Another setback for Government.
Attorney Garvin Simonette on Monday resigned from his post as a Government senator following the release of US records indicating his arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol—and he also declined to accept the offer of Public Administration Minister.
Simonette, an attorney, confirmed this via emailed statement after a collapse of Government’s plans for him to replace embattled PNM MP Marlene McDonald in the Public Administration Ministry.
The development occurred at the eleventh-hour ahead of a function at President’s House for Simonette to be sworn in as Minister.
Simonette came into focus after McDonald was charged with seven offences on Sunday. The government subsequently issued a statement saying Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley would advise the President to revoke McDonald’s appointment as Public Administration Minister and a new Minister would be announced.
At 9.19 am Rowley’s office announced Simonette would be appointed Public Administration Minister. Simonette who initially served as a temporary Government Senator was appointed a Government Senator on September 28, 2018. The PNM party noted Simonette’s expected appointment in a statement at 11.43 am.
But when reporters arrived at President’s House for the 2 pm function, after being seated they were told by officials at 1.49 pm that the function was off.
A subsequent statement from the Communication Ministry stated Rowley would assume the Public Administration portfolio, his office had postponed the swearing-in of a new Minister and “new arrangement will be announced.” Communication Minister Donna Cox said her Ministry was not told why it was postponed. Sources said Government was only made aware of the situation “shortly” before the planned ceremony.
Simonette said—via release—a resignation letter regarding his Senate post was offered to the Prime Minister with immediate effect and he also declined to accept the Public Administration appointment.
He added: “The decision comes following the release of records indicating an arrest due to driving under the influence in the United States. I have advised the Prime Minister that in light of adverse media coverage regarding my culpability for driving under the influence, it would be inappropriate for me to accept his appointment to the Cabinet. I’ve also advised him of my resignation from the Senate with immediate effect.”
A DUI record with a picture and personal details, purportedly from Brevard County, Florida circulated on social media on Monday.
Simonette added: “The decision to withdraw and resign is driven by my desire to relieve the Prime Minister and the PNM from the distracting burdens of having to navigate any adverse commentary about a key team member. I sincerely apologise for any embarrassment caused because of my past infraction. The last 16 months as a senator provides ample evidence of my commitment to serving my country in the best possible way.”
Simonette told Guardian Media the DUI occurred several years ago.
He said it never arose in “considerations” for the Senate post where he was concerned, or by other people. Simonette rejected speculation that he resigned due to an energy company issue.
“It’s common knowledge that in 2006 I promoted a granular urea plant at Pt Lisas with the late Karl Hudson-Phillips, Gerald Hadeed and the Koch brothers but that had nothing to do with my withdrawal.”
PNM Senator Dr Lester Henry also has a DUI conviction but hasn’t resigned or been removed. Simonette’s issue is the second time the Government has had vetting problems with an appointment.
In August 2017, the appointment of Robert Le Hunte as Public Utilities Minister was revoked soon after it was made since he was a citizen of Ghana and couldn’t hold office until that was rectified. Rowley had to hold the Utilities portfolio until then.
McDonald has now been hired thrice and fired the same number of times. She was Housing Minister in 2015 but was removed in March 2016. She was hired as Public Utilities Minister in June 2017 and dismissed two days later in July 2017.
She was again hired as a minister in Public Administration/Communication in March 2018 and elevated to full Public Administration Minister by June 2018. However, after 14 months in the post, she’s now out.