18 Mar 2016

Small axe cuts big tree

It's no small job to tackle the Marlene McDonald saga that unfolded in the media over the past several weeks. For those who do not know, things began to unfold when certain documents came to light, documents which showed that Marlene used her position as a government minister to influence the Housing Development Corporation into granting a house to her common-law husband Michael Carew… which he promptly rented out. Aside from that, FIXIN’ T&T has offered evidence that Michael and his brother Lennox were employed in the constituency office of said Minister. As FIXIN’ T&T has said:


Mr Michael Carew received a monthly payment of TT$13,400 while Mr Lennox Carew has and continues to receive a monthly salary of TT$14,000. Over the period 1 March 2011 and 7 September 2015, the combined salaries of both employees accounted for 60 percent of the constituency’s monthly budgetary allocation of TT$45,700.


The particular relevance of these facts is that:


1.              Mr Michael Carew meets the legal definition of spouse to the Member of Parliament for Port of Spain South, Marlene McDonald.


2.              Mr Michael Carew and Mr Lennox Carew are brothers.


3.              Mr Michael Carew and Mr Lennox Carew are both directors of the Calabar Foundation which, over a 15-day period in April to May 2010, applied for and received monies in the sum of TT$575,000 from the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs then headed by Minister Marlene McDonald.  The name Calabar Foundation was applied for on July 14, 2010. It was registered on August 24, 2010.


4.              We have been unable to verify whether Mr. Lennox Carew resided in Trinidad the entire period for which he was paid.


Readers of this blog with longer memories will recall that Marlene was the minister responsible for government scholarships in 2009. At that time there was evidence of a PNM link in the granting of scholarships. And Marlene was as bad as she was big, adamantly refusing to answer any questions on who, how and how much the scholarships were for. I will return to this in a moment.


Continuing with the saga of Marlene and Michael, it arises this morning Friday, 18 March 2016 that Prime Minister Keith Rowley has terminated the services of his Chief Whip and Housing Minister Marlene McDonald. I suspect it was a reluctant decision, from the defence of his minister that the Prime Minister – and Attorney General as well – had previously put forward.


But let’s get back to the topic of scholarships. This current government administration has resorted to the courts to enforce the contracts that government scholarship recipients agree to. That is, after finishing their period of study they must return to the service of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. Considering that it is the government that pays both educational and living expenses during the period of study, a reasonable person will think that this is fair.


The first casualty of this enforcement of contracts was Dr. Ryan Wellington, who has been ordered by the court to pay back roughly $3 million TT dollars. Given that this appears to be the new precedent, I wonder if this government will go after those PNM personnel who were granted “scholarships” under Marlene McDonald’s watch. One would recall that Laurel Lezama, daughter-in-law to the Port of Spain mayor at the time, received $500,000 to study law in England. There is no evidence she completed the law degree, and certainly no evidence that any monies were paid back. Now if there was ever a case to take before the courts it would be this one!


I am certainly keeping an eye on the scholarship issue… Now that the Marlene McDonald saga appears to be over. Keep watching this space.