Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has rubbished claims by the Opposition United National Congress that the Government has been spying on citizens.
Speaking at a People’s National Movement political meeting at the Diego Martin South Community Centre last night, however, the Prime Minister admitted that software had been purchased for use by the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) but it was being used to monitor the activities of criminals and not law-abiding citizens.
During a political meeting on Monday night, Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar accused the Government of using the Israeli-developed Pegasus spyware to monitor a number of people, including journalists, members of the Judiciary, sitting members of the Parliament and even former Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
Last night, the Prime Minister hit back, saying Monday was not the first time Persad-Bissessar had accused the PNM of spying on her.
“All of a sudden, Trinidad and Tobago is North Korea…and why would she do that? This is not the first time, I want to remind Trinidad and Tobago, that was the Opposition, of it, there was a Prime Ministerial version of that. When she came into office in 2010, one of the first things she did was to destroy the security systems of this country by claiming she was being spied on,” Rowley said.
He said at that time, Persad-Bissessar fired 20 of the country’s best-trained intelligence officers, which eventually cost the taxpayers.
“The bottom line is it was all a lie,” he said.
He said Persad-Bisssessar’s claims were being accepted by the media without question, as he raised some questions of his own.
“Pray tell, what would the Government be spying on magistrates to find out?” he asked.
As he continued, Rowley said he wanted to explore what would have inspired Persad-Bissessar’s “fit of madness.”
He said as a Prime Minister, he has been informed of activities in the country that he, like other prime ministers before him, must take to his grave. He said many countries have legislation that requires this type of secrecy for state secrets.
“Because in a state, in protecting what is the state, you are required on an ongoing basis to be concerned about the security of the state. So you have machinery, personnel and equipment to equip the state, to know what is happening to the state, what is threatening the state to know what you can do,” he said.
He said with the advancements in technology, every bandit in the prison has contact with people on the outside.
“And today in this technological world, if the Government has bought equipment for the SSA to be able to know what the gang leaders and the criminals are doing in this country because they do it on the phone, the best tool for the criminals in this country, anywhere in the world for that matter, is that cellphone system, so Mrs Persad-Bissessar wants us to stay out of that.”
He said the Opposition did not support legislation brought to the Parliament to make it illegal for anyone to communicate with prisoners.
“I have to tell you that Mr (Fitzgerald) Hinds knows and I know that a significant number of murders in this country are hits called from inside the prison.”
The Prime Minister said Persad-Bissessar was also aware of that and questioned her reasons for releasing information on the Government’s use of Pegasus.
“So why does she come here and tell the country that if the SSA has the equipment to be able to be on the ball like every other country, in being able to have information to protect the State, why does she come and lie to the country and say it is the Government doing that to come and spy on everybody? What the hell are you doing that you don’t want the Government to know? If you are a legal, law-abiding citizen, you don’t have that kind of problem, only the criminals have that kind of concern,” he said.
The Prime Minister then spent some time detailing his Government’s achievements in their seventh year in office before returning to the Opposition leader’s accusations.
“I can tell you it’s nonsense because as chairman of the National Security Council, I want to tell you Trinidad and Tobago, that spying story is all rubbish,” the Prime Minister said.
$500m not returned during demonetization process
As he levelled his own accusations against UNC leader Persad-Bissessar for facilitating corrupt practices during her tenure as Prime Minister, PM Rowley revealed that in the 2020 demonetization of the $100 cotton bills, $500 million was not returned to the Central Bank.
“At the end of the demonetization, $500 million did not come back into the Central Bank. It means that you, the taxpayer, who was robbed in the beginning by the robbers, they had $500 million to give them if they came to exchange it but they couldn’t come to exchange it, so you profit,” he said.