Moonilal rubbishes JSC's border security agency proposal

Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal  - Photo courtesy Parliament
Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal - Photo courtesy Parliament

OPPOSITION MP for Oropouche East Dr Roodal Moonilal has slammed a proposal for a border protection and security agency (BPSA) recommended by a report from the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on National Security.

Speaking at a UNC media conference at the party's headquarters in Chaguanas on March 3, Moonilal, a member of the committee, described the proposal as an act of hypocrisy in the 11th hour before a general election.

The JSC's report on illegal firearms and gun violence, laid in Parliament on March 1, said the proposed BPSA would take over the border-protection and security functions of the existing Customs and Excise Division (CED) that would then be left to focus on taxation/revenue collection.

The report also said a severe staff shortage at the CED challenged its ability to effectively carry out its current mandate.

"Law enforcement/security function should be considered separate and apart from revenue collection," the report said.

The committee said the BPSA, once formed, should then appropriately fall within the purview of the Ministry of National Security (MNS).

"Placing this agency under the MNS's remit will ease the security burden misplaced on the CED's current form, whilst affording the CED a singular focus on the customs and excise function."

The Ministry of Finance is the CED's current line ministry.

On Sunday, Moonilal said a BPSA had already been proposed in 2015 by former national security minister Edmund Dillon and had not yet been implemented nine years later.

He began addressing the issue by referencing the upcoming visit of the US deputy assistant secretary for Security Agreements and Foreign Policy Advisors, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Linda Specht.

He questioned whether or not the Prime Minister would be in Trinidad and Tobago for the visit and spoke of Dr Rowley’s travels aboard.

Specht is expected to be in TT from March 4 - 6 and is expected to meet with government ministers for bilateral discussions on advancing the robust security co-operation between the US and TT.

A statement on the US Embassy’s website said Specht’s visit follows the” very successful visit of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to the United States last month.”

Specht is the lead negotiator for bilateral defence agreements that involve access, status protections, and burden sharing, it added.

Moonilal claimed the Opposition was told that US officials were “very concerned” with the police and “vetting TTPS officers who work and interface with the elite US security agencies.”

He said there were critical issues to be raised and wondered if National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds would be in the country for Specht's visit.

On the matter of the proposed BPSA, Moonilal said there was a reason why UNC members on that JSC refused, at times, to sign certain reports.

He said the report laid on Friday was one of them.

Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial is the other UNC member on the committee.

Moonilal said during the JSC, its members were told the topic of the agency was raised before and in the public domain.

While he said the Opposition was not necessarily objecting to a border security agency or authority, it required significant legislative change.

Such change would take time, he added.

Moonilal said Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar was on record suggesting the National Security Ministry be divided into different components. He said the new structure had to be worked in line with wider institutional change and that was a challenge.

He said, in principle, there might be some positive advantage with the BPSA and, clearly, TT was not in a good place with the existing agencies.

“But having said that, this will not happen. It was promised nine years ago.”

Moonilal also spoke of the five missing Cedros fishermen who have been missing since February 24.

Davanand Seepaul, 35; David Seepaul, 60; Shiva Seepersad, 20; Jeremiah Pasqual 18; and Braiyer Alexander Gonzales Ali, 21 are the missing people. On Sunday, relatives said they believed a body found by authorities off the coast of Venezuela might be one of the missing fishermen.

Moonlial said National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds knew nothing, said nothing and had done nothing in relation the the fishermen's plight.

In answer to a question in Parliament on Friday, Hinds said the Coast Guard and other agencies were still searching for the fishermen and denied claims that coast guard boats were not working.

Hinds sought to refute what he described as false reports that the men’s families contacted the Coast Guard’s Cedros Maritime Operations Co-ordinating Centre and were told interceptor vessels were not working.

Hinds then said that it was Cedros police who contacted the Coast Guard.

The men were fishing in an area well within Venezuelan waters, Hinds said.

On Sunday, Moonilal said the Coast Guard should appear before the JSC on National Security to account for its assets.

“How much are functional? How much are not functional?

"We believe there are critical problems in the Coast Guard as it relates to maintenance of the existing vessels and having the humane resources to actually manage those vessels and have them functioning at optimal capacity.”


"Moonilal rubbishes JSC’s border security agency proposal"

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