As SSA probe continues, PM speaks out: State agencies now one with criminals

Dr Keith Rowley
Dr Keith Rowley

THE Prime Minister says state agencies have become one with criminal elements even as he says government has been grappling with the state’s contribution to the crime problem in the last two weeks.

Speaking at a sod-turning ceremony for the new Caura Housing Development on Tuesday, Dr Rowley said, “For the last two weeks, we have been dealing with the state contribution to that (crime) problem, where state authorities in positions of trust have broken down and the calypso Who’s Going to Guard the Guard is now the most important question.”

Two weeks ago, the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) found itself under the spotlight when the PM announced the recall of Ambassador Brig Gen Anthony Phillips-Spencer from Washington, DC, to act as head of the SSA. Phillips-Spencer replaced Maj Roger Best who had been sent on administrative leave.

After a series of events that began on March 2, Rowley replaced Best, the local equivalent to the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the US, after the Cabinet was reportedly informed of an impending threat. On March 3, the PM, head of the National Security Council, announced that Best, based on the council’s recommendation to the Cabinet, was sent on immediate administrative leave paving the way for Phillips-Spencer’s appointment.

On March 9, police then raided the home of Pastor Ian Albert Ezekiel Brown, a special reserve police officer. Police also raided a site for an extension of Brown’s church in Caratal, Cumuto. After the scandal broke, the church’s website as well as its social media pages were deactivated. In an interview on Power 102FM on March 12, Brown, who claimed to be an undercover intelligence officer at the SSA, said he was fearful for his life after his “cover was blown.”

On Tuesday, speaking on the subject of crime, Rowley, in a fiery speech, said there were too many people in this country who knew who the killers and criminals were, but chose to turn a blind eye. His comments came after ten murders took place over the last weekend, five occurring at Harpe Place, Observatory Street, Port of Spain, during a mass shooting.

On Tuesday, the PM was half-way through his passionate speech when the venue went silent owing to a power outage, his security detail becoming visibly uneasy as HDC workers frantically tried to resolve the issue. Within a few minutes, Rowley was back behind the podium, warning families about harbouring criminals and calling their support unacceptable.

He said some members of the public only reacted when someone they knew was killed, only then being quick to call on the government and police to “do something.” “The thing you do after somebody is dead is to bury the dead,” Rowley said. He urged families and communities to speak up and help prevent the deaths of innocent people.

“If you know who these people are, for God's sake, tell the police! Say where they are and what weapons they have so something can be done.” Rowley said in the recent past, criminals only had access to handguns that could be easily concealed, but today, most of the guns that caused death were assault weapons. He said such firearms were far more difficult to hide.

“Some of the ammunition these criminals have comes from the State!” He said hard-working HDC workers and contractors contributing positively to helping build homes for the nation were greatly inconvenienced by the behaviour of some young and not-so-young people.

“They believe all they have to do is get a firearm and menace and kill people, and somehow this would provide them with wealth or the sustenance they need.”

Rowley acknowledged the challenges faced by the protective services, but said they were available to respond to and treat criminal elements once information was given. “Many of these people live in shared households. A person cannot be handling an assault weapon in your home and you do not know. “If you are a neighbour or relative that knows, you are part of the problem. You are providing them with the secrecy they need.”

Without giving specifics, the PM said there was a recent attempted robbery, and police were able to stop and arrest the people involved. When the vehicle was searched, officers found an assault weapon registered to the police that had gone missing seven years before.

“For seven years, that weapon was on the streets there, threatening the nation.”

He questioned how no one had reported it to the police, and said such was what was happening in the country, and that the problem had multiplied seven-fold.

He said the government would continue to build homes, hospitals, educate children, pay public debt, make pensions available, provide social services and fight crime. Rowley said it was not an easy task to fight crime as criminals continued to have an advantage. “The criminals decide when, what and how they are going to extract from us, but that is the only advantage they have.”

Rowley stressed criminals were able to strive in society because when the public saw something, they said nothing. He, however, acknowledged the public’s fear of reporting criminals to the police. “They have another advantage too – they end up in court through one door and leave through another because they are given bail to continue their criminal ways.”

He said houses were now at an additional cost to taxpayers because gunmen visited work sites and extorted contractors, causing contractors to charge an additional fee so they could pay the criminals. He said that meant citizens’ tax dollars were paying criminals.

Rowley said giving violent offenders bail and putting them back on the streets would cause witnesses to not come forward and help the police fight crime.

“If criminals are given bail, understand that when they come out, they are not going to be choir boys. They are going to kill witnesses. If you are a witness, you know what your portion is, even if the person is convicted.”

He said the judicial system would only survive if there were witnesses who were willing to help. “We need to confront all our problems at once, and it is not only the government who is required to do so, the government is a management agency and management is only effective if all of society plays a role.”


"As SSA probe continues, PM speaks out: State agencies now one with criminals"

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