PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Thursday February 27, 2013 – Pressure mounted on Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar Wednesday to dismiss her National Security Minister Austin “Jack” Warner over the existence of “an illegal Flying Squad” operating in Trinidad and Tobago.
Former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, in a radio broadcast, disputed statements by Prime Minister Persad Bissessar that she did not know of the existence of the squad questioning whether as chairman of the National Security Council (NSC) she wanted the country to believe that the “illegal Flying Squad” was operating without the knowledge of law enforcement authorities.
“Is she really telling us that as head of the Security Council she knew nothing about it,” Maharaj asked in his statement, adding “this is a blatant untruth”.
On her return from attending the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Inter-Sessional summit in Haiti last week, Prime Minister Bissessar said she had absolutely no knowledge of the existence of the squad within the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service adding the matter had also never been discussed at the NSC which she chairs.
Persad Bissessar said that there have been headlines “suggesting that some persons may have erroneously perceived a sanctioning of the infamous Flying Squad of the past.
“I have already directed the Minister of National Security to prepare a full report on this matter for the attention of the National Security Council and myself as Chairman of the Council.
“What I can categorically state at this time is this matter of any ‘New” Flying Squad was never discussed with me or brought to the National Security Council,” she said, adding “any such initiative as a revival or creation of any such police unit must be reviewed by the NSC and must be fully considered and endorsed by the Commissioner of Police who is himself a member of the Council”.
Opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley had called on her to shed light on whether or not her administration had given the backing to the establishment of the unit amid allegations by former Flying Squad member, retired police inspector Mervyn Cordner, that he had been approached by National Security Minister Austin “Jack” Warner to re-establish the unit.
Warner has consistently denied Cordner’s claim. The director of the National Security Operations Centre (NSOC) Garvin Heerah, whom Cordner claim was his contact person, is also distancing himself from the matter. Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams has also denied knowledge of the unit.
But speaking at a public meeting on Tuesday night, Rowley called on Prime Minister Persad Bissessar to dismiss Warner, warning of plans to mobilise public support to get “rid of him.
“It is a very worrying situation where the prime minister is afraid to fire the minister because the prime minister fears the minister will fire the prime minister,” Rowley said, adding that “when you cannot trust the words of the prime minister it is time to go to the polls and elect a government you can trust”.
Maharaj too felt that the coalition People’s Partnership government “needs to get a fresh mandate” since it has lost “the moral authority to government Trinidad and Tobago”.
The former attorney general said had Prime Minister Persad Bissessar truly wanted a report on the issue she could have received it “within hours” and not have to wait “days” given the fact that information about the squad had been in the public domain since July 2012.
“If the prime minister did not know about the illegal flying squad…she had the powers to get information within hours,” Maharaj said, adding, “the silence of the prime minister would lead any reasonable person to conclude that she did know”.
He said the statement by Prime Minister Persad Bissessar that she had ordered a report from Warner was nothing more “than to buy time and to come up with a public relations plan.
“This is a cover up..This is Kamlagate,” Maharaj said making reference to the “Watergate” incident in the United States that led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon.
Maharaj, who made it clear that he has no intention of seeking political power here, recalled that on assuming office in May 2010, the coalition government had gone about disbanding the Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (SAUTT) claiming its establishment by the then Patrick Manning government was illegal.
He said that the government since coming to office had been engaged in several controversial matters that had enraged the population and the existence of the “illegal Flying Squad” was the latest.
“There is anger and resentment by the population to tell the public the truth,” he said, adding “clearly she believes the public can be easily fooled”.
Both Rowley and Maharaj likened the Flying Squad to the dreaded Mongoose Gang in Grenada and the Tonton Macoute in Haiti and called on the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) and the Police Service Commission (PSC) to conduct independent investigations into the matter.
PSC director Gillian Lucky said that a probe had already started to determine whether there had been breaches of the police regulations. She said that her findings would be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard and did not dismiss suggestions that Prime Minister Persad Bissessar could also be quizzed.