Post Cabinet Press Briefing - May 27, 2016
May 27, 2016: The Prime Minister, Dr. the Honourable Keith Rowley, delivered remarks at the Post Cabinet Press Briefing today (Wednesday 25th May, 2016) at the Office of the Prime Minister, St. Clair, Port of Spain. Read his statement below.
"I thought, given the fact that tomorrow is a holiday and then Friday gets squeezed in between the weekend and another holiday on Monday, given all that has happened in the last week or so that I would come before you and clarify a few things for you and give you the opportunity to place a few questions to me if you do have one or so.
Let me begin by backing up a little bit to the developments of the last week by saying that the last week has been quite interesting from the standpoint that some very – I don’t want to say anticipated positives took place – but we did have some element of anticipation given that we were working since last September.
On becoming Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago on 9th September, soon after that, I had some long conversations with the President of Venezuela. During those conversations we undertook to focus on deepening the relationship between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago on the basis that we are very close neighbours.
And while we may not speak the same language - that ought not to be a barrier - we do have some interests which if we work together on those interests they can bring some significant benefit to both countries. So those discussions started last September and it was followed by a number of working sessions between the technical teams of Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago at the ministerial level and at the sub-ministerial level.
A very interesting development arose out of that and that is we have just signed a Memorandum of Understanding where Venezuela has agreed, and Trinidad and Tobago also agreed, to work together with respect to the urgent monetisation of gas fields which are not only on the border between Trinidad and Tobago but, in the case of the Dragon Fields, which are fields within Venezuela. Eastern Venezuela has a large province of hydrocarbons and there are proven gas fields north of the Bocas area which we call the Dragon Fields.
It is assumed that these fields have as much gas, and probably more, than the proven fields in Trinidad and Tobago at this time. And, hither to our discussions of recent months and the memorandum of this week, those fields were not in the discussion with respect to being produced for use in Trinidad and Tobago and onward to the international market.
So the main thing that came out of that meeting this week and the work we’ve done in the last few weeks is that we have taken a decision that we will create an entity that will set about to produce the gas from the proven fields.
There is an agreement that that gas will go to market by way of Trinidad and Tobago. Those fields are seventeen kilometres (17km) away from existing pipeline in Trinidad and if there is to be new pipeline, Trinidad and Tobago is prepared to by way of our National Gas Company, along with Venezuela, to ensure that pipeline is built. What that would do is ensure the longevity of the Pt Lisas Estate and downstream industries of a similar nature.
We have only just signed an agreement with Mitsubishi for the building of a new methanol plant in Trinidad to put more methanol into the market place. But, that agreement and willingness by Mitsubishi and Neal and Massy and NGC to invest in that plant had a bit of a cloud over it in that the question was, “Where will the gas come from?” In the next few weeks we should be spudding new wells in our deep water horizon. BHP Billiton is about to begin that drilling programme in the deep water. And, while we are very excited about the prospects of that deep water horizon, until the gas is found the drilling programme carries with it only an expectation. But we are very upbeat about what we are going to expecting from the BHP drilling programme.
So the expectation was that we in Trinidad and Tobago, we hope to expand our proven gas fields by way of the drilling programme that’s underway now or about to start in the next few weeks or so. But the Dragon Fields are proven gas fields and the fact that we have agreed to make that gas available to the infrastructure in Trinidad and Tobago, once we operationalise this decision and put in into practise, put it into action, then the downstream in Trinidad and Tobago would have moved from a period of uncertainty and gas curtailment to a period of satisfaction where there will be enough gas for a long time to satisfy the needs of the industries which are built in Trinidad and Tobago. What that does for us is to sustain what we have and even grow it in terms of a larger industrial complex. What it does for Venezuela is that it brings gas that is not now going to market place to be sold either as LNG or as raw material for downstream processing. So both Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela would benefit significantly from this development – and this is new.
Before that we were working on, spending all these years – I think it was fifteen (15) years – trying to come to an arrangement to produce the gas from the Loran-Manatee, Dorado, Manakin-Coquina fields which are small fields on the southern border. But those fields are largely tied in with oil companies that have a significant say in what happens or what doesn’t happen and those discussions seems to be going on forever and ever to the point where, it is the point of view in some quarters that there may be some component that has no interest in producing that gas. And, insofar as we are relying on that, we were kind of beginning to feel that maybe it’s not going to happen.
