"As far as the Government is concerned, there is no crisis in Trinidad and Tobago."
Those were the words of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley as he began addressing Thursday's post-Cabinet news conference on the matter of dismissed minister Marlene McDonald.
"A crisis means different things for different people. For us the ship of state flows smoothly along," he said.
But the prime minister has admitted that he made an error in judgement by having returned Marlene McDonald to the Cabinet, despite the allegations she had been facing when he did.
"In hindsight, I would say yes, but at the time I could only have worked with the information that I had," he said.
He defended his actions as prime minister and in particular, criticism that he took too long to act.
Although McDonald was arrested on Thursday, Dr Rowley told the media that he was not privy to official information related to her until Sunday night.
Before that, he said, he had to rely on the information published in the media, arguing that as a prime minister, he could not act on what was published in the press.
Dr Rowley said that if at any time he had sought to contact the police of the Director of Public Prosecutions on the matter, he could have been accused of interfering with a police investigation.
He said he waited until he received official information at 10.30 pm Sunday, from a source he did not disclose, before he took immediate action to have the president revoke McDonald's appointment as a Cabinet minister.
"What you want me to do? You want me to act without having information?"
"Nobody in officialdom communicated with me as prime minister to indicate there is substance that a minister was in custody."
"Some people are saying that the minute I heard that the DPP had granted clearance to proceed, I should have fired the minister. Heard from whom...the media? That's like saying I see it in the papers so it's true," the prime minister said.
In his view, contrary to claims that the country is in a crisis, the country is moving in the right direction.
"This is what you want. The system is working," he said, noting that citizens have long called for persons accused of misconduct to be prosecuted.
"That is why the police conducted an investigation and arrested a minister without the Minister of National Security even knowing or the prime minister."
He said the government is moving to effect a better court system, with more judges, more masters of the court and more courts.
"It is working. It will get better. It is not a crisis. It is a ray of hope," he said.
"We are building a new society and sometimes there is pain."
Dr Rowley reminded the media how the entire Marlene McDonald matter developed, noting that the first time the Calabar Foundation matter came up was under the Patrick Manning administration from 2008-2010, when the Integrity Commission found no reason for an investigation.
"When it came to me as prime minister, it was already dealt with and there was a letter of exoneration," he said.
Soon after the election, he said, it flared up again "with some people saying there was a need for more in-depth analysis". It came, he noted, with the added allegations of questionable practices at the Ministry of Housing, of which the McDonald was Minister.
"I agreed that in face of a package of new information held out, an investigation was warranted and in order to let that proceed, and in keeping with a commitment to morality in public affairs, I moved Ms McDonald from Housing to let it proceed," he said.
"That is what a prime minister is supposed to do. That is what I did."
That investigation, the prime minister said, found no support for allegations related to the minister's behaviour regarding the allocation of houses, and the Calabar Foundation aspect ended without any requirement for further investigation.
He noted that she was brought back but he again acted on her when Beetham resident Cedric 'Burkie" Burke turned up at her swearing-in.
He said the minister was penalised by being removed from the portfolio immediately.
He said the police investigation that resulted in the arrest last week came with new information and a new batch of witnesses.
"I who fired her from Housing to allow an investigation to go forward and I who fired her from President's House because of lack of judgement, suddenly became (last week) a prime minister who had failed to act. I thought that was a little bit unreasonable," he said.
McDonald is on $2 million bail on several charges of corruption and misbehaviour in public office.
- by Sampson Nanton, Editor
Main photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley speaks at Thursday's post-Cabinet Media Conference, by Nicole Drayton.
Photo 1: Marlene McDonald speaks to CNC3 as she leaves the St Clair Medical Centre Thursday.
Photo 2: Marlene McDonald and Beetham resident Cedric 'Burkie" Burke at her swearing-in as Minister of Housing in July 2017.