PM: I acted on information I had at the time

Prime Min­is­ter Kei­th Row­ley says he first heard that Mar­lene Mc­Don­ald was in po­lice cus­tody via Face­book or What­sApp last Thurs­day and was on­ly told of­fi­cial­ly that she was be­ing charged around 10.30 pm last Sun­day.

"As Prime Min­is­ter and Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty chair­man, where a Min­is­ter is in cus­tody, the sys­tems in T&T are so se­cure that no­body in of­fi­cial­dom com­mu­ni­cat­ed to me there was sub­stance to what was go­ing on be­fore or dur­ing, or that a Min­is­ter was in cus­tody for a rea­son," he added yes­ter­day.

 

Speak­ing at the post-Cab­i­net me­dia con­fer­ence, Row­ley at­tempt­ed to de­fend his Gov­ern­ment, him­self and his stance on Mc­Don­ald - though end­ing with the ad­mis­sion that in hind­sight he'd judged the sit­u­a­tion bad­ly.

"But that was the in­for­ma­tion I had to work with at the time..." he'd ar­gued.

Row­ley had fumed about crit­i­cism in­clud­ing of his judge­ment re­gard­ing Mc­Don­ald.

He al­so dis­missed per­cep­tion of a cri­sis in T&T fol­low­ing re­cent events, say­ing Gov­ern­ment had com­mit­ted to change the pat­tern where peo­ple felt any­thing could hap­pen in T&T and noth­ing would be done, "... So where you see a cri­sis to­day, we say, feel good about it - this is how it's sup­posed to hap­pen and it's hap­pen­ing for the first time."

Ex­plain­ing the train of events re­gard­ing his knowl­edge of is­sues con­cern­ing Mc­Don­ald, he said al­leged wrong­do­ing had "noth­ing to do " with his Gov­ern­ment, he wasn't in of­fice in 2009 and that wrong­do­ing al­so oc­curred over 2011/13 when pub­lic monies were "ap­par­ent­ly go­ing around - but I wasn't aware, as Op­po­si­tion Leader," he said.

Row­ley said when he was dis­missed from the Man­ning Cab­i­net in 2008, and up to 2010 he had no in­side knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion re­gard­ing Mc­Don­ald. He said a pack­age of al­le­ga­tions against her first came to his at­ten­tion dur­ing PNM's can­di­date screen­ing in 2014/15.

He said two un­suc­cess­ful as­pi­rants for the Port-of-Spain South seat - one who'd screened in 2007 and an­oth­er in 2015 - made al­le­ga­tions of mis­con­duct against Mc­Don­ald. As a re­sult, their "en­thu­si­asm" was tak­en with a pinch of salt. The al­le­ga­tions were al­so the same that were sent to the In­tegri­ty Com­mis­sion (IC) on the Cal­abar Foun­da­tion. "When it was raised with me then, it had al­ready been dealt with and a let­ter of ex­on­er­a­tion ex­ist­ed."

Af­ter ap­point­ing Mc­Don­ald as Hous­ing Min­is­ter, the same mat­ter arose "large­ly dri­ven by the same peo­ple" on the Cal­abar is­sue plus there were al­le­ga­tions of how many HDC hous­es Mc­Don­ald had and how many she'd giv­en to peo­ple. He said he agreed the pack­age and new in­for­ma­tion war­rant­ed probe and re­moved her from Hous­ing . But the hous­ing al­le­ga­tions could not be sup­port­ed and the sec­ond IC probe of Cal­abar found no ba­sis to go for­ward.

Row­ley re­count­ed how he al­so fired her as Pub­lic Util­i­ties Min­is­ter in 2017 when a "per­son known to be of se­ri­ous in­ter­est to the po­lice," at­tend­ed her swear­ing-in func­tion.

"I de­cid­ed that a Min­is­ter who was MP for the area ought to have known that and I was ad­vised that the MP had known - the per­son was of in­ter­est to po­lice - and there­fore ought not to have been at Pres­i­dent's House. I was told the per­son was there of their 'own free will and ac­ci­den­tal­ly' got there ....all kind of in­ter­pre­ta­tion," he added.

Row­ley con­firmed there was al­so a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion. "One of many. At that time po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions were opened and were nev­erend­ing."

Be­cause he said he was told it was the same Cal­abar sit­u­a­tion be­ing probed "And hav­ing been there twice, it was rea­son­able for me to as­sume that un­less and un­til this po­lice probe finds some­thing new and dif­fer­ent, I'll make this judge­ment call and I made it - and for that I'm to be held ac­count­able."

How­ev­er, he said last week, po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions re­vealed new in­for­ma­tion and com­plete­ly new batch of wit­ness­es. "A com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent state of af­fairs."

Com­plain­ing of crit­i­cism that he'd failed to act af­ter her ar­rest, he added - af­ter dis­clos­ing how the news came to him last week - "Look at my sit­u­a­tion, I'm see­ing some­thing this way (now), hav­ing seen it be­fore in those ways. I said last Fri­day, if it turned out to war­rant ac­tion I won't hes­i­tate to act - what do you want me to do, act with­out know­ing what's in­volved?"

Row­ley said if he'd called the Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er or oth­er of­fi­cers, he'd have been ac­cused of in­ter­fer­ing or seek­ing to in­flu­ence the mat­ter the way for­mer PM Patrick Man­ning was, when he called a po­lice sta­tion to see if his dri­ver was be­ing ar­rest­ed.

He there­fore de­cid­ed to wait un­til po­lice were in a po­si­tion to say some­thing and "I'd know what I was deal­ing with and what ac­tion might be re­quired - what so wrong with that?" he said, adding he re­moved her from Cab­i­net and PNM's deputy lead­er­ship.

Reporter: Gail Alexander

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