Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has referred allegations of phone-tapping to the law enforcement authorities for investigation.
The allegations were made by Laventille East/Morvant MP Donna Cox, who on Monday claimed that her phone, the phones of Opposition members and some Government ministers were being tapped.
Speaking in the debate on the Defence Amendment Bill in the House of Representatives yesterday, the Prime Minister stated: "I have asked the Minister of National Security to get a copy of the Hansard contribution of the member (Cox) and give it to the authorities who are responsible for making sure that if there is some intercept taking place, that it is legal."
Persad-Bissessar said only three officers under the Act can give authorisation for the tapping of phones—the Commissioner of Police, the Chief of Defence Staff and the head of the Strategic Services Agency.
"Any other tapping would be illegal. So I would ask the minister to provide the Hansard to the three heads so they can investigate the allegation being made by the Member for Laventille East/Morvant."
However, most of the Prime Minister's contribution focused on providing justification for the Defence Amendment Bill, which seeks to give police powers to members of the Defence Force. The bill was passed last night.
Responding to criticisms that soldiers could not be held accountable in a court of law in the same way that police officers can be in the exercise of their functions, Persad-Bissessar, who was dressed in lawyer's garb, said soldiers were subject to military law.
But above and beyond that, she stressed, they were also subject to the Constitution, the civil law and the criminal law "right now as we speak. So should they act in a criminal manner, they would be charged by the DPP and (brought) before the courts. Should they abuse property and privileges and so on, they would be charged in the civil court, they can be sued. ... Furthermore, we put (into the legislation) the ordinary citizen's right to make a complaint to the Police Complaints Authority (PCA).
"So we have three checks there—ordinary law of the land—civil, criminal and constitutional—and the PCA."
The Prime Minister said the law did not propose to allow the soldiers to do every single thing a police officer was empowered to do.
"Think of a scenario, a police officer is with a soldier and goes to raid a house. The police officer goes to the front door, the soldier is waiting outside or is at the back. The police officer knocks and the criminal inside the house runs out. What can the soldier do? Stop him, search him, seize his gun? Right now under the law the soldier has no such powers. And those are the powers (stop, search, seize and detain) we intend to give. And it stops there."
She said after an arrest is made, the soldier ceases to have any additional police powers.
Noting that Government was being accused of subverting the Constitution, the Prime Minister said there had been a lot of distortion of facts and of the law in the discussion of this legislation.
She said the fact was that citizens were living in fear while Government spent $1 billion annually on the Defence Force and also expended large sums on the Police Service.
She said the fact also was that despite the establishment of SAUTT (Special Anti-Crime Unit) by the People's National Movement (PNM), crime continued to rise between 2003 and 2010. New strategies were required, she said.
The Prime Minister said the fact was also that police and soldiers were conducting joint exercises "as we speak".
She said in the 12 consecutive days since the latest round of joint-patrols began on March 4, there had not been a single murder in Laventille.
She said those who were "looking for ghosts behind every post", the "naysayers who cared about human rights but didn't care about the human rights of the law-abiding citizens" and of their fundamental right to life and liberty, could not give one example of a "horror story" as a result of soldiers exercising police powers in Trinidad and Tobago.