“I am […] deeply concerned that the disturbingly misleading statements made in the TTDF response carry the potential to do serious harm to the character and reputation of Major General Maharaj…
“The implications are further exacerbated when one observes that the only person named in the entire TTDF document is Major General Kenrick Maharaj.”
The following Letter to the Editor from former Chief of Defence Staff and Major General Kenrick Maharaj was submitted in response to the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (TTDF) Board of Inquiry (BOI) report into how Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi’s children were allowed to use high-power weapons at the army’s Cumuto base.
“It was established that the former chief of defence staff Major General Kenrick Maharaj, acting on his own volition, authorised the range practice… The board did not unearth any evidence which indicated that persons in the TTDF accorded preferential treatment to children of high-ranking government officials inclusive of the Attorney General’s children…”
In response, Maharaj issued the following statement:
Greater attention should have been given to procedural accuracy, the judicious use of language as well as exercising greater prudence in treating with a former Chief of Defence Staff…
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.
I have taken note of articles published in the mainstream media on Sunday 4 June 2017 on the subject at caption. On 26 April 2017, I received information that the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (TTDF) submitted a response to a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on a highly-publicised matter allegedly involving children of the current Attorney General, The Honourable Faris Al-Rawi.
The submission, signed by the Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier General Rodney Smart on 25 April 2017, provided information purporting to be extracts from a Board of Inquiry (BOI), which was conducted into the circumstances surrounding children of the Attorney General being photographed with “high-powered” weapons, during a Range Firing Practice at Cumuto Barracks on 31 October 2015.
I communicated with Brigadier General Rodney Smart Chief of Defence Staff via telephone on 27 April 2017 voicing my concerns about the erroneous contents of the TTDF response and the damaging effects it would have should this document enter the public domain. I trusted that Brigadier General Smart would have taken corrective action.
The TTDF document sought to answer questions raised by the requesting party, Opposition Senator and Attorney at Law, Mr Wayne Sturge. In his request, Senator Sturge listed a number of questions pertaining to the alleged incident and sought to determine whether TTDF personnel committed any breaches in respect of the apparent handling of military weapons by civilian under-aged personnel, namely the children of the Attorney General.
Senator Sturge also sought confirmation on the part of the TTDF on whether TTDF personnel treated the children preferentially and whether there were rewards received accordingly.
For the records, allow me to confirm the following:
I did not authorise the range practice that was conducted at Cumuto Barracks on 31 October 2015 and which was attended by the Attorney General, Farris Al-Rawi and members of his family.
I did not invite the Attorney General 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 Attorney General on this matter at any time.
I was not at Cumuto Barracks on 31 October 2015 and I am not aware who would have received the Attorney General and his family at that military installation on that day and what protocols were observed accordingly.
I was never requested to testify before the Board of Inquiry convened by the Defence Force in relation to this matter.
I was never contacted by the Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier General Rodney Smart in order to offer information or advice on this matter.
One of the questions raised in the FOIA request was “Whether persons in the Defence Force were coerced into breaching settled practice and procedures because of the individuals concerned.” The TTDF response indicated that: “It was established that the former Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Kenrick Maharaj, acting on his own volition, authorised the range practice.”
Given the context of this particular situation, this statement can reasonably be interpreted to mean authorisation for any or all activities in relation to the matter under scrutiny, including the issue of children handling weapons on the range at Cumuto Barracks on the day in question.
I am gravely concerned, from a position of absolute denial in granting such authorisation, that I was not informed of testimony to that effect in the BOI and therefore a fundamental requirement for me to attend the BOI to confirm or deny such an allegation/accusation. Notwithstanding this, it is noted that the statement, “acting on his own volition” is language commonly associated with the criminal law environment and therefore has negative connotations in that regard.
It is highly unusual to ascribe such language to the decision-making process of a Chief of Defence Staff, and so leaves one to wonder in this circumstance, if there was an underlying intent to cause mischief by the person who drafted the TTDF response to Senator Sturge.
Even if a Chief of Defence Staff exercises his “initiative” in any given instance, his ultimate decision is usually based on staff advice—feasibility, suitability, etc—and the subsequent execution by personnel down the chain of command.
I am also deeply concerned that the disturbingly misleading statements made in the TTDF response carry the potential to do serious harm to the character and reputation of Major General Maharaj. I am further very troubled by the failure on the part of Brigadier Smart to exercise due diligence, as was his duty as the Appropriate Superior Authority (ASA) in the TTDF, in not reviewing the BOI and determining on the basis of any testimony—if such testimony indeed exists—implicating the former CDS.
Why was the President of the Board of Inquiry not advised on the requirement for procedural justice by arranging for my own appearance before the BOI?
The TTDF response further mentions Major General Kenrick Maharaj in answer to another question in the FOIA request: one that could arguably point to misconduct in public office. The question: “Were children of high ranking government officials treated in a preferential manner by persons in the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force, and what was the reward for such treatment?”
A rather tediously lengthy response to this question ended with stating that… “there was no need for General Maharaj or any other member of the Defence Force to be rewarded for what is a standard practice in the TTDF and likewise amongst other military establishments.”
The statement is again arguably open for interpretation that can be unfavourable in respect of Major General Maharaj. The implications are further exacerbated when one observes that the only person named in the entire TTDF document is Major General Kenrick Maharaj.
Given the widespread public attention and interest in the matter involving the children of the Attorney General being photographed handling TTDF weapons, one can reasonably infer from the TTDF submission to Senator Wayne Sturge that there may have been some level of condonation by senior persons for the obvious breach of range safety procedures.
An even greater concern was whether there was any contravention of relevant section(s) of Act 14 of 1996, “An Act to prohibit the training, drilling and equipping of persons with firearms, ammunition, artillery and the practice of military exercises otherwise than permitted under written law…”
As a former Chief of Defence Staff that is a concern of mine: one which remains unresolved in this matter.
I wish to further state that during my tour of duty as the CDS, I never received requests for, nor authorised similar visits/activities for past VIPs such as the Chief Justice, past Cabinet Ministers or past Attorneys General or members of their families to any similar type of Range activity.
I wish to clarify though, that these types of engagements are legitimate and feasible on the condition that right protocols are observed and that there are no breaches of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Range Safety Standards.
Moreover, I find it worrying that the TTDF response to the FOIA request failed to address the central issue pertaining to this matter. And that was the specific point of contention: that being children in possession of military weapons as displayed in the photograph.
Who permitted that particular breach of range safety standards? Who was the range conducting officer at the time who supervised the activities on that day?
In view of the concerns raised, I have requested the following from the Chief of Defence Staff:
All statements in the TTDF response to the FOIA request in this matter in which Major General Maharaj is named, be retracted and an amended document prepared and re-submitted to Senator Wayne Sturge.
An official public statement, guided by the pursuit of truth and based on the facts, be made by the Defence Force to undo the hurt caused to Major General Kenrick Maharaj and members of his family circle in light of this painful and unfortunate but avoidable faux pas.
Consideration be given to a comprehensive review of the Board of Inquiry conducted in this matter with specific focus on the Terms of Reference required to guide its deliberations including the central issue of who was responsible for the handing over of military weapons to unauthorised children during a range firing practice at Cumuto Barracks on 31 October 2017.
I conclude with the recommendation that when matters such as the one in question, with high political sensitivities and public interest have to be addressed by the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force, the Organisation should not engage in compromise in respect of its professional ethics and proper procedure.
Greater attention should have been given to procedural accuracy, the judicious use of language as well as exercising greater prudence in treating with a former Chief of Defence Staff.