On 23 December 2013, the Integrity Commission, then chaired by Ken Gordon, cleared POS South MP Marlene McDonald of ‘any breaches of the Integrity in Public Life Act (ILPA)’. The letter did not specify what issues were brought before the IC.
McDonald had been publicly accused of using her influence as a Cabinet member to get her common-law husband, Michael Carew, a HDC house, spending TT$45,700 of her constituency’s monthly budgetary allocation—roughly 60 per cent of the POS South’s administrative budget—to pay salaries to Carew and his brother, Lennox Carew, in an apparent flout of Parliamentary rules against hiring relatives, and misappropriating funds meant for at-risk youth through the Calabar Foundation, which listed herself and her common-law husband and his brother as directors.
Here’s a snippet of the public conversation about McDonald and corruption since then:
6 March 2016
Fixin’ T&T suggests how Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley should deal with corruption allegations circling McDonald:
“If he is serious, the PM would ask Ms McDonald for Mr Carew to provide the public with proof—other than the cheques paid to it by Government and incorporation papers—of the existence of the Calabar Foundation and any work it has done with the tax payers monies it received.”
8 March 2016
Rowley shares one of his methods for weeding out corrupt Cabinet members with the audience at a Transparency International seminar entitled ‘Unmask the Corrupt’:
“When they were selected as members of the team to represent my party, I took them on a retreat and I stopped in the middle and I asked everyone in that team: ‘if there is any person in this lineup who believes that you’re coming in this Government to enrich yourself, now is the time to leave’. No person left; so I assumed that they subscribe to that.”
6 February 2017
Rowley discusses the issue of personal responsibility for victims of domestic violence and suggests that persons must take ownership of the company they keep:
“If a crime is to be committed, invariably, the police may not know it is to be committed and more often than not the police would only know after the crime has been committed.
“[…] You called on the Prime Minister to do something about crime. I am not in your bedroom, I am not in your choice of men. You have a responsibility to determine who you associate with and know when to get out…”
30 June 2017
McDonald addresses the media on her return to Cabinet, after being dismissed in the midst of a second Integrity Commission investigation:
“There is so much that one can endure. For 15 months I sat in the wilderness and I did what I was supposed to do and I maintain my stature, I maintained my dignity for the 15 months. And I’m not about to be living in the past. I am going forward.”
Rowley ‘takes responsibility’ for bringing McDonald back into Cabinet despite allegations that investigations into her conduct remain ongoing:
“I am a little clearer on it than you are and I take responsibility for the actions of bringing back Ms McDonald. I take responsibility for that based on my analysis of the overall situation. I don’t expect everyone will agree with me on that, I have a decision to make and I made it.
“In the fullness of time, we will all be clearer on this matter. But for the moment, I took that decision and I take responsibility for that decision.”
9 March 2018
Rowley, in response to a question by Princes Town MP Barry Padarath on whether McDonald was indeed cleared by the Integrity Commission of all misconduct, reiterates that his Cabinet is his responsibility and not the IC’s:
“The last time I checked the responsibility of appointing any person to the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago lies with the Prime Minister and I am not aware that is circumscribed by any correspondence to or from the Integrity Commission.”
10 August 2019
As McDonald is arrested by the TTPS and the DPP prepares to charge her for seven counts of fraud, Rowley tells the i95.5FM that the buck stops with… the Integrity Commission:
“The exact investigation that is taking place now using the police could have been done before using the police at the behest of the Integrity Commission because the Integrity Commission has the authority to call in the police and use police officers to do investigations.
“[…] So this country has a serious conversation to have about an Integrity Commission.”
(Release today from PNM Public Relations Officer Laurel Lezama-Lee Sing)
The People’s National Movement has taken careful note of the unfolding events surrounding the Member of Parliament for Port of Spain South, the Honourable Marlene McDonald, and three other persons. It is now widely known in the public domain that charges are expected to be laid against them today and that Prime Minister the Honourable Dr Keith Rowley has advised Her Excellence, the President, to both revoke MP McDonald’s Cabinet appointment and appoint Senator Garvin Simonette as her replacement in the Ministry of Public Administration.
While undoubtedly saddened by this turn of events, the People’s National Movement is thankful for the yeoman service Ms McDonald has provided, both as a Deputy Political Leader with responsibility for Legislative Matters and as the Port of Spain South MP for the past 12 years.
The Party also recalls with gratitude her stint as Chief Whip in the House of Representatives during the Opposition years of 2010-2015.
That notwithstanding, the People’s National Movement has long stood on the side of the law, and particularly under the stewardship of Dr Rowley, has been vehement in its denunciation of corruption and wrong doing—irrespective of the perpetrator’s creed, colour, social status, gender or political affiliation.
In this regard and mindful that the matter is now before the courts, the Party wishes to reaffirm its commitment to the independence of the major stakeholders in this ongoing situation, namely the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the Judiciary.
It is in the strengthening of that independence and the timely execution of their functions that confidence will be reposed once again in our institution and the new society of which our Political Leader speaks will be created.
The Party wishes to also acknowledge that these matters for which the four are to be charged, allegedly occurred many years before Prime Minister Rowley first appointed MP McDonald to the Cabinet in 2015 and for which MP McDonald had twice been exonerated by the Integrity Commission.
Today, the Party joins with MP McDonald’s constituents, in particular, in praying for her health and continued well-being as she traverses this difficult part of her life’s journey.
Editor’s Note: Subsequent to this morning’s announcement on the imminent swearing-in of Senator Garvin Simonette as Minister of Public Administration, the Office of the Prime Minister stated that:
“The announced swearing in of Senator Garvin Simonette to this position has been cancelled in light of new information.”