Even as he fumed at the media for “trying to pin” Marlene McDonald’s corruption scandal on him, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on Thursday admitted that he exercised flawed judgment by reinstating her as a Cabinet minister despite the trail of allegations that dogged her.
Rowley faced the media yesterday for the first time since McDonald was arrested at her Maracas, St Joseph home last Thursday. She has been charged with seven offences of corruption, fraud and misbehaviour in public office and is now home on $2 million bail.
McDonald and her common-law-husband, Michael Carew, are among five people who have been accused of allegedly conspiring, over 10 years beginning in 2007, to misuse State funds. The money was disbursed to three NGOs, Calabar Foundation, Waterwheel Foundation and Provident Foundation from the Ministry of Community Development —a ministry McDonald once headed. Carew was a director of Calabar.
Speaking to reporters during the post-Cabinet media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre yesterday, Rowley was asked whether —in the end—he made a “bad judgment call” by returning her to the Public Administration ministry in 2018 despite an ongoing police probe into the Calabar Foundation matter.
“In hindsight, I would say yes. But at the time I could only work with the information I had,” he said.
“If what you’re asking me is if I knew then what I know now if I would have made that decision —the answer is no, I would not.”
Rowley said he read “with great interest” the list of charges laid against the five co-accused since there is “so much that was never part of this before” when he had to contemplate whether to retain her in Cabinet.
“But you (the media) don’t make that distinction,” he chided reporters, “because you have converted the subject, not to one about persons who have done things wrong and run afoul of the law and are now in the hands of the police. Your main interest is to see if you could pin this to the prime minister.
“I wish you luck,” he said with a nod. He ended the press conference there.
He also denied speculation that “political factors”—such as her relationships with certain residents in Port-of-Spain South —influenced his decision to keep her in Cabinet.
“If there are costs to be paid, then we pay it and move on. If we lose a candidate in Port-of-Spain South, we find another one,” he said.
Rowley said he has spoken to McDonald once over the last week to inform her she would lose her Cabinet and PNM positions.
Some commentators including former head of the Public Service, Reginald Dumas, have called for McDonald to step down as the member of parliament for Port-of-Spain South.
“Is there a vacancy in Port-of-Spain South now?” Rowley quipped yesterday when asked whether there will be a by-election in the constituency. “Let’s not jump the gun, that has not happened. I do not know that that is happening.”
Pressed on whether he could exercise his role as PNM political leader and ask McDonald to resign as MP, he insisted he had exercised his discretion in the matter where he could.