Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley made it clear yesterday that he did not attack the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) but he reserved the right to respond to the DPP’s public statement that the criminal justice system was heading for collapse.
At a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, the Prime Minister severely castigated the Opposition Leader for claiming he planned to fire the DPP.
“I can say without fear of contradiction that there is no attack on the DPP in Trinidad and Tobago by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago or by the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago,” the Prime Minister said.
“There is no action of the Government, no intention of the Government to interfere with the DPP’s work. So all those speculating that what you have seen (over the last two weeks) is something to do with the Government wanting to get rid of the DPP, we have no interest in that, except we want to know that the office of the DPP, the job is going on, the way it ought to go on,” he said, as he categorically denied the Opposition Leader’s claim of a plot or scheme to remove DPP Roger Gaspard, SC, from office. “All fabricated. Nonsense!” the Prime Minister said.
He did, however, address the issue of the office building on Park Street, Port of Spain, which was rented for occupation by the DPP more than three years ago for $600,000 a month, and on which $45 million has been spent, but which remains unoccupied because the DPP is not prepared to move in until the security recommendations of Special Branch are met.
The landlord, however, has taken a position that he wants no further modification to his building.
Said the Prime Minister: “We have to determine what we do with it. We have done everything that we could have done with it to make it usable (by the office of the DPP).
“The Government now has a decision to make. If the DPP does not go into the building...We spent millions outfitting the building, not just the rent...The (three-year) contract is up. The landlord could walk away and say ‘thank you for the millions, I’ll go and mind chickens in the building’; or because we have spent those millions to outfit it, do we have appropriate alternative use for the building and can the landlord and the Government come to an agreement on that.”
He asked: “Do you continue in a new lease arrangement with the landlord for another purpose to get the benefit of what we put into the building, or do you walk away and leave $45 million with the landlord, never having used the building?
“Before all this bacchanal came in the public domain, this was a matter of great concern to me,” Rowley said. “Unfortunately, it came to the public domain in the way it did, and you all think it is something between the Prime Minister and the DPP.”
He added that the whole issue of government rental had to be examined.
PM: Special Branch
does not create law
The Prime Minister said he had seen it said in some quarters that once the Special Branch says something, it is law.
“Special Branch doesn’t create the law or even common sense in this country. They make assessments and then they make recommendations...And the decision makers will respond to recommendations and make them as and when required, not to mention common sense and cost,” he said.
The Prime Minister said before he moved into the official PM’s residence, the Special Branch did a security assessment.
“And there was one recommendation that said the Prime Minister could not pass over here to come in...Persons come and they make a recommendation or they raise an issue that the Prime Minister is exposed—exposed to somebody who could go up by the Hilton and stay there as a sniper and shoot the Prime Minister when (the PM’s entourage) coming through this building, using the entrance. What do you do? Don’t use the building? That was not a feasible option? Build a tunnel to come in? That was not feasible, either? Build a bullet-proof shed to cover the whole road? That wasn’t feasible. “Of course I could use the other entrance and of course you would then have to cut down all the trees around that entrance, all the trees around Boy Scouts’ headquarters, and all trees in St Ann’s around because somebody could go up in the tree with a rifle and do the same thing. Now that is the context in which you have to take these things. And I am not saying that you don’t take security on board, I do that all the time. But there comes a point where you have to decide what is feasible, what is reasonable, and what is affordable. Those are the considerations,” the Prime Minister said.
PM: I had to respond
The Prime Minister said he had kept his distance from offices deemed to be independent because he knows if he is seen talking to the DPP in a restaurant “that would make news for a month”.
He said therefore he relies on his Attorney General to liaise with the DPP’s office.
But he defended his right to speak about the issue of the accommodation of the DPP’s office on the political platform, saying: “What I say and where I say it is my decision.”
He stated further that it was the DPP who stated that the criminal justice system was about to collapse and, as Prime Minister, he could not ignore such a statement made in the public domain.
The Prime Minister said one of the options available for addressing the shortfall of experienced attorneys at the DPP’s office was the engagement on contract of regional attorneys, or recently retired persons, especially for major matters which required quality representation in the courts.
“I have seen it said that the office needs 150 lawyers. If you advertised tomorrow for 150 lawyers for the DPP’s office to prosecute criminal matters, what you think you going to get?” he said.
He said the Cabinet discussed whether the time had come to maybe look outside of T&T to bring in lawyers (from the region and the Commonwealth) to come in on contract and support the DPP’s office. He said he instructed the Attorney General to take no action until he had spoken with the DPP.
“That was about a week or two before all this became public,” he said.
The Prime Minister chastised Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar for stating he wanted to move against the DPP because he was afraid of the DPP.
Rowley said as the Prime Minister he had nobody whose interest he had to protect that would cause him to be afraid of the DPP.
He also condemned the Opposition Leader’s attempt to bring the Office of the President into this controversy, with her (Opposition Leader’s) assertion that the Government chose Christine Kangaloo as President so that they could give a pardon to Vincent Nelson.
The Prime Minister said the Opposition Leader was not interested in “the early part” of Nelson’s claims about his criminal conduct in association with others, but was interested in the “later” claims about former AG Faris Al-Rawi.
“This Government has no fear of anything Nelson has to do,” he said.
He also rubbished Persad-Bissessar’s statement that the Piarco cases were a hoax and the result of PNM witch-hunting.
Recalling that he was one who raised a number of the issues in the Piarco project while he was a member of the opposition, as Prime Minister he now had to watch Persad-Bissessar “turn this matter on its head and say that the problem the country is facing is that it has a Prime Minister who wants to be a dictator and that she would not allow the country to become a dictatorship”.
The Prime Minister also took aim at his “good friend and colleague”, former prime minister Basdeo Panday who commented on the DPP issue at the President’s inauguration on Monday.
“So when Basdeo Panday comes out to have a few drinks with us—he must have had the drinks already—when he gets up and says ‘that the Director of Public Prosecutions is going to be crushed by this Government’. Absolute hogwash! Nonsense! And I will not stand here quietly and allow former prime ministers of the UNC who are responsible for this Piarco scandal to come and talk that nonsense in the public domain and have it go unchallenged. I will challenge it every time,” he said.
PM: I hope DPP is intelligent enough to ignore them
He said for those “who were part of the Government that was responsible for public money being handled in this way that it was” to accuse this Government of malicious and baseless prosecution of the people charged in connection with corruption in the Piarco project, was ludicrous.
“All these people, especially the local people, said to have been prosecuted by the PNM through these charges, where would these charges have passed to get to the criminal court? Wouldn’t it have had to go through the DPP’s office? So when you say the PNM has been prosecuting people who are before the court, aren’t you automatically saying that the DPP’s office, whoever is DPP and all the staff in the DPP’s office, were doing the PNM bidding to bring charges against people, where there was no evidence to charge them? Isn’t that what you are saying?... That is what Persad-Bissessar was telling the world,” he said.
“I hope that the DPP is sufficiently intelligent to let all that nonsense bounce off his ears and ignore the supporters of criminal conduct in this country,” the Prime Minister said.