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‘I couldn’t turn down my PM’
After not hearing a word from either the Integrity Commission or the T&T Police Service on the probe against her for the past 15 months, newly-appointed Minister of Public Utilities Marlene McDonald says it is time to move on with her life.
But McDonald yesterday made it clear that she could no longer live in the past, adding if she was not a strong woman she would have long crumbled under public pressure.
Her comments came minutes after she was presented with her instrument of appointment by President Anthony Carmona at President’s House, St Ann’s, following a brief swearing-in ceremony attended by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and guests.
In the 15 months she was out of the Cabinet, McDonald admitted she “sat in the wilderness,” “contemplated many things,” but maintained her dignity. But having being offered the ministerial post by Rowley after an impromptu reshuffle on Wednesday, McDonald said she was willing to take on the task ahead.
Asked if she was aware she was still under investigation by the Integrity Commission and the Fraud Squad, McDonald said after being removed as Housing Minister last March she had made herself available to all investigating bodies.
“I hid no where. It showed my bonfides…it showed that I was willing and still willing to speak to any authority…which ever authority is doing the investigation. And after 15 months no one has called me. Am I to sit for another 15 months in the past to listen to who say and I say? No! I am not doing that. If I was not a strong person we could have talked about mental. You see, I understand how to grow up tough.”
Saying she has been accessible all the time, McDonald said after receiving no word from the commission and the police “I have to move on.”
She noted, however, Rowley had reposed a lot of confidence in her to manage the ministry assigned to her.
“I have to look now at what is happening at Public Utilities. I will certainly have a discussion with the former minister, then I will be able to tell you about prioritisation.”
While McDonald has been cleared on part of the matters before the commission, a number of other allegations are still being investigated.
McDonald said she did receive two letters from the commission, one dated December, 2013, which she received in January 2014, and one dated March, 2015. The second letter stated the commission was going to reopen the case but in both instances she said the allegations were “baseless and they were named by nameless and faceless persons…mischievous in nature. And what happened, the Integrity Commission say there was no basis at all in the Integrity in Public Life Act that I had breached anything.”
“So am I to live in the past?” she asked, adding two of the letters were passed on to Rowley.
McDonald said she was investigated on the Calabar Foundation issue and her alleged purchase of houses from the Housing Ministry in other people’s names. She said there were other issues which were “frivolous and vexatious in nature.”
But she noted that the PM removed her to allow the authorities to do their investigation.
“You know what, there was also a public outcry to have the matter investigated. It was the best thing to do to remove me from the centre of it all…in the fear that I may tamper with whatever.”
When asked if she wanted closure on the matter, McDonald replied “in my mind I have closed that. So that question, talk to the investigating authorities.”
Contacted yesterday, Integrity Commission chairman Zainool Hosein maintained hey were is bound to silence under sections 20 and 35 of the Integrity in Public Life Act.
“I recognise that some may say that is it taking too long, but unfortunately we have to do the work that is thoroughly and efficiently as we can,” Hosein said.
He said, however, that if a complaint is made against a person, the commission will communicate with the individual and they will be given an opportunity to provide information and documents and answer to the allegations made.
“When they’ve done that and we have investigated everything, then we evaluate the recommendations made by the investigations department. Then we will make a determination.” See Page A10
McDonald was fired from the Cabinet last March following media revelations that she had employed her common-law husband Michael Carew in her Port-of-Spain South constituency office. A report from Fixin T&T head Kirk Waithe stated he received information from Parliament which showed Carew and a director of the Calabar Foundation were employed at McDonald’s constituency office for five years, while Carew’s brother Lennox Carew still worked at the MP’s office. McDonald’s common-law husband, who worked at the office from June 1, 2010 to September 7, 2015, had earned a salary of $13,400 for the full parliamentary term while Lennox began working in the office on March 1, 2011 and had been in receipt of $14,000.
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