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Wire-tapping, the CJ and the EX-PM

Monday, December 6, 2010
Candid Comments

If it seems to you that the present and former Prime Ministers locked horns and the Chief Justice inadvertently attempted to get a foot in the door as a result of the recent revelations of wire-tapping by the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA), you’d probably be right.
The Chief Justice had instructed counsel to write the Commissioner of Police inquiring whether he was under surveillance by the SIA which “had the potential of compromising the confidential and delicate communications of the Chief Justice in the execution of his duties.”
The newspaper article did not inform nor has there been reported subsequently whether the commissioner responded.
However, for interested members of the public there are questions which need answers.
If the police are investigating a crime is it acceptable for the commissioner to reveal critical or active information which may prejudice a trial before that investigation is completed?
Is the Commissioner of Police subject to and required to be answering questions from the judiciary outside the hearing of a matter?
Is the same impartiality and confidence drawn to the commissioner’s attention regarding the administration of justice also required during the investigation of a crime?
Further, could not the question of apparent bias eventually be raised? The constitutional rights of a citizen does not apply to the office held by that citizen and is the same rights which apply to all citizens, whether it is the highest office or even someone suspected of a crime but not yet convicted.
The dilemma for secret services is that any breach of the law affects each citizen in exactly the same way. Information gained illegally cannot be used against the individual. In essence, under the law there are no exemptions. So that when the Chief Justice, although the question was put differently, is asking the Commissioner of Police whether the Chief Justice’s responsibilities were violated by the SIA, he could only have been doing so with respect to his rights as an ordinary citizen.
If the commissioner is an experienced senior policeman and we are so informed, then he would know not to divulge or reveal sensitive state information or throw the baby out with the bath water. Or that in police work high or low there are no sacred cows.
He would also know that throughout history it is those at the very top, Presidents etc, who have generally been charged with subversive activity.
But the real culprit seems to be the unfortunate reading of the names in Parliament. Probably intended to lay full blame on the former Prime Minister for the SIA’s sins.
This did not work as well as was hoped, since Mr Manning took the bait, attempted to reply and was put in his place by a Speaker whose record while in the Senate, by the way, was exactly what Mr Manning was attempting on this occasion.
Intelligence, counter-intelligence gathering, sting operations, covert and undercover operations, over-classifying of secrets, espionage and other elements of a spy network exist in almost every country today.
However, such organisations should not be allowed to undermine the civil rights of citizens. In particular in a country like T&T whose political culture is as sharply divided along racial lines and is based on fear, hatred and hovering insecurity.
Make no mistake, the SIA is nothing more and nothing less than a spy agency and notwithstanding new legislation it remains exactly that. Throughout the world, keeping a grip on government security information is getting less and less possible by the day. Note the damage done to the US Government by WikiLeaks.
Advertising all those names in Parliament in order to score points was not such a good idea.
It probably put some individuals who work for it at serious risk and crippled the usefulness of the SIA while allowing Mr Manning the opportunity to construct a narrative in response with not only a zero relationship to reality but to force a debate in an atmosphere in which there was some rather absurd commentary back and forth without end.
It is becoming clearer and clearer that the Partnership Government will very soon have to decide whether its intention is to secure and manage the State by sensible means and effective policies or instead at every opportunity to fall back on an ingrained, absolute and useless subconscious obsession with the alleged mistakes of a defeated Prime Minister.
There is an old saying that God takes care of babies and fools.


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