Opposition Senator Khadijah Ameen quoted calypsonian King Austin’s famous line, “Who will guard the guards?”, to argue the need for oversight on the Strategic Services Agency (SSA.)
In the Senate on Tuesday, she spoke in support of an opposition motion to annul Government’s exemption order whereby the SSA is excused from scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Ameen said the SSA director is not a public officer who is insulated from politics, but rather a “political creature” appointed by Cabinet.
Chiding earlier speaker Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Minister Clarence Rambharat for hitting the UNC on the appointment of clerk Reshmi Ramnarine as SSA head, she said, “I thought the Government would be anxious to put measures in place to ensure things like that don’t happen again.
“The population is fed up of the finger pointing and the blame game by this Government.”
Ameen said the exemption order undermines good governance, transparency and accountability, citizens rights to access information, and the Government’s duty to protect the public interest. She warned the SSA might be directly, improperly, by a future minister of national security
“This makes the SSA a susceptible organisation. It is even more important for measures of accountability to remain in place. The PNM is doing an injustice to remove this.” Ameen also said that taxpayers have the right to find out how their funds are being spent, by the likes of the SSA. Saying the SSA is overseen by the Minister of National Security, she quipped, “We’ll have to put someone there to guard him.”
Ameen urged the appointment of SSA head and deputy to be made by the President on advice from Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, so as to insulate these posts from political interference, promising that the Opposition remains ready to plug such legislative shortcomings. She said in the past have been cases where the Government rushed to pass exemption orders despite judge’s rulings to do otherwise.
Ameen asked if this Government has rushed to publish this exemption order to avert claims of someone poised to make an FOIA application over the SSA.
She said it is right for the SSA to be open to scrutiny on human resource issues, procurement methods, labour relations and Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) issues.