The Dragon field has more direct control because it falls to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the Government of Venezuela to deal with it because the resources are in the hands of the government and there is no real major third party in the middle to obstruct that development and that is why the decision between the Government of Venezuela and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago was so significant and would have already caught the attention of interested parties and it is not just the NGC and PDVSA who would be interested in this, there are other people in the hydrocarbon sector in Venezuela for whom a an outlet in Trinidad and Tobago brings a certain level of excitement and one of these interested areas was part of the discussions I had in London recently and it has now created an opening of great promise for us here.
So not withstanding all that you have carried in the coverage of that meeting, the main thing of that meeting is the potential for us to access those larger Dragon Fields of gas and if that happens then we in Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela would be onto a new phase, not only of cooperation but an economic prosperity. The other thing I want to mention is the national security issues. We have in recent times been seeing a lot of firearms on the streets of Trinidad and Tobago, automatic weapons and as Head of the National Security Council and speaking for the council, it is our view that much of those items are coming to us from South America and therefore, we have in the face of a crime wave which is not a abating in Trinidad, we have concerns about this unending supply of offensive weapons which are coming to us and the ease with which our porous Southern border can be penetrated by persons who are engaged in these activities.
We discussed this at length with the President of Venezuela, who was very understanding of it and Venezuela also has a similar kind of problem and in so far as there is some element of economic, social and political instability in Venezuela, the environment in which this kind of lawlessness on our southern border could be accelerated. It is matter of great concern to the National Security Council.
So important is it to us that we agreed to give this top priority where Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago have agreed to take immediate steps to tighten our borders in the southern area between Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela. To that end, the first meeting of the joint security coordinating committee is to take place on Saturday or is it Monday, but the cabinet today agreed so our Minister of National Security is leading a team to Venezuela in the coming weekend so that this work can begin and Venezuela has agreed to have the security agency cooperation to be heightened so that we could confront the possible activities of persons who are engaged in criminal conduct, whether it is drugs, arms or persons because they all impact on the level of crime and criminality in Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela. So we are hoping that these developments will put us in a better position to confront our security issues in so far as our contact with Venezuela and Columbia via Venezuela is concerned.
The other issue I want to raise is the issue of the SSA, which in my absence while I was abroad; a lot of statements were made, actions taken, with respect to an action of the government. I want to reiterate that one of the problems we having in Trinidad and Tobago is the ineffectiveness of the security services in responding to the criminal element and that ineffectiveness is largely the result of an absence of pertinent information.
If you don’t have the information, then your detection level would be low, those who commit offenses would do them with impunity and if you’re going to change that, it doesn’t matter who the Minister of National Security is or which government is in office, if the security agencies are starved for relevant and pertinent information, the security services would be leaping in the dark. So throughout the world, especially in areas where there are particular threats, of one kind or another, there is a requirement for the security agencies to inform themselves about criminal conduct and the intention of criminals. We set about to do that when we created the SSA, which is the agency in our country, through which our treaty obligations have been discharged.
We are required to put ourselves in a position to obtain information. The SSA was created to treat with the drugs and psychotropic substances and pica sire substances and so on because that was seemed to be an area that we had to focus on and the SSA came into being specifically to deal with that and when it was created by statute, it eventually was settled that it would be dealing with serious crimes and the serious crimes were listed to a very limited number of areas.
All that we have done with respect to the amendment that we have brought to the parliament is to broaden the number of items of criminality that fall under the heading of serious crime so as to allow the definition of serious crime to cover the things that are now of concern to us given the crime wave and the nature of the criminality we are confronting. I can’t for the life of me understand and I have not heard a single person, especially from the opposition saying why they justifiably have an objection to this crime or that crime or the other crime which is now being brought under the definition of serious crime, why we should not treat those elements of crime as serious and the reason is they know it serious and the definition covers what we accept as serious crimes but what they have done, they have confused the issue with spying and saying that oh privacy will be interfered with and this is going to happen and that is going to happen.
Well there are two separate things. The SSA is a separate piece of legislation, the interception of telecommunication is another piece of legislation and all the concerns which people have raised about what is going to happen and whose privacy going to be interfered with and so on and so on and so on, those issues have already been dealt with under the Interception of Telecommunications Act.
