A private motion filed by the Opposition to annul the Freedom of Information Exemption Order 2017 was defeated 16 to four in the House of Representatives on Friday night. The Order exempts the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
In his contribution, Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs Fitzgerald Hinds described the Opposition’s call to annul the bill as, “tremendous hypocrisy.” Hinds said contrary to the Opposition’s claims, this move protects the SSA from the people who will try to harm the people.
He asked the population to remember who it was that hired Reshmi Ramnarine, a woman with no experience on national security, as SSA Director. As chairman of the National Security Joint Select Committee (JSC), Hinds said the SSA has appeared before the JSC in public hearings.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said, “There is no merit in the annulment. It is good law. It was contemplated quite properly.” He said because of the work done by the SSA, people were arrested in relation to the murder of schoolboy Joshua Andrews, 14.
Al-Rawi said it was interesting that his predecessor Anand Ramlogan and others were before the court trying to obtain certain information from the SSA, after having no interest in that information for five years under the former People’s Partnership (PP) government.
National Security Minister Edmund Dillon said the Opposition was trying to make the public believe the SSA is, “a new creature”, when it existed under the PP’s tenure. As the country’s national intelligence agency, Dillon said, there must be a certain degree of secrecy which is important in gathering intelligence in the war against crime.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said, “I cannot see how exempting the SSA will lead to a greater control of crime.” She added the country’s murder rate is, “totally out of control.” She said the courts will determine which documents citizens have a right to access and which they do not.” Persad-Bissessar claimed the SSA spent $300 million which it cannot account for.
Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal quipped, “You can’t pass law because of Gerald Ramdeen and Anand Ramlogan.” Moonilal claimed the SSA is now a de facto police service controlled by politicians. “They could be in the House now. We don’t know who they are,” he said.
Naparima MP Rodney Charles, who filed the motion, did not give an opening contribution before moving that the motion be debated by the House. Charles only spoke at the end of the debate, warning of a creeping dictatorship. Opposition Whip David Lee seconded the motion, immediately after Charles moved it.
The House next sits on January 26 for Private Members Day. The Electoral College, which comprises members of the House and Senate, meets at Tower D, Port of Spain International Waterfront Centre on Friday to confirm the nomination of retired judge Paula Mae Weeks as the next President.