T&T Minister fired over choice of guest at swearing in ceremony

(Trinidad Express) Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday advised President Anthony Carmona to revoke the appointment of Marlene McDonald, Minister of Public Utilities with immediate effect.

McDonald was recently sworn in as Minister in the Ministry of Public Utilities after a sixteen- month period of absence from the Cabinet.

The President has also been advised that the portfolio of Public Utilities should be assigned to the Prime Minister who will now assume these duties in addition to his other responsibilities.

Why was MacDonald fired?

McDonald met with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday morning as a result of the controversy caused by her choice of guests attending her swearing-in ceremony at the President’s House in St Ann’s on Friday.

Gone: Marlene McDonald

The commotion surrounds the presence of reputed “community leader” Cedric “Burkie” Burke, who accompanied contractor Kenroy Dopwell to the event.

Senior elements of the national security community on Saturday expressed great alarm at the presence of Burke, who has been engaging their attention.

Not only was he present, but Burke was introduced by her to the President and posed for pictures with the Head of State, President Anthony Carmona.

The consternation of senior intelligence personnel was aggravated by the photo of a smiling Burke standing right next to His Excellency, sources said.

Burke was unknown to the President, as he was to the Prime Minister, who as is customary attended the swearing-in ceremony.

McDonald introduced Burke to His Excellency as a member of her constituency, sources said.

McDonald: Burke was not invited

Before her firing yesterday, McDonald told some political associates the Prime Minister requested her resignation.

However, McDonald insisted she never invited Burke to the event and it was the security at the President’s House who allowed him in.

She has acknowledged inviting Dopwell.

Sources at the President’s House on Saturday indicated McDonald was originally asked to provide the names of three guests, and she requested a fourth (Dopwell).

They confirmed Burke was not among the four names and when he turned up, he was told this and was denied admission to the conference room where the swearing-in ceremony was due to take place.

However, the sources said when McDonald arrived, she came upstairs accompanied by Burke, along with her other guests. It was in these circumstances he secured entry, sources at the President’s House explained.

Sources also said all the people in McDonald’s group (including Burke) had arrived at the President’s House in the same vehicle.

“If (Burke) was not invited by her, then why did she introduce him to and have him photographed with the President?” the source at the President’s office asked.

She was warned

Sources said the view of the Cabinet is the Government would lack the moral authority to be taken seriously in its commitment to fight crime if its senior members are thought to be having any association with people who may be on the national security radar.

Sources said on Saturday that McDonald had been previously warned by her colleagues about some of these associations.

Last Friday, McDonald attended a celebration in honour of her return to the Cabinet at Kapok Hotel, St Clair, which, according to sources, was also attended by Burke and Dopwell.

No discussion at general council

The PNM general council met on Saturday, but there was no discussion on the McDonald issue at the meeting.

Neither the Prime Minister and political leader, nor McDonald, who is a deputy political leader, attended the meeting.

At the Office of the President, there was some discussion as there was the feeling it was unfortunate the President was put in this situation.

One source suggested there might be a review of the decision to have the President pose for pictures with family and friends at such ceremonies.

There might also be a reinstatement of the initial policy of not allowing people whose names are not on the official guest list entry onto the compound.

Burke: I am a businessman

Yesterday, Burke told TV6 News all the brouhaha over his presence had to do with stereotyping and discrimination against him because of where he lived, Sea Lots.

Stating he was never convicted of any crime, he said it was Dopwell, not McDonald, who invited him to come to President’s House, and any fault lay with the protocol and security at the President’s House.

Speaking to the Express on Friday, Burke denied any involvement with the underworld.

“Whoever has said that I belong to the underworld, I would say it’s stupid, baseless allegations…I don’t even stop to consider I am in the underworld, I think they need to get their facts straight. The underworld I know about is in the movies,” said Burke, whose company, Burke and Co Ltd, received the contract to build the Sea Lots Homework Centre.

“I am a businessman,” he said, adding he worked with former Port of Spain South MP and former Energy minister Eric Williams.

In hailing Rowley’s decision to reinstate her, he said the original decision in March 2016 to fire McDonald was flawed.

He said he was “overwhelmed and overjoyed” by her return to the Cabinet.

Burke was arrested at the Hyatt Regency (Trinidad) hotel during the 2011 State of Emergency. He was charged under anti-gang legislation with being a gang leader, but he was not convicted.

Dopwell said McDonald’s reappointment was excellent.

“We are glad and excited to have her back in the Cabinet,” he said.

Fixin’ T&T

Fixin’ T&T, which first made public Burke’s presence at President’s House, in a release yesterday said there were key differences between “community leaders” and other people in the country.

The release said some of the differences were they did not belong to any of the business chambers, law associations or medical bodies; they dressed differently; their places of dwelling may not be as lavish; their cars not as expensive; and they did not hold public office.

“Fixin’ T&T deems corruption to be the ultimate evil…. The time has come to effectively treat with bandits from the hills of Goodwood Park to the hills of Laventille, from Captain to Cook, from Parliamentarian to President,” the release stated.

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