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Sandy: Reshmi not up for job

Thursday, January 27, 2011

National Security Minister John Sandy yesterday said he had “now been advised” that short-lived Strategic Services Agency (SSA) head Reshmi Usha Ramnarine was not qualified for the job. Speaking with reporters at the Hyatt Regency yesterday, Sandy also distanced himself from the controversial appointment, saying he did not know who recommended Ramnarine for the post and he was not aware if she was interviewed. Sandy, as well as Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, yesterday described the issue with Ramnarine as “unfortunate.”

The 31-year-old Ramnarine, a junior SIA staffer, shot into the limelight last week following news of her appointment to head the top level security unit. Last Friday in Parliament, Sandy, in defending Ramnarine’s appointment, said the National Security Council met to consider a recommendation from the SSA’s deputy director that an appointment be made as director of the SSA. Sandy said the council deliberated on the matter and decided to accept the recommendation as presented.

He said the appointee (Ramnarine) had nine years experience in the organisation and was a UWI graduate.  Following continued Opposition fire, however, Ramnarine resigned.  Yesterday, reporters braced Sandy, Ramadhar and PP Minister Suruj Rambachan, during a break in a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) seminar, following a report they had supported Ramnarine for the post.

While Sandy and Ramadhar said the situation was unfortunate, Sandy’s junior in the National Security Ministry, Subhas Panday, said he did not think an error was made. Sandy was asked if he supported the recommendation. He said he was not at liberty to divulge those discussions which took place at National Security Council level. He said he had been advised Ramnarine was qualified for the post. He added: “That was why I made the statement (in Parliament). I’m advised now that she’s not qualified.” 

While Sandy had said she was a UWI graduate, he admitted yesterday he had not seen her qualifications.  Asked whether it was good practice to accept qualifications without seeing it for himself, Sandy said:  “Everyone is open to their considerations in that respect. I will rather not comment on it.” Asked if Ramnarine was interviewed for the post, Sandy replied: “Not by me. ” Asked if Ramnarine was interviewed, Sandy said he was not aware if she was. He said he did not know who recommended her, or did he know Ramnarine’s future with the SIA.

Asked if the situation was a misunderstanding, Sandy said he would describe it as “misinformation.” On last Friday’s mix-up when a statement from the President’s office had stated that acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith had appointed Ramnarine as “SIA” head, Sandy said the SSA was the legal entity and the SIA was not. Following the Ramnarine issue, Sandy said a suitable SSA replacement was being pursued. He could not say when that would be completed. “I hope it will be as soon as possible but under the circumstances you must recognise that there would be certain procedures that must take place with respect to that,” he added.

Referring further questions to the head of the National Security Council, the Prime Minister, Sandy said: ”It’s unfortunate it has erupted the way it had, I will not venture to say much more on it now.” He said he did not think anyone in the PP had lied.  Sandy was non-committal on PNM moves to place him before Parliament’s Privileges Committee for his statements on the issue. COP’s Prakash Ramadhar said he did not know Ramnarine. He said he understood she had an IT degree and was pursuing a psychology degree.

He said he would not have made any statement he would have believed to have been false. He also said he didn’t know who recommended her for the post. Of the situation, Ramadhar added: “It’s extremely unfortunate and I wish it never had occurred.” He added: “In life, things happen and we make mistakes and once we learn from them and attempt not to repeat them, that’s the important thing.” Ramadhar said he would like to see the situation as an opportunity for positive growth and that Government would be a bit more cautious “as we proceed.”

“Not just taking information on the face of it but to check and confirm before any public utterances are made,” he said. Ramadhar apologised to the nation if he had led anyone to believe information other than what he felt to be true. PP’s Rambachan, asked if he supported Ramnarine’s recommendations, said he “supported the position if my party is in Government.” He said he didn’t know who recommended Ramnarine. He said the situation was being reviewed and by Friday Government would be able to clarify if there “have been any problems.” Asked about its effect on Government’s image, Rambachan said: “The lady has resigned, if any damage was done, you should have been at Rienzi on Monday — it was like election night.” Junior National Security Minister Panday, toeing the Cabinet line, said the PNM was “just making confusion.”

“It’s hypocrisy and the press is peddling PNM’s hypocrisy,” Panday said. PP Leader of Government Business Dr Roodal Moonilal ducked questions, referring all to national security. On the effect of the Ramnarine “ruckus” on the PP’s image, Moonilal said a resignation had been tendered. “We’ll move on, we continue the journey,” he said. Responding to the latest developments in the controversy, Opposition Leader Keith Rowley asked if National Security Minister Sandy had offered his resignation after admitting that Ramnarine was not qualified for the SSA job and that Government had appointed her to head a security agency without confirming the basis of information on her.


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