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Burke: I wasn’t invited

Published: 
Sunday, July 2, 2017
Reputed community leader Cedric Burke responds to questions from members of the media at his Trinity Road, Sea Lots home yesterday. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ

Cedric Burke, a businessman dubbed “community leader,” who was arrested and charged with being a gang leader during the 2011 state of emergency was not invited to President’s House on Friday. He just decided to show up and was let in anyway.

He met his neighbour Kenroy Dopwell outside of President’s House shortly after lunch on Friday afternoon and the two walked up to security.

Asked why they were there, the two said they came to attend the appointment of Port-of-Spain South MP Marlene McDonald, who the Prime Minister announced would head the Public Utilities Ministry.

McDonald had been removed months before from her post as Housing Minister amid allegations of misconduct.

Burke wanted to show support.

The guard at the gate allowed Burke and Dopwell onto the compound and they proceeded into the Office of the President.

The administrative staff asked if Burke and Dopwell’s name was listed. Dopwell’s name was. Burke’s name was not.

He was still asked to wait for his MP to arrive and sat in the lobby area to do just that.

This is the story Burke told the media yesterday of how he arrived at President’s House to witness the swearing in of his MP as a government minister.

Burke’s story also deviates from a comment McDonald made to the media on Friday, immediately following the swearing-in ceremony.

McDonald is quoted in a daily paper as saying: “You noticed upstairs, I have two persons upstairs, and you know why I invited them here? They are from East Port-of-Spain, from the Sea Lots area. They represent the best of East Port-of-Spain.”

Speaking to the media from his Sea Lots home, Burke said he believed it was a public function similar to the swearing in of ministers in September 2015.

“When she saw me she was shocked, she didn’t even know I would be there. Somebody came downstairs and said they were ready and all of us just walked. I thought it was just a simple thing.”

He said he was confused by the public conversation over his presence at the event, adding that while he had been arrested in the past, he had never been convicted of a crime.

“I have no matter pending in this country or any country. I am not a convict.”

Missing from Burke’s story is the appropriate security measures taken at the Office of the President in the past that have seen even journalists turned away when their names were not listed.

President’s House: It was clear he was her guest

It’s a question that protocol officer at the Office of the President, Theron Boodhan sought to answer when the Sunday Guardian called him yesterday.

Boodhan confirmed that Burke’s name was not listed but insisted that it was a more nuanced issue.

“For these occasions each minister was advised that they could bring three guests to the swearing-in ceremony. The day before, Minister McDonald requested permission to bring two more guests.

“When she was asked the names of those guests, she said she could not submit the names at the time but that she would do so before the ceremony,” Boodhan said in a telephone interview. She never did.

“When he came and he was not on the list he remained in the lobby downstairs and when she came she brought him upstairs and she introduced him to everyone as her guest and as a constituent.”

Boodhan said in normal circumstances when someone says they are a guest, confirmation is sought and that the person may wait in the lobby area until the guest could be verified.

This, he said, is what was done.

Burke’s name was never listed. As far as the paperwork at the Office of the President is concerned, he may never have been there. It was the pictures that said different.

“When I came down the receptionist told me his name was not on the list. I told the receptionist to contact the co-ordinator to deal with the situation.

“Mrs MacDonald was the last person to arrive and she brought him upstairs. There was no misunderstanding that he was her guest.

“How would we, despite his name not being listed, intervene when the minister has clearly stated he was her guest?”

Asked whether security protocols should have prevented an uninvited guest from attending, Boodhan said “maybe” more could have been done.

“It might be easy to say, maybe there was a slight lapse but nobody expects a minister to create such a situation.”

The Office of the President is investigating the situation.

No response from Marlene

The Sunday Guardian sent a text message to McDonald and called yesterday, but did not receive a response.

PNM’S HISTORY WITH COMMUNITY LEADERS

​The People’s National Movement’s history with “community leaders” began in 2002 when then prime minister Patrick Manning met twice with known “gang leaders” at the Ambassador Hotel on Long Circular Road, St James. The meeting saw Manning reverse a decision by then URP line minister Jarette Narine to appoint former policemen as managers and instead passed the responsibility to the criminals. Manning also invited the same set of gang leaders to negotiate a peace pact with them, promising more URP funding of jobs in return.

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