So who is going to be the fall guy in this messy affair now that the Defence Force has had to apologize to former Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Ken Maharaj?
Is it the chairman of the Board of Inquiry appointed to investigate how the children of Attorney General Faris Al Rawi came to be in possession of high powered weapons at Camp Cumuto on October 31, 2015?
Is it the outgoing Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier Rodney Smart who signed a Freedom of Information letter to UNC attorney Wayne Sturge, saying that Maharaj had authorized the visit to Camp Cumuto of the AG and his children?
Who has really embarrassed the Defence Force who now has to apologize to one of their former commanders?
According to former Minister of National Security, Gary Griffith, this was an embarrassment to the Defence Force of which he was a member for years. Speaking on television on Friday morning, Griffith said this had never happened before and he wondered who was going to take the blame for this messy affair.
Griffith wondered whether there could be a possible conspiracy within the Defence Force in this entire matter.
What about Ken Maharaj himself, who said he was totally embarrassed by this matter?
He added, “It didn’t meet my expectations.”
The Defence Force wrote to Maharaj on Tuesday clearing him on the issue, after a letter signed by Smart named him in April as the person who authorized the range practice.
The Defence Force said a board of inquiry into the incident didn’t name Maharaj “nor did it state that you had any knowledge of the subject range practice and/or that you granted approval for the same to be conducted.”
It said the range practice was in fact authorized by “the military chain of command through the delegated authority of the Chief of Defence Staff and subject to the necessary protocols being put in place by way of administrative instruction.”
The Defence Force “sincerely apologised” for any inconvenience and/or embarrassment caused to Maharaj.
The letter, signed by TTDF’s Lt Colonel Sheldon Ramanan (acting director staff judge advocate).
The issue of the AG’s children possessing high-powered weapons was first raised in the 2016 Budget debate through Dr Roodal Moonilal. Sturge then wrote the army in March this year requesting answers on the issue based on the Freedom of Information Act.
An April reply signed by Smart stated that a board of inquiry on the matter indicated Al-Rawi’s children accompanied him to Camp Cumuto on October 31, 2015. This was to witness a tactical display to familiarise the AG with actions his security team may have to use in the event of an incident. Smart stated “it was established the former chief of defence staff, Major General Kenrick Maharaj, acting on his own volition, authorized the range practice.”
Replies to Sturge also cleared the AG of abusing his power in the matter. However, Maharaj subsequently denied he had authorized the practice, as he was not there, nor that he invited the AG to the base for any range firing activity in October 2015 or any other time. Maharaj also called out Smart on the erroneous contents of the TTDF response to Sturge and sought a retraction of its statements and an official public statement to undo the hurt caused to him and his family “in light of this painful, unfortunate but avoidable faux pas.”
In Defence Force’s response on Tuesday, it said it had considered the public interest requirements under (Section 35 ) of the Freedom of Information Act concerning Sturge’s request for disclosure of proceedings of the inquiry and “… it was determined that to place this in the public domain would severely jeopardise individual and organisational security and by extension, weaken the nation’s security.”
As such, the TTDF exempted the inquiry proceedings from the letter.
The letter added, “The said letter in response to Senator Sturge did not purport to be an extract from the Board of Inquiry. The record of proceedings of the Board of Inquiry did not name you Major General Kenrick Maharaj nor did it state that you had any knowledge of the subject range practice and /or that you granted approval for the same to be conducted.
“As you are no doubt aware the subject range practice and/or the granting of approval for same would normally be approved by the chain of command through the delegated authority of the Chief of Defence Staff and subject to the necessary protocols being put in place by way of an administrative instruction.
“As a consequence, there was no requirement for you (Major General Kenrick Maharaj) to attend the Board of Inquiry as a witness to give any testimony as you would not have been privy to the facts surrounding the subject inquiry.”
In blanking Maharaj’s request for a copy of the record of proceedings of the inquiry, the Defence Force stated this had been exempted from the FOI Act. It, however, advised Maharaj he has right of appeal to the Ombudsman and/or the right to seek judicial review in court on the matter.
In response to the letter, Maharaj added, “This doesn’t have enough to give me comfort. I’m not comfortable with what was written. It didn’t meet my expectations, as it didn’t address the real issue.
“I had also given TTDF six points of rebuttal in my letter to them on the army’s reported statements, but those points were not addressed by this either.
Maharaj insisted the issue over who authorized Al-Rawi’s children to hold the weapons remained.
UNC Senator Gerald Ramdeen issued a media release in light of the new information. The release stated:
It was under the hand of Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier General Rodney Smart that the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force stated in a letter dated the 5th April 2017 that:
“It was established that the former Chief of Defence Staff Major General Kenrick Maharaj acting on his own volition authorised the range practice,” whereby children of the Attorney General, Faris Al-Rawi came into possession of high-powered weapons belonging to the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force on the Cumuto Army Base”
In June of this year Major General Maharaj answered these allegations and stated:
“I did not authorise the range practice at Cumuto Barracks in October 2015 attended by the AG Al-Rawi and his family nor did I invite the AG to any military base to attend any range firing activity on 31 October 2015 or at any other time during my tour of duty as Chief of Defence Staff. I did not have any communications with the AG on this matter at any time.”
Today in an alarming turn of events the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force in answer to the request of the Report by Major General Maharaj stated,
“The record of the proceedings of the Board of Inquiry did not name you, Major General Kenrick Maharaj, nor did it state that you had any knowledge of the subject range practice and or that you granted approval for same to be conducted.”
Having regard to the contents of the letter of the 25th April 2017 the Trinidad and Tobago Defence force has now offered an empty ex post facto apology to Major General Maharaj saying:
“The Defence Force sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience and or embarrassment caused to you by the aforementioned”.
Who is it that gave the instructions through the chain of command for the range practice to be conducted?
“Why is it that the Trinidad and Tobago Defence force is determined to keep secret the answers to these questions and would make serious, damaging and untrue statements against a former Chief of Defence Staff in order to carry out their sinister agenda?
“Under the Defence Act the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force has the duty to protect Trinidad and Tobago.
“After the revelations today, we can now add the institution of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force to the Judiciary, the Integrity Commission and the Police Service as the institutions that have now been compromised under this Rowley-led government. “