PORT OF SPAIN –– She’s out. Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday fired Marlene McDonald from the post of Minister of Housing and Urban Development, revoking her appointment and making several other shifts within his Cabinet at the same time.
These include increasing the portfolios of Ministers Maxie Cuffie and Stuart Young.
McDonald’s dismissal, however, six months into the new Government’s term, has made her the first minister of the Rowley People’s National Movement (PNM) administration to be removed. She has been replaced by Randall Mitchell, who formerly held the post of Minister of Public Administration.
McDonald, one of the ruling PNM’s three deputy leaders, remains Port of Spain South MP — but will from today shift from the Government’s front bench in Parliament to the backbench, PNM officials said last night.
The T&T Guardian learned that McDonald was informed of the situation after yesterday’s weekly Cabinet meeting (which she attended). Government finalized documents revoking her appointment yesterday afternoon.
President Anthony Carmona, acting in accordance with the Prime Minister’s advice, later revoked McDonald’s appointment as Housing Minister.
In a statement last night, Government announced the changes to the Cabinet which were made following McDonald’s dismissal.
With Mitchell replacing McDonald in Housing, his former Public Administration portfolio has been added to Cuffie’s Communication responsibilities. Cuffie will now be Minister of Public Administration and Communication. Young has been assigned as Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, in addition to his current portfolio as Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General, where he serves alongside Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
There had been hints following yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing that action against McDonald was imminent.
Rowley moved against McDonald — one of his very few senior ministers — following Wednesday’s news report on alleged breach of Parliament rules and claims that McDonald’s common-law spouse Michael Carew and his brother Lennox were hired among 13 members of her constituency office over several years in the last term.
It was reported that Michael Carew worked at the office from June 2010 to September 2015, earning the second highest salary of $13,400 monthly for the entire constituency term, while his brother has been working at the office since 2011 and received $14,000 in salary.
But according to the Parliament’s 2010-2015 (Tenth Parliament) manual on rules for engagement of constituency staff, MPs are restricted from employing relatives as employees in their constituency offices and such relatives are described as (a) spouses, (b) co-habitants, (c) children/step children/adopted children/grandchildren, (d) parents, step parents/grandparents, (e) siblings, (nephews/nieces), (f) uncles/aunts, (g) cousins. The 2015-2020 (11th Parliament) manual also states MPs aren’t allowed to hire relatives at their constituency offices.
Fixin’ T&T boss Kirk Waithe reported the allegations to the police and Director of Public Prosecutions.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar on Wednesday called for Rowley to fire McDonald, noting he had evidence of breach of the Integrity in Public Life legislation pertaining to use of public office for the benefit of the MP and her family.
Persad-Bissessar claimed similar breaches occurred concerning other allegations against McDonald, including the issue of the Calabar Foundation which Michael Carew reportedly headed and McDonald’s alleged involvement in securing a Housing Development Corporation house for Carew at Fidelis Heights in 2008 when she was in the Manning Government. Both matters were referred to the Integrity Commission by UNC Senator Wayne Sturge and Fixin’ T&T.
On Wednesday night, Rowley said he’d noted fresh information concerning the allegations of the Carew brothers and wouldn’t ignore it.
The T&T Guardian learned various PNMites subsequently sent letters to the leadership on the issue yesterday. After McDonald was informed of her removal yesterday, she went to her PoS South constituency office to speak to supporters and was greeted by members, the T&T Guardian was told.
McDonald briefly answered a call last night before the phone cut off. Subsequent calls continued cutting off as McDonald said she was “going over the hill”.
Commenting on the decision last night, Opposition Senator Sturge, who’d sent complaints on McDonald to the Integrity Commission, said, “As one human being to another I feel sorry for her. This was never about her, it was much more about PNM culture and much more about the integrity of the leader. The evidence on Calabar and Fidelis was much more and therefore he should have acted much earlier.”
In the PNM, the T&T Guardian was also told while some members strongly supported the dismissal, there were others who didn’t want McDonald removed. However, it understood some members also want her to step down as deputy leader as well.