May 7, 2016
During this week’s post cabinet press conference government ministers sought to further hoodwink the population by not properly alerting them to lurking dangers to our fundamental rights and freedoms in the proposed SSA legislation.
Minister in the Office of the AG Stuart Young is reported in Newsday as saying “I think it is important when considering the proposed SSA Bill that the public is made aware that two parliamentary committees will have oversight”.
What Minister Young failed to tell us was that his political colleague Fitzgerald Hinds, a PNM minister sworn to Cabinet collective responsibility, is the chairman of the important Joint Select Committee on National Security”.
Earlier this year Professor Rick Stapenhurst of Canada’s Mc Gill university and an expert in role of parliaments in functioning democracies, advised TT parliamentarians that “party discipline” wreaks havoc on the independent functioning of parliamentary oversight committees especially when they are chaired by government ministers.
He advised that it was not best practice for Cabinet ministers to chair parliamentary oversight committees. It severely weakens their oversight functions. Yet Minister Young did not alert us fully to this weakness.
Minister Fitzgerald Hinds at the same post cabinet press conference said that in the UK their intelligence gathering agency reports directly to the Prime Minister of that country so we have nothing to worry about.
What he was either not aware of, or failed to disclose, was that in the UK, among other safeguards, there exists the “Investigatory Powers Tribunal” established in 2000 under the Regulation of Investigation Powers Act 2000.
Specifically, this Act provides a right of redress for any UK citizen to file a complaint “about any interference which they believe has been taken against them, their property or their communications”. This includes interception of communications, surveillance, and interference with property by public authorities.
Public authorities include UK Intelligence, military and law enforcement agencies, as well as a range of government departments, regulators and local authorities.
Clearly Minister Hinds is unaware of the range of oversight institutions in the UK which protect citizens when significant intelligence gathering powers are given to state bodies. These do not exist in Trinidad and Tobago.
He needs, in the interest of full disclosure, to tell us what are the protections, comparable to what exists in the UK, against threats to our privacy, interference with our communications, and our enshrined democratic freedoms, such as freedom of the press, in the proposed SSA legislation.
In the US for example, the National Security Act of 1947 requires the Director of the CIA and Heads of all Federal entities involved in intelligence gathering to keep the Congressional Intelligence Committee “fully and currently informed” of all intelligence activities including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.
There is no such equivalent oversight in the proposed legislation.
These newly minted Government ministers are either totally uninformed about global best practices regarding intelligence gathering, or appear to be deliberately not providing us with the whole picture when it comes to proportionate safeguards to protect us against their intended significant interference with our democratic rights and freedoms.
One wonders why, in the face of widespread and very valid concerns expressed by well meaning and right thinking citizens across the spectrum, this PNM administration seems hell bent on trampling on our God Given and Constitutionally protected rights and privileges.