Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley finally broke his silence on the arrest and subsequent charge of former Public Administration minister Marlene McDonald and the public fallout from same.
PM Rowley mounted a spirited defence of his decision to three times hire McDonald into the Cabinet although there had been questions raised about her character and allegations in the public domain about financial impropriety.
According to the PM, he spoke with Ms McDonald and she assured him there was no veracity in the allegations and more than that, she had been cleared by the Integrity Commission, a body Rowley has in the past chastised for its modus operandi.
It is the decision to move ahead with an appointment in the face of questions raised about the character of the person who was not only appointed minister but whom he felt should be his deputy and was initially responsible for the PNM’s Parliamentary caucus, that leads many to question the Prime Minister’s judgement.
That Dr Rowley was prepared to offer a conditional acceptance that this ill-fated appointment was not one of his better decisions is but a tiny step forward.
This paper takes no position about the innocence or guilt of Ms McDonald and her co-accused. This is a matter for the courts to decide and we urge that the wheels of justice move swiftly to determine innocence or guilt.
The Prime Minister also insisted that this was a sign that for the first time, a government was prepared to take action against white-collar crime. He argued that the capacity of the Police Service to pursue white-collar criminals, be they politicians, public servants or contractors, did not, in the public’s eyes, exist in Trinidad and Tobago.
Rowley also said the appointment of Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, without support from the Opposition UNC, and the lack of political interference is what has led to the recent charging of his former Cabinet colleague.
Coming from a person who served for a decade in a Cabinet run by the late prime minister Patrick Manning, it is worrying that Dr Rowley is now of the view that this is the first time the police are being allowed a level of independence. That this epiphany has occurred is itself worrying. Nonetheless, we welcome the commitment from the Prime Minister to the independence of the Police Service.
Rowley also talked about the building of a new society, one in which leaders, including politicians, are held to the highest standards. Where those who commit white-collar crime are as sought after by the police as those who commit other criminal offences.
But this is no panacea and its what any modern society demands. We have to build a society where no one is above the law and where justice on time is for all and not just for those who find themselves at the lower end of the social ladder.