With just six months into the new Trinidad and Tobago government Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley has fired his Housing and Urban Development Minister Marlene McDonald from his Cabinet.
McDonald is one of the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) three deputy political leaders — she will now shift from the front the government’s front bench in Parliament to the backbench.
Rowley moved against one of his very few senior ministers on Thursday following a report in a daily newspaper of an alleged breach of Parliamentary rules that the former minister had hired her husband Michael Carew and his brother Lennox among the 13 members of her Port of Spain South constituency office.
It was reported that Michael Carew worked at the office from June 2010 to Sept. 15 (until after the general election), earning the second highest salary of TT$13,000 (US$2,000) a month, while his brother has been working at the office since 2011 and received TT$14,000 in salary.
But according to the Parliament rules for hiring staff for constituency office, MPs are restricted from employing relatives as employees in their constituency offices.
Rowley had asked President Anthony Carmona to revoke the appointment of McDonald as the Housing and Urban Development minister.
He also made some changes assigning Randall Mitchell from minister with responsibility for Public Administration to minister of Housing and Urban Development; reassign Maxi Cuffie with responsibility for Communication with responsibility for Public Administration and Communication. And he has assigned Stuart Young as minister in the Office of the Prime Minister. This is in addition to his current portfolio as Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General.
McDonald is also under Investigation by the Integrity Commission that she abused her office in 2008 when she was minister in the former Patrick Manning administration to facilitate a Housing Development Corporation (HDC) unit at Fidelis Heights, St. Augustine, a few miles from Port of Spain, to Carew.
This is one of three allegations that are being probed. She is also been accused of using her ministerial office to approve grants in the sums of TT$375.000 and TT$200,000 to the Calabar Foundation of which Carew is a director.
McDonald said she did not know that Carew was a director of the foundation.
The former minister has denied that she abused her office.
The prime minister also received a letter from acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams that the police had opened a criminal investigation into the Calabar Foundation, to which McDonald has been linked.
Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar had said the Opposition will move a motion of censure against McDonald calling for her removal should Rowley fail to fire her.