training and who were now back in society.

Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Rowley himself spoke about a betrayal by members of the Defence Force in a matter involving high-powered firearms and the minor children of a senior cabinet minister. Is there something in the protective services that the country needs to be concerned about?

On September 29, at the Office of the Prime Minister, a press briefing was held at which the Prime Minister revealed that he had received a 30-page document from President Carmona which summarised the discussion that was held in a meeting convened by the President that included the Minister of National Security, the Chief of Defence Staff, and the acting Commissioner of Police.

In that revelation, the Prime Minister highlighted the fact that all three had given their “consent” for the President to send a report to him about the meeting. The reality is that the Prime Minister felt that it was wrong for the President to have held such a meeting. However, by giving their “consent” to the President to write a report on the meeting, the other participants were all implicated in a meeting that the Prime Minister felt should never have been held.

Fast forward to last Tuesday, and Dr Roodal Moonilal revealed in the budget debate, under parliamentary privilege, some pictures of two minor children holding high-powered firearms allegedly taken somewhere in Trinidad. Dr Moonilal’s statement referred to the possibility of the minors being the children of a senior cabinet minister without calling names. One minister spoke about the possibility of photoshopping, while the Prime Minister and another minister stated for the record whose children they are and proceeded to launch a broadside attack on Dr Moonilal for raising the matter in Parliament. The Prime Minister spoke about a betrayal and a serious security breach by the security forces.

CNC3 television ran a story later that night in their 7 pm newscast that juxtaposed these minor children holding the high-powered firearms in the pictures that were circulated alongside another story with some other minor children in Maloney posing with firearms. 

The common denominator in these pictures shown on CNC3 was the issue of minor children holding firearms. The argument about standards of what should and should not be raised in Parliament ought not to arise because no names were called when the pictures were first put forward. The fact that the response from the Government side was to confirm the identity of the children and condemn the revelation of the pictures itself is what validated the identity of those involved.

If there was a national security initiative to sensitise senior government ministers and their families to the need for training in the use of high-powered firearms, then that ought to have been left within the confines of wherever that activity took place. As to why pictures had to be taken of the event is a completely different story. Who authorised the taking of pictures at a secure location?

How did those pictures end up in the hands of a member of the Opposition in advance of the budget debate when no opposition member could normally gain access to those pictures in the first place.

The Prime Minister is of the view that someone operating in a classified security environment chose to leak the pictures and he has pointed his finger directly at the Defence Force. Dr Moonilal has challenged the Prime Minister’s allegation by saying that the pictures had apparently been taken by another family member of the cabinet minister and posted on Facebook before being taken down shortly after their posting. Whichever it is, this is highly embarrassing to the minister whose minor children are seen holding the high-powered firearms. Whether it was a leak or whether it was just very poor judgment if it was a family member who took those pictures and posted them on Facebook is worrying. 

Whichever way we want to view this, it is apparent that the country must have cause for concern about national security given the collection of events that have taken place over the last couple of weeks on this front.

People who were discharged from the Defence Force being caught in alleged illegal activities must make one wonder about how military training is being used after discharge. A President who sends a report to the Prime Minister on a security meeting with the consent of the participants in the meeting cannot stand alone being accused of impropriety if the participants are implicated by their consent for a report of the meeting to be written. Minor children being exposed to firearms is a security concern whether in Maloney or wherever.

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