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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley
On the same day that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley admitted he may have made a bad judgment call on former Public Administration Minister Marlene McDonald but insisted his government was not in any crisis, the disgraced minister declared that she expected to be cleared of the criminal charges brought against her.
McDonald is facing seven charges of misbehaviour in public office, money laundering, and conspiracy to defraud government by procuring funds for a charity group, the Calabar Foundation, which was run by her common-law husband, Michael Carew. Carew, along with former head of the National Commission for Self Help, Edgar Zephyrine, and contractors Wayne Anthony and Victor McEachrane have also been charged. In total, the five face 49 charges and they will appear in court on September 9.
Although her four-accused appeared in court on Monday to answer the charges, McDonald did not because she was admitted to the St Clair Medical Centre after complaining of feeling unwell. In her absence, she was granted TT$2 million (US$) bail.
Yesterday, as she left the hospital temporarily to fulfil her bail arrangements, McDonald told reporters she expected that her name would be cleared.
“I will be vindicated. I will have my day in court,” she said before being driven to the Port of Spain Magistrate Court to sign her bail bond. The former minister, who was also fired as deputy political leader of the governing People’s National Movement (PNM) after being charged but is still Port of Spain South MP, was in high spirits and said she felt “excellent”.
McDonald’s attorney Pamela Elder SC said after her client’s bail was processed, she was returned to the St Clair Medical Centre, but she did not disclose her medical condition.
McDonald was first fired as Housing Minister in 2016 after questions arose over her alleged recommendation of public housing for Carew. She was subsequently rehired as Minister in the Ministry of Public Utilities, but was fired shortly after on the heels of a controversy caused by the presence of a reputed community leader at her swearing-in ceremony. Then last year she returned to the Cabinet as Public Administration Minister – a position she lost on Monday when Rowley found out she was being charged.
Speaking at a post-Cabinet media briefing yesterday, the Prime Minister admitted that he made a bad judgment call in returning her to the Cabinet despite an ongoing police probe into the Calabar Foundation matter.
“In hindsight, I would say ‘yes’. But at the time I could only work with the information I had,” he said.
“If what you’re asking me is if I knew then what I know now if I would have made that decision, the answer is ‘no, I would not’.”
But he dismissed allegations that he moved too slow in firing McDonald after reports surfaced last Thursday that she was arrested when a warrant was executed at her home early that morning.
He said he had no official information about that.
“The first time I had any official information was…on Sunday night. That was the first time an official told me in my official capacity as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago that this minister – and the information I was getting then wasn’t that she was being questioned (but) that the minister is being charged,” he said.
“And by Monday morning …steps were taken to have the minister removed from the Cabinet.”
He also responded to opposition claims that his government is in crisis, based on the situation with McDonald and the fact that the man who was initially named to replace her – Senator Garvin Simonette – declined the position and resigned as a Government Senator after it came to light he had a 2014 driving under the influence of alcohol matter in the United States.
Rowley said far from the situations showing that the government is in crisis, they demonstrated that the systems to fight corruption were working.
“Where you are seeing a crisis today, we are saying to you, the people of Trinidad and Tobago, feel good about it, this is how it is supposed to happen. This is how it is happening for the first time, exactly what you want to happen is happening—that if persons, especially public officials, misconduct themselves, there must be policing to identify the misconduct and the person must be held accountable, and it will end up as a trial in the court house where they are innocent until proven guilty,” he said.
“The system is working. That’s why the police could have acted without let or hindrance. It is not a crisis; it is a ray of hope. For the first time we are dealing with matters that were insoluble in the society.
“Corruption will not be a way of life. All who thought there was no hope, this is more than hope,” the Prime Minister added.