Charles, Hosein query extra $66m for Strategy Services Agency

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Naparima MP Rodney Charles during a press conference at the Office of the Opposition Leader in December 2021. Charles raised questions about funding for the Strategic Services Agency in Parliament on Friday. – FILE PHOTO/SUREASH CHOLAI

THE Opposition queried an extra allocation of $66 million for the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) as the Standing Finance Committee of the House of Representatives met on Friday. MPs met ahead of the House debating the Finance (Supplementation and Variation of Appropriation) (Financial Year 2022) Bill 2022 on Monday.

Naparima MP Rodney Charles complained of the bill allocating an extra $66 million to the SSA, whose total revised allocation now rose to $340 million.

He contrasted this sum with “almost zero” expenditure on young people, including paltry provisions to the Girl Guides and cadets, in favour of crime suppression by the SSA.

Hinds said an entire other ministry was dedicated to Youth Development, and cited the Ministry of Education.

He said the entire education budget from pre-school to tertiary education was directed to youth.

Hinds said $16 million of the $66 million allocation would fund payments owed to former members of the SAUTT from 2004-2011. He said $20 million would pay to upgrade equipment known as a Toledo platform, $10 million to upgrade a Piarco building, $7.6 million for a diplomatic programme, $6.8 million for a centralised intelligence delivery system, and $2.4 million to buy three generators.

Charles said Barbados spends $5 million on its cadets with one fifth of the population of TT which spends $4 million on cadets. He said the Opposition would support the extra allocation only if the Government could guarantee a drop in the murder rate. “Populist rubbish,” scoffed Hinds, until reigned in by the Speaker.

National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds during the launch of the operational centre at Barataria Police Station on April 14. Hinds gave a breakdown of the spending planned a $66 million allocation to the Strategic Services Agency in Parliament on Friday. – FILE PHOTO/JEFF K MAYERS

Charles queried $10.5 million to meet arrears to MTS for janitorial services, in the total revised provision.

Hinds said the payment was due to MTS. Charles said, “Is the minister not worried we are spending more on janitorial services than the training of cadets?” Hinds scoffed that this remark was empty.

He said in September 2021 the Prison Service recruited and trained 238 prison officers and 36 drivers, which these additional sums would fund. “As at April 20, 2022, there are 4,218 officers. Number of posts filled – 3,583 – and still some vacant posts, but recruitment is running apace and we had the last instalment of that – 238 – of that at the time I have stated.”

Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein said the SSA’s total allocation would now rise to $340 million. He asked how many CCTV cameras were functional. Hinds said the figures were the same as what he had said last time.

Hosein said not a CCTV camera had been fixed yet the Government now wanted an extra $66 million for the SSA.

Hosein asked if any of the funds would go to buy spyware. Hinds hit the question as foolish, causing an uproar among opposition MPs, and said he would treat it with silence.

Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee asked about a rise from $50,000 to $11 million for fuel and lubricants for the defence force. Hinds said it was for bulk-buying and to deal with a shortfall, to conduct the business of national security.

Lee asked if a fuel and lubricant shortage had stopped coast guard patrols.

Hinds said recent successes up to last Saturday had shown patrols had improved, to be better at protecting TT’s borders.

“Recently a young woman who was trafficked made her views and her condition public on radio here and she explained that when they were about to get them on to the vessel, they had to reschedule because the Coast Guard was operating in the area.

“The two vessels that we acquired recently have been very impactful on our border improvements for the protection of our people.”

Replying to a query by Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh, Hinds disclosed NIS deductions had not been made for staff in the Transit Police Unit who were treated as service providers, and the extra allocation would pay this.

“As a consequence of that non-payment we acquired a principal sum in debt to the tune of $2,639,532, a penalty of $2.5 million and interest.” Hinds said Cabinet had agreed to waive interest and penalty.

Hinds said, “The very inexplicable position of treating transit police officers and administrative staff as service providers, leading to this problem, was done between the years 2011 and 2015.”

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