PORT OF SPAIN – “I’m always up for challenges.”
That’s the position of an unperturbed former national security minister Edmund Dillon who moves into his new job at the housing ministry today.
Dillon and others affected by prime minister Dr Keith Rowley’s latest set of cabinet changes commented yesterday on the development.
The prime minister’s office Facebook page posted the cabinet changes around midnight. A media statement was issued at 12.22 a.m. yesterday. Changes have been made each year since the People’s National Movement (PNM) assumed office, particularly after La Horquetta/Talparo MP Maxie Cuffie’s stroke last year, and regularly this year.
The main change in the latest reshuffle shifted Dillon from the embattled national security portfolio to housing. Dillon was replaced in national security by communication minister Stuart Young.
Dillon, who held national security since government assumed office in 2015, was informed of the shift on Sunday. Yesterday, he didn’t respond to questions on whether his performance in security—and criticism of that—caused the shift.
Instead, Dillon said, “I’m always up for challenges. In my entire career, I’ve embraced challenges and risen to changes. In whatever post I’m placed I’ll do my utmost best.
“I thank the prime minister for allowing me to serve as national security minister and look forward to continuing service in housing, a frontline ministry for decades, and assisting citizens’ needs.”
Cuffie, the former minister in public administration who recently returned from medical attention in the US, was also shifted further “down” to parliamentary secretary in that ministry. A PS carries a lower salary than a minister or a minister in a ministry, government officials said.
Contacted on his switch yesterday, Cuffie said, “I’m fine with the appointment and thank the prime minister for his continued faith in me. I return to work September 3.”
Opposition MP Dr Roodal Moonilal yesterday questioned the midnight reshuffle of the cabinet.
“Nothing prepared T&T for this. Is it a reaction to Gary Griffith’s appointment as police commissioner — did Dillon say he can’t work with him? Or was it caused by the opposition’s recent no-confidence motion in Dillon, up for debate again in September?” Moonilal asked in a telephone interview.
“Dillon hasn’t answered satisfactorily on his New York housing matter, now that he is appointed housing minister—the fifth in less than three years. At this rate, government’s as stable as Jello. Kamla Persad-Bissessar did calculate reshuffles annually. Rowley reshuffling every three months.”
He added: “T&T’s in for a shaky ride with a new police commissioner and national security minister lacking practical law enforcement/policing experience. What wrong has Glenda Jennings-Smith done, that, after being in Security for three years, she couldn’t be elevated to cabinet?
“Also, why did the PM inform the president that Marlene McDonald’s resumed duties? Did they cut her salary? The president isn’t a doctor, she only handles appointing or removing.”
UNC MP Rodney Charles pointed out that Young was appointed “like a thief in the night” and questioned whether he had the experience to handle such an important portfolio.
“On what basis has the prime minister appointed a relatively inexperienced ‘OJT’ (On the Job Trainee) to provide strategic policy guidance, leadership and management expertise to national security ministry’s 20,000 public servants?
“Young lacks known experience in security and managing multi-faceted bureaucracy. Where will he find time to address three portfolios? Are his communications and security portfolios essentially one ministry about old talk? His only qualifications are that he’s a talker in parliament, a ‘smooth talker’. For that, he may be suited to communications to hoodwink the population into believing crime’s down.”
Former national security minister Jack Warner also felt the PM’s replacement for Dillon did not make sense given the current crime woes.
“If Dillon was bad as minister, the solution the prime minister resorted to is worse. Young’s wet behind the ears—no experience in anything. He’s being made minister of everything for reasons best known to the PM.
“National security requires full attention, yet he’s holding two other portfolios. Dillon and police commissioner Gary Griffith both served in the army, so synergies could have developed between them. After national hopes were built up with Gary’s appointment, the PM dashed them this week with Young’s appointment.”
Former public service head Reginald Dumas believes a previous issue between fired national security minister Edmund Dillon and incoming commissioner of police Gary Griffith may have led prime minister Dr Keith Rowley to remove Dillon from the post.
“It’s possible there’s some difficulty stemming from Dillon and Griffith’s prior work in the army together; it may be Dillon feels he can’t work with him. Since Griffith became commissioner-designate there’s been criticisms of the way law enforcement was done.
“Whether or not there’s personal difficulty between them, the prime minister might have felt the anti-crime fight was going the wrong way under Dillon and it was best to make changes,” Dumas told the T&T Guardian.
On another issue, Dumas said he was also offended by Griffith’s recent reuse of the term “cockroaches” to describe criminals, “especially when one considers the implications of the term”.
“Young, like Griffith, has no direct operational law enforcement experience. I heard Maxie Cuffie speak on television, obviously, he can’t function in his previous capacity so he’ll have light duties now,” Dumas said of the changes.
Prime minister Dr Keith Rowley on Sunday advised president Paula-Mae Weekes to:
• Revoke the housing and urban development appointment which Rowley held since June when he shifted Randall Mitchell to the ministry of tourism and culture.
Rowley appointed Dillon as housing and urban development minister—the fifth housing minister, starting with Marlene McDonald in 2015, Randall Mitchell (2016-June), Rowley and ex-minister in housing, Darryl Smith (for one day).
• Replace Edmund Dillon in national security with Stuart Young, who received his first full-fledged ministerial appointment as communication minister in June.
To handle Security, Communication and duties as minister in the PM’s office, Young’s been relieved of the portfolio he started with in 2015—minister in the attorney general and legal affairs ministry. Attorney general Faris Al-Rawi is now solo there. Young has assistance from ministers in national security Glenda-Jennings-Smith and foreign affairs’ Dennis Moses, whose input remains.
• Revoke the appointment of Maxie Cuffie as ninister in the ministry of public administration and appoint him as parliamentary secretary there.
Cuffie started in 2015 as public administration/communication minister. Rowley took over temporarily after Cuffie had a stroke last September. With Cuffie in the US receiving rehabilitation since last November, Marlene McDonald was made a minister in public administration/communication in March under Rowley. The latter relinquished the portfolio, appointing McDonald, minister of the ministry—replacing Cuffie—in April.
In June, the ministry was split between McDonald (public administration) and Young (communication). The government Gazette later stated Cuffie was made minister in the ministry. After his recent return from the US and rehabilitation after neurosurgery, Cuffie’s now parliamentary secretary, a non-cabinet portfolio with a lesser salary.
• Marlene McDonald returned to work as public administration minister.