Thursday, January 18, 2018

At the PM’s door

In national security operations smoke screens are deployed for distraction. For six days two “leaked” reports on the New Flying Squad Investigations Unit did not trouble the AG. Then for two weeks the Government was consumed by the reports it never saw, about a unit it denied existed. Without seeing the reports, the AG cries treason and subversion. But by focusing on only the leaks, the Government misses the unifying theme of this new flying squad. The original and current allegations name the head of the National Security Operations Centre as a key figure and if that is not a major national security issue, nothing is. It seems timing is everything, and the Government’s national security cries are smoke screens for the safe passage of more troubling allegations.

For now, the government and no one else benefits from the ongoing controversy into the leaked flying squad reports. During the April 8 sitting of the Senate, Senator Faris Al-Rawi disclosed his receipt earlier that day of copies of the two reports. His contribution to the Finance Bill 2014 ran for an hour. It covers 25 pages of Hansard, more than 8,000 words. This was a long Tuesday sitting that ended the next morning.

Al-Rawi’s contribution covered many controversial issues, with no objection. A few minutes and about 500 words were devoted to the two reports without objection from the Government. Nothing said was news. Three weeks later, Senator Al-Rawi has not been referred to Parliament’s Privileges Committee. So what is the problem?

Even the AG’s unrelated First Citizens disclosure at the post-Cabinet press conference on April 10, was more prejudicial than Al-Rawi’s comments, but no one has paid attention. At the press conference the AG did not just name Philip Rahaman as the subject of criminal investigations arising out of the First Citizens share purchase and sale transactions. He provided details he should not have disclosed at this early stage, having regard to the potential for undue harm to Rahaman without necessarily bringing benefit to the public. Those potentially prejudicial disclosures were made before the Commissioner of Police and DPP had sight of the PWC audit report, and while the SEC is conducting its own investigations. The Government does not see the possible prejudice, but objects to Al-Rawi’s non-prejudicial comments.

The AG’s late objections to Al-Rawi’s references are surprising for other reasons. During the Finance Bill’s committee stage in early hours of April 9, there was extensive interaction between Senator Al-Rawi and the AG with heavy input from Senators Howai and Balgobin. There was no sign of displeasure or disagreement and no reference to the two “leaked” reports. What provoked the AG six days later?

It must be the Sunday Express. On April 14, when the AG finally commented on the alleged flying squad reports, his fury was not only directed at Senator Al-Rawi and the infamous new flying squad but to the equally infamous Jamal Sambury decision of Master Patricia Sobion-Awai. Notably, the Sunday Express headline “Pretend Police” the day before was the only development between the Government’s silence on Senator Al-Rawi’s reference to the two reports and the AG’s charges of treason and subversion almost a week later.

The Sunday Express article by Anika Gumbs on the “leaked” reports placed the blame on Garvin Heerah, the current director of the National Security Operations Centre, and one report minimises the role of Jack Warner, minister of national security at the time. On the “leaks”, the AG used his “tantamount to treason and a subversion of the State” line, a surprising conclusion having regard to his knowledge of Al-Rawi’s reference to the reports almost a week before and the Government’s and his silence on the matter.

At the same time the Sunday Express continued to carry Denyse Renne’s reports on the Sambury case, a matter of heightened significance given unrelated Sunday Express disclosures on allegations contained in an August 2013 letter to the PM from former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell. The AG’s comments on Renne’s reports pointed, as he did in the case of Anika Gumbs’ article on the flying squad reports, to a media conspiracy: “There are agents in the media who execute personal vendettas and they use the privileged position of a journalist to persecute and target persons. And it is clear that the reporter in question in this matter is targeting someone as part of the execution of a personal vendetta”.

Now, these comments were made during the AG’s appearance on CNC3’s Morning Brew programme on April 14, the day after Renne’s and Gumbs’ Sunday Express reports appeared. His accusation that Renne was “targeting someone as part of the execution of a personal vendetta” struck an interesting coincidence. On social media, just as Renne’s reporting on Sambury went online late on April 12, the AG’s Morning Brew host Hema Ramkissoon posted about a personal vendetta in reporting and posted other comments regarding an unidentified media story. The evening before the AG’s Morning Brew appearance CNC3 also carried a three-minute news report from Ms Ramkissoon that pointed to “injustices” in the Sambury case.

Did Ms Ramkissoon’s “personal vendetta” social media post refer to Renne’s reporting on the Sambury decision? If it did, is it coincidental that Ramlogan and Ramkissoon took the same “personal vendetta” line days apart? What is this personal vendetta? Who is the target and why isn’t “the target” taking action? Since the AG points his finger at perceived media bias, it is also only fair that all interests perceived or real are fully disclosed for the public’s consideration and this “clear” personal vendetta be addressed. How did the AG and Ms Ramkissoon know about this personal vendetta? Are there any personal or other conflicts of interest not disclosed in Ms Ramkissoon’s reporting on the Sambury case and the AG’s oversight of the case?

These and other matters have landed at the PM’s door. Perhaps she will see them when the smoke screens clear.

• Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and a university lecturer