Dispute between T&T PM, President deepens

(Trinidad Guardian) Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is dismissing claims by President Anthony Carmona that he (Rowley) consented to National Security Minister Edmund Dillon meeting with him on September 5. He is also denying another claim by Carmona that he leaked a confidential document of the meeting to the media.

Carmona made the claims during a news conference at the Office of the President on Wednesday.

He said he had held a meeting with Dillon, the Chief of Defence Staff and the acting Commissioner of Police on September 5 to discuss national security matters. However, Carmona, who is Commander-in-Chief of the T&T Defence Force, said he had indicated to Rowley his intention to hold the meeting at least three times and had received the PM’s blessing.

But speaking at yesterday’s post-Cabinet news conference at his St Clair office yesterday, Rowley denied the claim.

“For the record, I was unaware of any such development (meeting),” he said, saying he felt he was duty-bound to the public to set the record straight.

The PM said he was in Tobago on September 5 when he received a call from Dillon at 9.30 am, adding Dillon told him he was requested to meet with the President.

“That was the first time I knew of any requirement or any intention of the President to speak with the Minister of National Security,” Rowley said.

He said he was “surprised” and “asked the minister what is this (meeting) about,” adding that Dillon indicated he “did not know and was not in a position to tell me anything other than the President had asked to see him.”

The PM said he thought the meeting might have been something personal and told Dillon to seek more information.

“I told him (go) and find out… I couldn’t have imagined it had anything to do with a full-fledged national security meeting chaired by the President. I thought it was a personal, private (thing)… the President has family, I assumed it was something along that line. That’s why I told him to go and find out. I don’t want that confused with granting ‘approval’ for any national security meeting.”

Dr Keith Rowley
Dr Keith Rowley

Rowley said Dillon then “left the country without communicating with me the next morning (on a scheduled trip) (and) he did not return to the country until the following Monday and I would have seen him the day after that.” He insisted there was no other contact with Dillon during that period.

Rowley said he subsequently saw in the newspapers “that there was a major national security meeting involving the Chief of Defence Staff, the Minister of National Security, the Commissioner of Police (acting) and this meeting was chaired by the President.”

The PM recalled being “alarmed and concerned” about the matter but maintained he “did nothing (and) I said nothing as the minister was out of the country.”

Rowley said he subsequently went to his office and found “considerable documentation relating to this meeting, (including) a 30-point document covering virtually every area of national security and a covering letter addressed to me and signed by His Excellency on this development.”

Displaying what he said was the document he received from Carmona, Rowley said: “It speaks of the very important consideration of consent required by the President for the provision of the secret meeting to be made available to me.”

He said Carmona’s letter contained “a phrase that had me very concerned and the phrase was that he had the consent of the attendees to tell me what happened at the meeting.”

The PM said he subsequently sought legal opinion on the line of communication involving the Minister, Prime Minister and President. According to Rowley, the Senior Counsel, who was Martin Daly, received all the documentation he had on the matter. Rowley said he was advised by Senior Counsel that “my concerns were well founded.”

Rowley said via the head of the public service, he transmitted his views on the matter to Carmona.

Leak not from me

On Carmona’s allegation that he leaked a confidential document on the meeting to the media, Rowley said: “I have done no such thing.”

Rowley said he was unaware of any publication about the contents of the documents sent by the President to him being leaked.

“Had the accompanying document been in the public domain, you (media) would have in your possession the 30-point issues dealt with in the three-hour meeting.

“I have not seen that in the public domain so I do not come to the conclusion that it is out there and therefore I deny that I have leaked any such document coming from His Excellency, the President.”

The PM said he deliberately did not give any comments to the media when questioned about “the carryings-on and the allegations being made about matters at the President’s household,” adding he “kept myself and my office away from those developments.”

Yesterday, he said based on what was told to him about the President’s news conference on Wednesday and from yesterday’s newspapers, he had to “advise the public on the facts of this situation as known to me and as supported by the documentation in my possession.”

He said he did not wish “to drag this matter on and does not wish to engage in any banter with the President. I simply want to put on record my knowledge on this matter and what the documentation contains.”

Rowley insisted: “If this document was sent to you, you would have seen that nowhere in the epistle that was sent to me from President’s House was there any reference of any prior approval for what was coming to me.”

Contacted for comment on the Prime Minister’s disclosures yesterday, communications manager at the Office of the President, Theron Boodan, said: “His Excellency did not see the post-Cabinet briefing. At the time he was at a function swearing in a judge to the Court of Appeal.”

Boodan said as soon as “the President sees what was said there should be a response.”

 

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