Silence from Government members and concern from PNM’s Port-of-Spain South constituency executive in the wake of the arrest of Public Administration Minister Marlene McDonald on Thursday.
But there are also Opposition demands for Prime Minister Keith Rowley to speak about McDonald’s arrest yesterday.
McDonald and her husband were taken into custody and were being questioned last night for alleged corruption offences.
Sources said it involved the Calabar Foundation regarding which the Police’s Fraud Squad had been investigating McDonald since 2016 after a complaint by Fixin' T&T.
Police told Guardian Media at the start of the year the investigation was still open but was expected to be closed “soon.”
After word broke early yesterday, Government only officially acknowledged the situation via a statement issued at 2.52 pm from Communication Minister Donna Cox. This referred to a search warrant executed at McDonald’s Maracas, St Joseph home and an “ongoing police investigation.”
The Police Service at 3.07 pm subsequently confirmed arrest of McDonald and her husband.
Prior to Government’s statement, Cox told Guardian Media that Cabinet had not held its weekly meeting on Thursday and there would be no post-Cabinet media briefing.
She said Rowley was in Tobago. She added she had word there would be no Cabinet meeting earlier in the week and it wasn’t because of McDonald’s issue.
Cox said that all she knew was, police had executed a warrant. She couldn’t state what effect it would have on Government “...until we get the facts.”
When Guardian Media phoned McDonald early Thursday morning, she answered but didn’t reply on whether she was being detained/charged/questioned. She said she would call back. McDonald sounded calm but slightly surprised at the call.
Government officials said Rowley, on vacation in Tobago, was aware of the situation and would let due process take its course before he acted. But they said Rowley was “disappointed.”
Rowley appointed McDonald, a deputy political leader of the PNM, a Minister three times in the four-year term, firing her twice due to allegations of misconduct.
After the last appointment in 2018, Rowley was asked in Parliament if he received information from the Integrity Commission and/or Fraud Squad clearing McDonald. Rowley stated that only he could appoint members to Cabinet and those appointments “aren’t dependent on any letter from the Integrity Commission.” He didn’t comment on the police investigation.
Yesterday the Opposition UNC stated, “We await the outcome of the investigation. We live in a country where the rule of law obtains, and every citizen’s entitled to due process, justice and fair play. However, the fact that a sitting PNM Government Minister is under active investigation over claims of misappropriation of public funds and is being questioned by the police, is alarming.”
“Citizens who elected this government deserved to have the Prime Minister, at least, make an immediate statement on this serious matter. But once again Dr Keith Rowley’s poor leadership is highlighted given that he has on two occasions, removed Ms. McDonald, and re-instated her in Cabinet. Up to this time, the Prime Minister hasn’t made any statement on this very serious matter—he remains missing in action.”
UNC MP Roodal Moonilal added, “It’s deeply disturbing that a Cabinet minister finds herself in this predicament but the law must take its course. This speaks again to the poor judgment of PM Rowley and his arrogance. He must speak on this matter urgently as he did about (UNC Mayaro corporation chairman) Glen Ram.” Rowley had called for the UNC to remove Ram from office after the councillor was charged with soliciting a $1,500 bribe.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh confirmed he had reached out to McDonald privately and Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis said she “couldn’t say anything.”
PNM Port-of-Spain South constituency secretary Ronon Callendar said, “Constituents are concerned. We haven’t spoken to the MP yet and can’t comment. We’re awaiting the facts.”
Reporter: Gail Alexander