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Dr Rowley’s baptism of fire; why PM may follow tainted footsteps of successors

The dismissal of Marlene McDonald could be the start of something good, if it helps to shift the system towards more accountable power. If this were to happen, it would mark a real revolution.

Photo: Former Housing  and Urban Development Minister Marlene McDonald. (Copyright Andy Hypolite/Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: Former Housing and Urban Development Minister Marlene McDonald.
(Copyright Andy Hypolite/Trinidad Guardian)

The more predictable outcome, however, is that her dismissal will stand as a new marker of polarisation rather than a new standard of politicisation.

As impotent minions of the old order, we will continue to conspire against change while agitating for it, digging our heels into the old, closing ranks against the new, and rationalising our fear of change as an act of loyalty.

In doing so, however, let us at least not delude ourselves about the opportunity that we’re turning our backs upon.

However rattled he might be by having had to fire an arch lieutenant so early in his term, it is precisely the baptism of fire needed to prompt Dr Keith Rowley into taking the leap from PNM leader to leader of T&T.

If he passes up on the chance, he would hardly be the first to do so.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. (Copyright News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Copyright News.Gov.TT)

Putting party above country is our norm, not the exception. And until he was pushed into dismissing McDonald, Dr Rowley was sizing up to be true to standard form.

In defending Cabinet members Marlene McDonald and Camille Robinson-Regis, Dr Rowley has shown that he does not understand why the electorate has brought him and his party to office. Perhaps he thinks it has to do with a superior campaign strategy or, as Carly Simon might say, he probably thinks it’s about him.

If so, to the extent that he does, it would hardly be surprising. Even puppets installed for convenience celebrate victory as the result of their quality leadership.

Whatever the gifts he brought to the campaign, however brilliant the campaign strategy and whatever the size of his financiers’ war chest, the PNM owes its return to power after a single term in opposition to the break down of public trust in the PP administration.

So deep was the chasm of that distrust that it swallowed the PP’s lavish expenditure programme, its massive propaganda network and Persad-Bissessar’s accessible charms.

Photo: Former Sport Minister and Central FC chairman Brent Sancho (second from right) is flanked by ex-Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (right) and former World Cup 2006 star and Central coach Stern John during the opening of the Irwin Park Sporting Complex in Siparia in 2015.  (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Former Sport Minister and Central FC chairman Brent Sancho (second from right) is flanked by ex-Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (right) and former World Cup 2006 star and Central coach Stern John during the opening of the Irwin Park Sporting Complex in Siparia in 2015.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

This failure to understand the role of trust and distrust in the political process has led Dr Rowley into classic mistakes which have been burning up the political currency with which he came into office.

His handling of the matters involving Ms McDonald and Mrs Robinson-Regis suggest that, like his predecessor, he has not located himself and his government on the side of public trust.

Had he done so, he would not be asking the public for blind acceptance that Mrs Robinson-Regis has properly explained her TT$93,000 bank deposit with the evidence unseen.

Apart from blind loyalists, thinking citizens would expect to see the evidence that has satisfied the PM and his AG.

After all, it was Minister Robinson-Regis herself who brought the issue to the public with a number of claims that will remain unsubstantiated until the evidence is publicly presented.

Photo: Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis. (Courtesy PNM)
Photo: Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis.
(Courtesy PNM)

Hard experience has taught the T&T public not to buy cat-in-bag, no matter how high the office nor how important the official.

The matter of Marlene McDonald has opened Pandora’s Box on the operations of the government, parliament and political parties.

The constituency salary payments that brought her down were no secret from Parliament. Widely recognised as the spouse of Ms McDonald, it should’ve been clear to the Office of Parliament that its salary payments to Michael Carew’s bank account was in contravention of its own rules.

Whether recognised or not, however, the situation suggests that Parliament has introduced a rule that it is either delinquent in policing or does not have the framework or resources to police.

The incident has also exposed the completely arbitrary nature of the payments and quantum of payments made to constituency staff.

Photo: Princes Town MP Barry Padarath. (Courtesy Kamla2015.TT)
Photo: Princes Town MP Barry Padarath.
(Courtesy Kamla2015.TT)

We shouldn’t have to wait for Kirk Waithe’s FOI request for payment data at all 41 constituencies to recognise the deficiencies of a publicly-funded system operating without processes of accountability.

As the bastion of accountability for public funds, it is sheer madness for Parliament—of all entities—to be managing its TT$22 million-plus annual constituency salary budget without checks and balances.

