The ruling PNM government seems to be lurching from one crisis to another. This was how political analyst Prof John La Guerre responded to the recent firing of Public Administration Minister Marlene McDonald and Monday’s cancellation of Garvin Simonette’s appointment as her replacement.
McDonald, a deputy political leader of the PNM, and powerhouse in both the Parliament and the political was charged with seven criminal offences yesterday along with four others including her companion.
A release from the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday announced that Simonette was supposed to be sworn in at 2 pm yesterday but was cancelled at the last minute in light of new information which has not disclosed. Within minutes of the cancellation, details surfaced on social media that Simonette was faced with a DUI charge in Brevard County in Oklahoma in 2014.
Simonette was sworn in as a government senator in September 2018 and a background check ought to have picked up on his US conviction, sources said.
Weighing in on the new development, La Guerre said the decision by the PM to appoint Simonette without doing a proper background check may be viewed as a “dereliction of duty.”
Also, Simonette may not have come clean to the PM. “Some people do not always give you a 100 per cent of the story. But then the responsibility of the person making the appointment is to ensure that those who are gathering information on the prospective minister should do their homework properly. This should have never happened.”
La Guerre said he would not blame the PM solely. Has the PM made a bad judgement call?
“A lot of the supporting institutions have to be looked at too. The Prime Minister can only perform to the extent of quality of support that he gets. I think the quality of the (PNM) team leaves a lot to be desired. A lot of the Prime Minister’s problems has to do with the quality of his team.”
Another political analyst, Dr Winford James, says now that McDonald is charged with several corruption offences, it is time Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley explains the government’s predicament. James predicted that McDonald’s charges will negatively affect the PNM, which has already begun selecting candidates for the upcoming local government election.
In a telephone interview on CNC3’s The Morning Brew, James felt that following McDonald’s arrest, Rowley should have acted. He said Rowley would have had privilege information so that when the Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard got involved, the Port-of-Spain South MP should have been dismissed for the third time in under four years.
James said the story of how McDonald found herself at this juncture has to be told, especially if the allegations turn out to be true. Moving forward, he said the Government and the PNM have to analyse the effects that McDonald’s charges will have on people who may be tempted to commit crimes.
Political scientist Dr Bishnu Ragoonath said the impact of McDonald’s arrest means that the PNM has to do damage control “because clearly, it is going to impact negatively on the party.”
In addition to damage control, Ragoonath said the PM would have to be very cautious as to how they go forward.
“They would not want to give the population the impression that they would open themselves up for any kind of challenge again.”
Ragoonath said the same thing happened when the PM appointed Robert Le Hunte as a government minister. Le Hunte had to give up his dual citizenship to serve.
This, he said, should have served as a warning to Rowley.
Ragoonath said Simonette was not the only one charged with a DUI.
He cited government senator Lester Henry who was also convicted of drunk driving in 2018 and given a conditional discharge.
“So I am not sure what is the message that the Prime Minister is sending. But he has to be careful that he is not making mistakes at this point.”
Ragoonath said if Rowley did not revoke Henry’s appointment, he may not see the need to remove Simonette who also holds the position as a Government Senator. Simonette resigned as a government senator yesterday.
“I would not say it was a blunder on the Prime Minister’s part. I would say it was a good thing the Prime Minister caught it on time before the swearing-in ceremony.”
Reporter: Shaliza Hassanali