Independent Senator Dhanayshar Mahabir suggested last Friday that “Big Momma’s House” might be an appropriate caption for the furore surrounding Marlene McDonald’s request for a home for her boo, which may or may not be an improvement on Marlene-gate.
If only because it would be more accurate to say Marlene-gated community.
UNC Senator Wayne Sturge, who is revelling in his new role as whistle-blower—one that fits only slightly less awkwardly than his Superman underwear—might have preferred “Marlene goes to Jail.”
Fixin’ T&T might prefer to serenade the Prime Minister with Semisonic’s memorable hit, “Closing Time”: “Open all the doors and let you out into the world… You don’t have to go home but you can’t. Stay. Here.”
But, judging from Keithos and Faris’ statements so far, nobody will be letting Marlene out into the world anytime soon.
So, is it much ado about nothing? Or is Keithos’ half-slip showing?
First, a quick summary.
Eight years ago, while Marlene was Culture Minister, she asked then Housing Minister Emile Dick-Forde to get a house for her luvmuffin Michael Carew who, for better or worse, seems to have been implicated in several media scandals over the past decade without getting his photo snapped or lifted.
One has to assume that “Michael Carew” is not a pseudonym for “Keyser Söze”. Or we are not all stuck in a sequel to “My Fake Fiancé.”
Marlene, incidentally, said she lives in a separate home to her sugarplum. And, according to media reports, Carew subsequently rented out his HDC home.
So Keithos has a wanna-be real estate mogul as Housing Minister? What could possibly go wrong there?
Critics immediately pointed to presumed similarities between the present administration and the free-spending, fete match, pick-up side they just replaced.
Mr Live Wire says “yes” and “no.”
Undoubtedly, the PNM Cabinet lacks a certain esprit de corps of its predecessors.
Sturge reacquainted the public with the issue of “Carew’s” Fidelis Heights apartment on 27 December 2015. And, three and a half weeks later, Trinidad and Tobago is still discussing the HDC apartment…
Had the UNC been in power and let’s say Jack Warner was caught spending close to TT$7 million in taxpayers’ money to tow a firetruck valued at considerably less than that outlay. Warner would not have long to wait before, let’s say Anil Roberts’ board, authorised a TT$34 million sum to not teach Life Sport participants.
The UNC leaked scandals with more regularity and consistency than Bill Cosby handed out Quaaludes in the 1960s and 70s.
But, no, poor Marlene has been left alone like a colossal slab of cheese, save for an odd rescue attempt by the AG, who said the Housing Minister did nothing wrong but he certainly would never do the same thing.
Which is sort of like tossing someone an umbrella to face a tornado while you head into your own bunker.
“Faris, wouldn’t it have been more helpful to Marlene if you mentioned, as an analogy, the empty building on 1 Alexandra Street, Port of Spain that a company, which listed your wife as director, rented to the State at a cost of TT$8.2 million per year exclusive of a further TT$927,360 per annum to guard?
Presumably, he already shut the door to his bunker.
In any case, for better or worse—depending on whether you are a conscientious citizen or a wanna-be satirist—the PNM administration apparently does not do rapid-fire scandals.
Either that or the paywalls at the Trinidad Express newspaper are more effective than a legal injunction in stopping investigative stories from getting out these days.
Wait, where was I? Mr Live Wire is all over the place like “Michael Carew” today.
Yes, Marlene and her gift of a HDC house for her snookums.
Sturge has sent the Housing Minister to the Integrity Commission. Critics, columnists and many in-between want Marlene removed from her office until the findings of the investigation.
Rowley and Al-Rawi argue that Marlene’s portfolio does not interfere with the IC investigation and are happy until the body’s findings.
And PNM fanatics have apparently dusted off the old UNC motto of “The PNM thief too!” and presumably settled on: “The UNC thief worse than dat!”
So what does Mr Live Wire say?
Well, they are all right.
More than just another alias for Keyser Söze, “Michael Carew” is a pseudonym for conflict of interest and, more poignantly, misuse of office for personal gain.
As such, Marlene has lost much of the public trust for her role in this episode. And it is especially hard to stomach such a person is the Minister of Housing.
But Keithos and Faris have every right to be unperturbed by the potential findings of the Integrity Commission.
If the Integrity Commission saw nothing wrong with the last Prime Minister moving in with contractor, Ralph Gopaul, who then received a TT$40 million contract from State-owned National Petroleum—making it the most expensive and captivating sleepover since “Inception.”
And if the Integrity Commission also found no fault with Tanty Kamla spending around TT$1.4 million to take her sister, Vidwatie Newton, on overseas trips—making her the world’s most expensive neck cushion.
Surely, the Integrity Commission would not be bothered by Marlene presumably telling the then Housing Minister: “Sort out Mikey nah! Michael Carew. The fellah I keep telling you that you have to meet some time… Nah. He can’t come next week. He, ahmm, won’t be in the country.”
But Keithos and Faris are dead wrong too. They are hoping that Trinis won’t quite be able to put their displeasure with Marlene’s housing issues into words.
“(McDonald) was able to explain to the population, as she did yesterday, she did in fact enquire, and I think she enquired minister to minister,” Rowley told the Trinidad Guardian. “… If a minister is going to be fired for enquiring from another minister I should (not) be sitting here.
“I do that every day because when you represent the public, a member of my family might be a member of the public, when asked about something what do I tell them, that I can’t help you?”
Mr Live Wire’s follow-up questions would be: “What is the point of the housing lottery for members of the public, if a minister could circumvent it with a phone call?
“If ministers could prioritise whoever they wished, doesn’t this mean that party members or friends, relatives and sweet men of ministers and influential party members would hold an unfair advantage over other citizens?
“Doesn’t this imply an implicit or potential violation of the HDC credo, which reads: ‘the Trinidad & Tobago Housing Development Corporation does not discriminate on any basis’ inclusive of ‘political affiliation’?
“Aren’t ministerial intervention for houses supposed to be restricted to special cases such as: loss of property through fire, flood or natural disaster, or exemplary national service?
“Did ‘Michael Carew’ provide any patriotic duty—to Marlene or otherwise—that would constitute national service?”
The UNC is not best placed to press this case. Glenn Ramadharsingh, for instance, allegedly had a very unusual vetting method for his needy female constituents, which sometimes occurred in his restroom with a pencil that would make Chris Gayle blush.
So Keithos and Faris are right. But they are also very wrong. Just like their predecessors.
The Integrity Commission will be wrong too. It always is. Because integrity is not what a law book says. It is what it does not say.
But, while we are on the topic of rules, the HDC’s website does address the issue of the transfer of ownership of a house or apartment.
According to the HDC, the following conditions must be met: the property must be free of encumbrances; there must be no arrears on the account; the prospective owner(s) must satisfy the basic eligibility requirements for housing accommodation; and the applicant must take the necessary oath before a commissioner of affidavits and provide the supporting documents.
So, if “Michael Carew” did rent out his Fidelis Heights apartment, Live Wire says an independent investigative body should open an investigation into that one time.
And, if “Michael Carew” is guilty, then Marlene is disqualified by association. Because, unless her boo has more homes than Ramadharsingh and Vasant Bharath combined, it is inconceivable that, in eight years of a common-law union, Marlene did not realise he was not occupying that Fidelis Heights home. It would have been her duty to report him.
And, if “Michael Carew” did have so many homes, he should not have received a HDC house in the first place.
And the Integrity Commission?
It is as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike or a bible in a whore house. When can we vote to just disband the damn thing?