Having had the lid blown by the McDonald expose, the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate should urgently move to establish an in-depth investigation into this issue as well as the entire programme of MP funding.

As for the government, both Mrs Persad-Bissessar and Dr Rowley have fallen victim to the idea that they are equipped and well-placed to investigate their own ministers and clear them of wrong-doing.

This is the old colonial power system at work in which prime ministers assume the authority of the all-powerful governor.

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. (Courtesy Caricom.com)
Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
(Courtesy Caricom.com)

In 2016, it is long past the time for independent and transparent systems of investigation and accountability.

As it stands, unless and until prime ministers wish to rid themselves of political liabilities inside the cabinet, they have no vested interest in doing the right thing as opposed to the right thing for their political interest.

Until there is constitutional reform to this end, prime ministers can save themselves and their governments from the pitfalls that devastate public trust, erode public support and get them kicked out of office by keeping an arm’s length from investigations into the conduct of all their appointees.

As experience has repeatedly shown, in failing to do so, they are quickly consumed by the fires set by others.

Photo: President Anthony Carmona (right) swears in Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. (Copyright Reuters)
Photo: President Anthony Carmona (right) swears in Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Copyright Reuters)

About Sunity Maharaj

Sunity Maharaj
Sunity Maharaj is a journalist with 38 years of experience and the managing director of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies. She is a former Trinidad Express editor in chief and TV6 head of news.

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  1. And we should listen to Sunity Maharaj of the hypocritical Express Newspapers why?(rhetorical)

  2. Why must the public have to see the Private bank transaction that has been proven to be above board? What foolishness is that. No one would want to serve if the public demands to see their private business to such absurd levels.

    Also, the news reports are now station g that Marlene McDonalds man is not her husband, but her romantic partner.

    If Dr Rowley continues to be easily distracted no UNC /PeePee shall ever be arrested and charged on any matter.

  3. As I see it, the issue with Camille’s deposit of $93,000 is not so much a transfer between banks, but rather the source of the initial funds. No one is saying that she committed a crime, let me make that clear. But certainly there is healthy scepticism by a good portion of the population as to the evidence of the initial deposit. As some commentators rightly said, we only have the Prime Minister’s word that the transaction is clean cut. Can we trust banks who have proven to be politically pliable? For a population whose income on average is away less than most of the allowances ministers get, they are bound to be those who find it difficult to believe that these sums of money pass through accounts in an entirely legit manner. The duty of the Prime Minister is not to act as judge and jury and executioner of his own ministers, but to facilitate transparency.

    I have noticed a trend that Rhoda Bharath staunchly defends PNM actions… This while being “a political commentator”. At the same time I had to take issue with her on a previous occasion when she unfairly criticised Wade Mark and his spouse merely because they were PP affiliates. Thereafter she banned me from commenting on her blog. I mentioned this Mr Liburd, because shortly you will see that she comes on here rather aggressively defensive. She is unable to be unbiased.

    From a legal point of view, based upon my education and background in law, there is a difference between law and morality. I am not saying that Camille’s situation is illegal or immoral, just that there should be an independent assessment and the results made known to the public. I will go so far as to say that that assessment ought not to come from the integrity commission which I have always viewed as a corrupt, “jobs for the boys” organisation, and with no teeth to enforce any findings.

    The entire gist of Sunity’s article is simply that Dr Rowley is merely following in the footsteps of previous chief administrators of the country. He takes no action proactively but waits until his back is to the wall when he is cornered by public opinion. As I see it, Sunity’s chief point is that this should not happen – rather, once information is made to the public there should be a proactive, independent investigation and swift action thereafter. Protecting your own is not the way to run a country. You are leader of the entire country, not only of your party.

  4. Sunity has proven once again that she is on top of her game! Excellent article!

    • Sunity isn’t the flava of the month these days, Andrea. Lol. Personally, I thought it was a good piece.
      But I’d admit that Camille hasn’t been proven to have broken any laws. So we have to be careful how we cast aspersion on her.
      Even though I am wary of politicians walking around with wads of cash myself.

    • Lasana Liburd…I hear u with respect to the current situation, that she may or may not be guilty of anything. But a weary/wary population would remember her past indiscretion/s and judge her based on that. Again I say, is the party so hard up that they cannot find suitable, new performers without so much baggage? All I can say is, sad for succession planning, then.

  5. There’s a marked difference between skeptical supposition and wild speculation…journalists ought to bring balance not a singular point of view.

