Friday, April 19, 2024

Manning unaware of phone tapping


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Former prime minister Patrick Manning says he has no knowledge that the phones of President George Maxwell Richards had been illegally tapped by the Strategic Intelligence Agency (SIA) that the present government said had been illegally established.
“What phones might have been monitored by the SIA was not known to me,” Manning told a news conference, shortly after Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar told legislators that the SIA had illegally tapped the phones of prominent public figures including the President, members of the judiciary, politicians,  journalists and even sports personalities dating back to 2005.
The Prime Minister said that the Special Branch of the police indicated that the SIA was a virtual law unto itself that reported directly to the Minister of National Security and the Prime Minister.
Manning, who had been prevented from making a statement in the Parliament after the Prime Minister’s disclosure,  told reporters he never authorised “any agency to look into the private affairs of citizens” who had not come to its attention as a result of illegal activities.
“But the (security) agencies have every responsibility to … protect the security of the state,” he said, even while admitting that wiretapping was taking place.
But Manning, who called and lost the general election nearly three years ahead of the constitutional deadline,  said he never knew whose phones were being bugged and had never requested any state agencies to wire-tap the phone of anyone.
“The way the PNM (People’s National Movement) has operated in government, is that we start a programme and if the programme works well, you give it a legislative complexion.”
Manning said the SIA was “designed” under the PNM government, but was set up under the supervision of Basdeo Panday as head of the UNC (united National Congress) government between 1995-2000.
“They controlled the agency in its formative years and however the agency emerged it was largely the result of actions of the UNC when they were in government … and when Mrs Bissessar-Persad was an attorney general,” he said, adding that the agency “had to have been wire-tapping under the UNC”.
The former prime minister said that he had been taking careful notice of the actions of the People Partnership coalition government, which he said has been “systematically dismantling the institutions of the State that are involved in the anti-drug effort and removing from office key people in the anti-drug effort.
“At first I wondered if it was coincidental but it is becoming clearer and clearer to me. It makes sense when you take into account the amount of money that the UNC-led coalition was able to expend in the election campaign. From what sources did this money come? And if … and I am going to make the case in Parliament, much of it came from drug sources, then what you are seeing now is the ‘payback’ by the Government.
“The Government is taking this country down a road where the nacro-dealers will have a major hand in the conduct of state business,” he said, noting that the raid on the offices of the SIA by the police late last month was for government to find out what information the agency had on the drug dealers.
“What worries me is when the Prime Minister comes to Parliament and makes a statement of that nature and then takes action to curtail the activities of the security agencies, looking at one side of the story, completely ignoring the fact that the major issue facing Trinidad and Tobago is the drug trade,” Manning said.

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