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Case of the silence of the lambs?

About two years ago, it came to light in Trinidad and Tobago that without judicial authority, a state policing authority, the Security Intelligence Agency, had engaged in 267 instances of illegal wiretapping between December 17, 2010, and December 31, 2011.

It was pointed out that among the people whose privacy had been intruded upon were Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Minister of Transport and Works Austin “Jack” Warner.

Ms Persad-Bissessar, in condemning the illegal wiretapping, revealed that the phones of the country’s then president George Maxwell Richards, former commissioner of police James Philbert, along with those of several politicians and members of the judiciary, had also been illegally tapped. The sordid matter was not swept under the carpet, and was addressed by the nation’s political leader and the ruling party’s top legal functionary.

It was a case of not only the country’s constitution being stoutly defended, but democracy being shown to be at work. In all of the furore, it was frequently underscored that any tools needed by law enforcement agencies to promote law and order and to protect the country’s citizenry should be facilitated through appropriate legislation, and with the accompanying built-in monitoring safeguards to protect the rights
of John Public.

There is legislation in existence in that country to facilitate wiretapping.

Switch now to our Barbadian democracy. There has been the spectre of illegal wiretapping being conducted in Barbados by the Royal Barbados Police Force, allegedly dating back more than  ten years ago. It has now gone beyond mere speculation to confirmation by, ironically, the agency responsible for the Royal Barbados Police Force itself –– the Police Service Commission. Interestingly, similar to Trinidad and Tobago, politicians, members of the judiciary and others with no known involvement in criminal activity were identified as having been victims of illegal intrusive monitoring. But unlike our neighbours in the south, there has been a deafening silence on this most serious of attack on Barbados’ Constitution and the rule of law in the country.

To the best of our knowledge, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur has made no public statement on the issue. Former Attorney General and present Opposition Leader Mia Mottley has made no statement on the matter. Late Prime Minister David Thompson made no public comment on the allegations. Prime Minister Freundel Stuart in his previous office of Attorney General made no comment on the issue. He has made none as leader of the country.

And Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite has made no definitive statement on the issue, other than to state at a public function about two years ago that if anyone had evidence to support reports of illegal wiretapping the individual should come forward and the matter would be probed. Perhaps he has since found the time to liaise with the Police Service Commission.

Though the identity or identities of those responsible for this illegality is important, we are more concerned with the public response, or lack thereof, of the political directorate of the country to these virtually ten-year-old allegations. While calls in Trinidad and Tobago have previously gone out for the involvement of the director of public prosecutions and the police into what was in essence a criminal complaint in that twin-island republic, there has been no such call from any Barbadian political leader for
a similar investigation.

We well recall Attorney General Brathwaite speaking passionately about the need for an enquiry into the published picture of two school children on the cover of a local newspaper engaged in an alleged sexual act, and for legal action to be taken against the publication if required. That the action was subsequently swiftly taken is a matter of public record.

But perhaps one could be accused of naivety expecting a similar call against a policing agency for which the esteemed gentleman has responsibility. We are aware that a related matter is currently engaging the court’s attention and though we reserve comment on that until it has been adjudicated, it must be understood that the raison d’être for that proceeding is far removed from the type of criminal probe sought in Trinidad and Tobago and that some suggest should be conducted in Barbados. 

Our political and law enforcement leaders must never let the impression go out among plebs or patricians that there is “little crime” and “big crime” in Barbados or that there are some who are above the law. Deafening silence can often promote such belief.

One Response to Case of the silence of the lambs?

  1. Tony Webster March 1, 2014 at 5:33 am

    Thank you, madam editor, for reminding us all why the Press is that Fourth and critically-important estate, and one of the lynch-pins of our democracy.

    While it was all before “your time”, ask your older colleagues if the “L’affaire Pele”, and the police sargeant who died in a shoot-out right there in Tudor street, resonate similarly.
    Ask, but perhaps don’t get too enthusiastic about it…it was not one of our national points of pride.

    Yes, I remember very well.


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