Twice fired T&T Minister gets another chance

(Trinidad Guardian) Third time’s the charm?

It was a smiling Marlene McDonald who was sworn in as a Minister in Public Administration and Communication yesterday—her third ministerial posting in the Government’s term.

And Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley who has hired her as a minister twice before—and fired her as many times—was smiling right back, congratulating her after she took the oath of office at President’s House, St Ann’s. Both will be working very closely together from now.

Rowley has handled the Public Administration and Communication Ministry since substantive minister Maxie Cuffie fell ill last September. Consequently, the PM is now McDonald’s boss in that ministry.

Last night, McDonald, a People National Movement deputy leader, told T&T Guardian, “I’m eternally grateful and very happy! My work has just restarted. What was in the past is the past—I’ve crossed that bridge and moved on a long time now. It’s time to be future centred on issues.”

Newly-appointed Minister in the Ministry of Public Administration and Communications Marlene McDonald, President Anthony Carmona and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley pose for a picture after McDonald’s swearing-in ceremony yesterday.

McDonald, who entered the Rowley Cabinet as Housing Minister in 2015, was removed in March 2016 pending Integrity Commission and police probes on certain allegations. She, however, created political history in 2017 when Rowley rehired her as a minister on June 30 and fired her again shortly after on July 1.

In the July dismissal, Rowley confirmed she was fired because of her decision to invite Cedric “Burkie” Burke (a constituent), who has been charged for being a gang member by police, to her swearing-in ceremony at President’s House. He also cited the discussions on this in several quarters of T&T. For her third appointment yesterday—almost two years from the March 2016 date when she was first dismissed—word of McDonald’s latest job came from the Office of the Prime Minister at 11.30 am. The OPM said Rowley had advised President Anthony Carmona to appoint McDonald as a Minister in the Ministry of Public Administration and Communications to assist the PM, who was continuing to hold on for Cuffie.

The statement added, “In making the appointment, the Prime Minister said ‘Ms McDonald can make a valuable contribution to the ministry and I am confident that she will meritoriously perform the duties required as a minister in the ministry.’”

“Ms McDonald, in accepting the appointment, pledged to dedicate herself to the business of the ministry and said she was committed and motivated to perform. Ms McDonald is an experienced parliamentarian and her contribution to the ministry is welcomed.”

At a brief swearing-in function a couple hours later, McDonald attended alone, a contrast to her last controversial swearing-in function. Apart from Rowley and President’s House officials, the only other guests were Public Administration and Communications Ministry officials.

Dressed in black, McDonald was congratulated by Carmona with a handshake after she took the oath. Rowley then shook her hand, smiling broadly. Neither McDonald nor Rowley took media questions after.

Marlene’s Career

An attorney, Marlene McDonald is one of a handful of experienced people in the Dr Keith Rowley-led People’s National Movement administration. More than three quarter of the PNM MPs are Government “newbies.”

Those who’ve previously functioned at senior ministerial level (in the Patrick Manning PNM) are Rowley, Colm Imbert, Camille Robinson-Regis, Franklin Khan, Paula Gopee-Scoon and McDonald.

NOVEMBER 5, 2007: McDonald was first elected to Parliament as PNM’s Port-of-Spain South MP. Appointed Minister of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs.

2010-2015: Opposition PNM whip.

SEPTEMBER 7, 2015: Re-elected to Parliament.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2015: Appointed Minister of Housing and Urban Development.

MARCH 17, 2016: Removed from Cabinet following allegations of employing a close relative in her PoS South office and using the Housing Ministry to assist persons. Probes by the Integrity Commission and police on allegations also concerning the Calabar Foundation and other matters.The commission exonerated McDonald in December 2013 on the Calabar Foundation issue. In March 2015, the commission reopened investigation, citing new information.

JUNE 30 2017: Appointed Public Utilities Minister after being cleared on “substantial body of” Integrity matters. On October 25, 2016, the Integrity Commission wrote McDonald exonerating her on certain allegations. However, she remained the subject of commission investigation on an unknown matter.

JULY 1, 2017: Fired from the Public Utilities post four days after being appointed after alleged gang leader Cedric Burke attends her swearing-in ceremony at President’s House.

MARCH 1, 2018: Appointed Minister in Public Administration and Communications.

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