Two weeks short of The PP's Government's first year in office, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday fired Planning Economic and Social Restructuring and Gender Affairs Minister Mary Kathleen King for "acting improperly" in the issue of a contract award. The matter is now heading for an Integrity Commission investigation to ascertain whether criminal charges should be laid. "I'm very disappointed. It's a very sad day for us," Persad-Bissessar said yesterday after meeting with President George Maxwell Richards to revoke King's appointment. "It's a sad day. It's a woman and I'm very disappointed and not just because it's a woman, It's a bright person but it has to be done," the PM added. Persad-Bissessar said she hoped that would be a lesson for the People's Partnership (PP) team "for all of us," she stressed.
UWI pro vice-chancellor for Planning and Development Dr Bhoe Tewarie, former UWI principal and long-standing politician, is tipped to replace King in the Planning Ministry. Irish-born King is a Congress of the People (COP) member and an economist. She was a former Independent senator and chairman of Transparency International. She is the first minister to be axed from the Persad-Bissessar Cabinet, ahead of a portfolio realignment next month. She has been in the spotlight in recent days regarding the award of a contract for the development and hosting of a Web site at her former Planning Ministry to Ixanos Ltd, a family business which King jointly owns with her husband, Professor Dr St Clair King. She is alleged to have failed to disclose interest in the company, to have "participated" in the selection process and placed her secretary on the evaluation committee which recommended the award to Ixanos Ltd.
After the issue arose, Persad-Bissessar referred it to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to review.
After King publicly commented on the contract recently, Persad-Bissessar received Ramlogan's report yesterday. He concluded a primá facie case had been made out to warrant a referral of the matter to the Integrity Commission for further investigation. Ramlogan said: "The failure of the minister to disclose her interest is in conflict with the mandatory duty of full and frank disclosure imposed by Section 29 of the (Integrity) Act." (SEE BOX) Persad-Bissessar met with President Richards from 11.30 am at Knowsley Building, Queen's Park, when she advised Richards to revoke King's appointment as a senator and minister. When Persad Bissessar emerged from the building at 12.20 pm, she spoke to waiting reporters in the Queen's Park Savannah opposite Knowsley.
She said King met with Government officials on Monday when King gave them some documents setting out what she felt were some discrepancies and errors in a recent story on the issue. Persad Bissessar said King had sent her something in writing which she (Prime Minister) sent to the Attorney General. But Persad-Bissessar added: "New information has come to light since the documents were presented to us and on the basis of the new information I have taken a decision. "I wasn't aware of many things with respect to this matter before the public expose. "I'm disappointed but given what has transpired it is the right thing to do." Persad-Bissessar reiterated her denial of King's claim that she (PM) had approved the contract. "That is totally false," she said. She said Government would have to look into the contract award. "If it was improperly awarded and I make no judgment on that, it will have to be revoked.," Persad-Bissessar said.
She added: "This will serve as a warning, a wake-up call to every member of the Cabinet who is interested in serving the people and doing so with transparency and accountability. It will be a lesson for all of us."
She could not immediately comment on allegations against Works Minister Jack Warner and Fifa, made in the UK yesterday. With Government's one-year anniversary in office exactly two weeks away-May 24-and a frontline minister now fired, Persad-Bissessar said the Government was not weakening. She said: "We remain very committed, very strong and working. What this does show is we need to revoke a minister and if we have to, we will do it again." Persad-Bissessar said the revocation of King's appointment would not expedite her realignment of Cabinet portfolios next month , "unless there's another intervention." She said she was not anticipating an intervention but she added: " Life is life. It's never a dull day." She said there would not have been a replacement for King in the Senate in time for yesterday's session.
She assured: "By tomorrow (today), there will be a Planning Minister."
She said there was no pressure to replace King with a COP candidate. "We'll select candidates who we believe will be able to do the job to the best of their ability," she added. A PP spokesman confirmed Persad-Bissessar spoke yesterday to Bhoe Tewarie about the Planning Ministry post. If not finalised immediately, a senior minister will act, they said. Yesterday, King's former frontbench seat in the Senate-fifth from the top-remained empty until COP leader Winston Dookeran entered the chamber and occupied the seat. Dookeran, a Lower House MP, attended Senate to answer a question. The COP, whose executive King met yesterday, has called for Integrity Commission intervention.
AG tells PM:
"I have concluded that a primá facie case is made out on the facts and documents before me to warrant a referral of this matter to the Integrity Commission for further investigation. "The failure of the minister to disclose her interest is in conflict with the mandatory duty of full and frank disclosure imposed by Section 29 of the act. "The problem is compounded by the fact that the minister appointed her personal secretary to serve on the evaluation committee.
"The minister ought to have disqualified herself from the entire process. She should not have made any appointment or recommendation in this regard. "The allegations made by permanent secretary Juliana Boodram and deputy permanent secretary Joseph Howard regarding the active role of the minister in the process leading to the award of this contract is cause for serious concern. "It casts doubt on the impression given by the Minister's statement that she adopted an 'arm's length' approach to this transaction and was nothing more than a mere bystander to it. "The minister acted improperly in failing to disclose her interest and disqualify herself from the entire process. Please be guided accordingly."