  6. “Apart from blind loyalists, thinking citizens would expect to see the evidence that has satisfied the PM and his AG.”
    I believe this is the line that is causing so many issues with Sunity’s column. Journalists have a duty to be skeptical though.
    Rhoda, it is true that nobody can point to a crime committed by Camille. But we are anxious to see proof that this is a normal transaction too.
    Now, that may not happen here. She is entitled to some privacy after all. So if the banks say everything is fine, then it is a dead alley.
    But this is a political climate where many are not prepared to accept that the watchdogs are doing their job. Politicians will have to live with that doubt. They earned it.

    • Im not asking if the transaction normal. I spoke to 3 bank managers. And a person who creates the securityy systems inside banks. All three said to their knowledge CRR had broken no rules or laws where banking was concerned.
      So Im fine with responsible scepticism…not wild speculation that casts aspersion. If I could ask 2/3 banking ppl to explain things, surely other columnists can. Otherwise we misleading the public and on folly.

    • It is unfair to say Camille is guilty of wrongdoing without clear evidence. There are a few things about the transaction and a bit more things about Camille’s reaction to being asked about it by the Express that raised my antennae.
      But I agree that it is unfair to punish her by innuendo at this juncture.
      I am wary. But I will try not to stray into irresponsibility.

    • Ive no issue with us being sceptical about her response. But if we examining or commenting on the act itself we have nothing yet to condemn. The banks admit there was a breach of confidentiality and that nothing was suspicious about her transaction.

    • I am suspicious whenever I see a politician walking around with loads of cash. But that is all it is at the moment. Suspicion.

    • Camille was MP and Minister in one. So we looking at a salary of about 40k inclusive of allowances etc. And she wasnt paid for the first 2 months.
      93k doesnt faze me.

      • The issue is not about the amount of money, because it is quite believable that she may possess a lot more than that having been a professional woman for a long period of time.

        The issue is that CRR has had a history of questionable activity as it relates to financial dealings; that she entered an institution with over 93K in CASH, when she could have transferred the money via a non cash transaction; that just prior to her media conference there was an ‘offshore’ trip for just a couple of days without that info being made public; and that Al Rawi and Dr. Rowley stating that ‘all is well because we say so’, does not inspire confidence in the end result.

  7. Transferring money between your accounts is a very normal transaction. If Republic furnished correspondence to that effect, the transaction cannot be deemed suspicious, far less illegal.

  8. Im going to ask, becausr clearly I missed the memo…what laws, rules, procedures or guidelines did Camille Robinson-Regis breach?
    Because I asked banking ppl and they maintained she didnt break any laws.

  9. what baptism of fire steups, man time in charge has been graceful lIke a ballerina compared to rhe last administration.

  10. Mr Garcia, The time to close the stable door, even farm hands know, is BEFORE the horse bolts. From my reading of this piece, that is what Sunity is trying to do. But I think she anticipated your response and wrote this line just for you and your ilk: “Apart from blind loyalists, thinking citizens would expect to see the evidence that has satisfied the PM and his AG.”

    No one would hold it against you, I think, if you decided at this stage to jump from before the comma to after it.

  11. This is the most disappointing article I’ve read from the author….its riddled with assumptions and pretentious in its assessment

    • The very first two sentences illustrate clearly a stance of supposition. After that, its a blatant grammatical depiction of, not embracing and expanding upon what action the PM actually took, but rather a series of imagined scenarios that do not presently exist. It can be reasonably understood that a juxtaposition of present and past PMs be made, but the author’s judgement appears to be patently premature and impossibly arrived at with the information at hand. With neither defending nor promoting any present or former PM, why not let the situation play out a bit further before putting pen to paper and literarily casting a shadow of doom and gloom over events that have not yet occurred? The present PM dismissed a senior minister based on information that was presented to him….to write about ‘predictable outcome'(s) is a tad pretentious in my opinion. Even if that were par for the course, should not another ‘outcome’ be equally ventilated?

      • Carlon Garcia, are you aware that the “information that was presented to him” was so done prior to him screening the MP? Dr. Rowley’s action was based on mounting public pressure. There is a difference between public pressure and information coming to the fore.

    • Columnists are supposed to give us supposition. She isn’t obliged to embrace anything. I don’t see the issue in her raising doubts or suspicions if she has them. And she isn’t the only one with those.
      If she writes about the doom and gloom after it occurs, it wouldn’t be a warning. A warning can only happen before the occurence.