More controversy is brewing over the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) Amendment Bill which was passed in the Senate on Tuesday night.
This time it has nothing to do with the legislation, but about an Independent Senator who voted with the Government to ensure the Bill was passed with a simple majority.
At the centre of the new controversy is Justin Junkere, who was appointed a temporary Independent Senator in the absence of Independent Senator David Small, whom it was said was out of the country.
Junkere was appointed to the Senate by President Anthony Carmona. Together with Independent Senator Ian Roach, Junkere accepted an invitation from Attorney General Faris Al Rawi to attend a private meeting at the Parliament Building last Monday afternoon to hear from SSA experts and to assist them in understanding what the amended bill was all about.
Ironically, these two Independent Senators voted with the Government to pass the Bill. The other seven Independent Senators did not attend the private meeting and also voted against the Bill.
On Thursday, temporary UNC Senator Gerald Ramdeen hosted a news conference to reveal that since 2015, Junkere has been receiving briefs from the Attorney General’s Chambers.
Ramdeen said this was never disclosed to the Parliament, by either Al Rawi or Junkere. He said here was an Independent Senator, who received State briefs from the Attorney General, speaking in a debate which the AG piloted. He said Junkere should have disclosed that he was a recipient of State briefs, and therefore, it would have been unethical for him to participate in this debate.
In a response on television on Thursday night, Al Rawi said he was not aware that Junkere had received briefs from the AG’s office. However, when he checked, he found out that Junkere received a State brief from then Attorney General Garvin Nicholas in July 2015.
Al Wari said Ramdeen should be the last person to raise these matters as he also received State briefs.
When contacted by a television station on Thursday, Junkere said he did nothing wrong in receiving State briefs. He said he was not affiliated to any political party and he was there to serve Trinidad and Tobago.
He pointed out that the late Dana Seetahal SC also received State briefs while she sat on the Independent Benches.
Now that the SSA Bill has been passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, it will be sent to President Carmona for assent.
Despite objections from interest groups, the Chamber of the Commerce, the media, and concerned citizens, the AG pressed ahead with the legislation, ensuring it was passed in the Senate with the support of two Independent Senators.