And interestingly enough, I was the leader of the opposition when for the first time we were legislating how the state agencies treat with penetrations of privacy by way of intercepting telecommunication. Before October of 2010, there was no law covering that activity, and if that activity was taking place, it was not taking place in the breach of any statute, but we said there had to be statute to control any misconduct or excesses on part of the state agencies. And that was the subject of debate in the parliament and I led the opposition in full support of the government of the day and that bill, the interception of communication, allows interception of telecommunication matters, was passed unanimously in the parliament. And in that law, concerns for privacy and concerns to control abuse and so on was taken care of by specifying in law that only 3 persons can authorise the interception of telecommunication.
Before that, anybody could have done it. But when that law was passed in 2010 authorising the interception of telecommunication; the Police Commissioner, the Head of the Defence Force and the Head of the SSA are the only 3 offices who could intercept telecommunication. Any other interception was deemed by law now to be illegal. That happened in 2010 with Opposition support and of course there were 2 kinds of interceptions: if interception was done without a warrant, the law requires that what information they gather had to be destroyed in a particular time frame. Destroyed, not kept for anybody’s record to hurt anybody. If on the other hand they had time and reason to get a warrant, which they had to get from a judge, then that evidence could be kept and held and used as evidence. All of this took place in 2010 with support of the PNM Opposition.
Now we have a crime wave in the country and the PNM is in government and we say we will broaden the number of serious crimes which these same 3 offices; Police Commissioner, Head of the Defence Force, Head of the SSA. These same 3 offices can now use the SSA reach to coordinate and continue to be the treaty executing agency of Trinidad and Tobago. Persons who are either ill-informed or persons who are obstructing or being obstructive or down right mischievous or worse, who would like us to remain without the necessary information to respond effectively to the criminal element, are now telling the country that there is a SSA Act that is somehow to be obstructed and somehow not to be allowed to come into force because the government is doing something wrong. I want to say something here today, there was an election in Trinidad and Tobago in September 7th.
A government was elected and that government has a mandate to bring about certain changes for the benefit of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. We go to the Parliament to make that amendment which is to give the security agencies a better vantage point to respond to the criminal element and we have Independent Senators who are free to be independent, but organising themselves as a political party in the parliament to obstruct the government’s progress. Well, the law is very clear, if the government gets 1 vote from the Independent, the law is well and duly passed.
Two members of the Independent voted with the government and we’re very happy for their support because it allows the government to pass into law a very valid piece of legislation and amendment which doesn’t create any new power for anybody to spy but simply to identify new actions of criminality to be designated as serious crime; to fall under the definition of serious crime. That’s all it does. And to allow the agency to train and to allow the agency to accept resources for the execution its duties. I don’t know that the average person in Trinidad and Tobago has a problem with that and therefore that bill was passed into the Parliament and is waiting the ascent of the President. In the meantime, we believe that that action would have contributed, once it is passed into law, it would contribute to the security services being less blind with respect to what is going on in and around us.
The Bill has been passed now for almost 2 weeks. We are expecting the Bill to be ascended and upon ascent, the proclamation will come and the security services will be in a better position to respond to the criminal element and we expect that this would happen. A matter of what happen to opposition members- with independent members- is not a matter that will distract this government, we will take bills to parliament, we will make our case and we will expect that the citizenry will either stand with us or will see us doing what they do not support. It is the duty of the government to ensure that the security of the state is maintained and that there is a sense of safety in the national community.
Everybody looks to the government to discharge those responsibilities, but it cannot be that you look to the government to discharge those responsibilities but the operational side of it is in the hands of others who want to appear as though they have no interest in ensuring that the country effectively carry out these responsibilities.
The government virtually has no control over the Commissioner of Police. As you know, the Commissioner of Police is an independent office. It is the police service that’s our frontline in dealing with the criminal element.
I’ll say no more for the moment but the government will remain responsible for the security of the state and the government will rely on the resources and the personnel who are made available to respond. And in so far as the government has gone to Parliament and has passed legislation with the requisite majority, we expect that such a majority will be respected at every level and that the government will not be impeded in its very urgent exercise in setting about to provide the citizenry with every possibility of being successful in bringing about safety and security in Trinidad and Tobago."