Sunday 9 December 2018 Jensen La Vende
‘I protect my friends’
Public Administration Minister on official in HDC house fraud
WHO is the “nice man” said to have given a house to a couple, by-passing all protocols and procedures of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) for doing same? It turns out that both the police and the HDC itself are investigating a friend of one-time housing minister, Marlene McDonald, in connection with the matter.
Mc Donald now holds the portfolio of Public Administration in the Cabinet of Dr Keith Rowley. But Rowley fired her twice as a minister in a matter of months following well-publicised allegations against her and her relationship with other associates of hers.
In this latest development, McDonald said she was not prepared to talk much about it. She said her private relationship with anyone was her business when asked by Sunday Newsday about her connection with that friend just before she entered Parliament on Friday for a sitting of the Lower House.
“That is between them,” she responded when told that her friend was the subject of internal and police investigations. “This is me on one side, I’m not answering any questions with respect to that. I protect my friends in my private business. I am a very private person.”
The friend described as a “nice man” is accused of fraudulently allocating an HDC house to a couple last year. The couple identified the man by name to the media after their squatting came to the attention of HDC during their relief efforts following flooding that devastated Greenvale in October. The couple claimed they were sent to the “nice man” to assist them last year to get their home. He, they claimed, provided them with documents granting them access to the home at Alpha Avenue, Greenvale. HDC found that the documents were all forged and following an internal investigation the matter was handed over to police.
The man has worked under three ministries led by McDonald since she entered politics in 2007. He began in the ministry of community development, culture and gender affairs. From 2007-2010, McDonald was the minister in charge of that ministry. Following the 2015 general election, McDonald was appointed housing minister and it was then the “nice man” was hired at the People’s Issues Resolution Co-ordinating Unit (PIRCU) at the housing ministry.
It was while at this unit the man is alleged to have allocated the house to the couple who were given keys to an apartment, but not the one they were “allocated.” The couple claimed that they were told to break in and to set aside money for mortgage since the paper work was not fully completed. From August, last year, to early November, the couple never paid rent, mortgage or made any payments towards owning the home. They also benefited from flood relief and received $20,000 after the husband’s vehicle and their fridge were damaged.
The couple’s squatting was discovered on November 7. On October 25, six days after the flooding, the man was appointed to the board of the Telecommunications Authority of TT (TATT). His contract with the housing ministry came to an end on November 30 and sources told Sunday Newsday it was not renewed. His appointment to TATT came following a Cabinet directive to President Paula-Mae Weekes. TATT is a state board under the Ministry of Public Administration. McDonald was appointed the Minister of Public Administration in March.
TATT’s chairman Gilbert Peterson when contacted confirmed the “nice man” was appointed to the board but was not aware of any allegations against him. He added he would look into the allegations surrounding him.
McDonald was axed as housing minister in March 2016 after questions were raised about her behaviour as a minister toward her companion Michael Carew. The first issue raised was that she, while being minister of community development, allegedly arranged for Carew to be given a HDC house in Fidelis Heights, St Augustine, in 2008. There were also queries over donations from the Ministry of Community Development in 2010 of $375,000 and $200,000 plus another sum to the Calabar Foundation while McDonald was still in charge of the ministry. Carew was said to be a Calabar director at the time. The Integrity Commission exonerated McDonald in December 2013 on the Calabar Foundation issue but both concerns were raised again in 2015 when she became housing minister.
McDonald, at the time, assured all was above board and managed to hold on to her portfolio until early 2016 when further questions were raised about her relationship with Carew. In March of that year, it was found that McDonald had employed both Carew and his brother Lennox to work at her Port of Spain South constituency office from June 2010 to September 2015, a clear breach of parliamentary rules.
That new revelation along with the previous allegations proved to be too much for McDonald to withstand and Rowley revoked her appointment later that month.
Her next stint as a government minister came in June 2017, 15 months after she was fired. Both police and the Integrity Commission had investigated her and she had been cleared by the commission for a second time in six years on the Calabar issue. At the time Rowley claimed he had “no difficulty” in reappointing her as the commission had found no basis that she breached the Integrity of Public Life Act.
This time, McDonald’s appointment as minister of public utilities lasted all of two days after she was photographed with Cedric “Burkie” Burke – a Sea Lots businessman who was arrested and later freed of being a gang leader in 2011 during the state of emergency.
Burke has since sued the State for wrongful arrest and the matter is ongoing.
McDonald was crucified on social media for associating with Burke, whose activities, some alleged, were suspect. His attendance at President’s House for McDonald’s swearing-in ceremony raised concerns among Special Branch police officers. How Burke managed to attend the function has not been made clear. He told the media he showed up uninvited to support his member of Parliament while she claimed he was an invited guest. Two days later, without ever having set foot in her new ministry, she was removed again by Rowley. She was given a third ministerial stint in March this year.
On his decision to re-appoint her as Public Administration Minister, Rowley said then: “Ms McDonald can make a valuable contribution to the ministry and I am confident that she will meritoriously perform the duties required as a minister in the ministry.”
McDonald, in accepting the appointment, pledged to dedicate herself to the business of the ministry and said that she was “committed and motivated to perform.”https://newsday.co.tt/2018/12/09/i-protect-my-friends/