Ball in PM’s court for damage control

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

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