Turmoil within the PNM Government …”IS ROWLEY IN TROUBLE?”

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As Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley leaves for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in London on Sunday, comes word that his Government is in turmoil.

Public confidence, including those within the PNM ranks, have lost faith with Rowley and his Government to govern this county.

Rowley knows that! He also knows that there are some within his Government who are not happy with his style of leadership. There are rumours that Rowley will face a challenge for leadership of the party later this year.

Some of his Ministers, who he thought were his supporters, are silently lining up against the Prime Minister and waiting for the right time. They are even thinking of somehow aiding the Opposition if a no confidence motion is brought against Rowley. The plan is to weaken some of the persons around Rowley.

In other words, Rowley is in for a rocky few months ahead.

PROBLEMS WITH MINISTERS

Within recent times, several of his Ministers have been in the spotlight for various mis-steps.

Let us look at these mis-steps:

* There is an active police investigation into a report that the two children of Attorney General, Faris Al Rawi, were photographed with high-powered weapons at Camp Cumuto on October 31, 2015. While Al Rawi never admitted that the children in the photographs were his children, Rowley did.

The Defence Force compiled a report, but no action was taken against anyone with respect to that incident. The police have been conducting a simple investigation, and like Emailgate, cannot reach a conclusion.

* In May 2017, then Minister of Sport, Darryl Smith,  took 12 employees of his Ministry for a THA awards ceremony in Tobago. The trip was for 3 days, and the bill amounted to $91,000.

Airline tickets cost $3,600. Eleven rooms were booked at the Magdelena Grand Resort costing just over $77,000 and $10,400 was spent to rent four vehicles from Rollock’s Car Rentals.

The total cost came up to $91,910.40. The trip lasted from May 19th to 22 during the Tobago House of Assembly Awards.

In his defence, Smith said the Ministry’s team went to several site visits during that time. That explains the need for the hotel rooms and the car rentals.

He called it a storm in a teacup. The Opposition made heavy weather about this, but Rowley just warned Smith and life continued.

But that was not the end of Smith. Sexual harassment allegations were made against Smith by his former personal assistant, Carrie Ann Moreau. Although she was asking for $248,000, the Ministry of Sport settled for $150,000 and the parties entered a non-disclosure agreement. That was in 2016, but somehow, for some reason, the matter resurfaced two years later. Who leaked the agreement? It was not Moreau…it was not Smith. Who else knew of the agreement or had access to the settlement? Was it someone close to Smith who fell out with him? Was it someone in the AG’s office, or a disgruntled woman from Ministry of Sport?

Well, it resulted in Smith being transferred to the Ministry of Housing last Monday in a reshuffle, and fired the following day after Rowley received “new information.’

A three-member committee, all females, has been appointed to look into this matter and report back in two weeks. Smith, MP for Diego Martin Central, is very close to the PM.

* Marlene Mc Donald was fired as Minister of Housing first after reports surfaced that there was a police investigation being conducted in allegations when she was a Minister in the Patrick Manning Government. When Rowley felt she was cleared, he brought her back in 2017 as Minister of Public Utilities. But two days later she was fired after reports surfaced that a Sea Lots gang leader stormed President’s House as Marlene’s guest at her swearing in. Weeks ago, she was brought back as Junior Minister of Public Administration and Communications, although the line Minister, Maxie Cuffie, is laid up in a Washington hospital for the past seven months. In the last reshuffle, she was made the line Minister and Cuffie relegated to the junior position. But Marlene did not take her dismissals lightly. Neither did her constituents! On the day Akile “Christmas” James was killed by the police in February, Marlene’s constituents protested…not over the fatal shooting, but the frustration which their MP was experiencing.

Like Rowley smelt the rat and brought back quickly to Government.

* Edmund Dillon must the luckiest man alive. Despite presiding over an increasing murder rate, Dillon was not replaced. He has had assistance from lame duck Dennis Moses, and former police officer, MP Glenda Jennings-Smith, but nothing has improved.

Now Dillon is embroiled in a civil case in New York where his name was part of the court proceedings. It was alleged that Neville Piper, a Trinidadian living in the United States, was cheated out of money from his bank account as well as a 50 percent shareholding in a condominium in Manhattan.

Dillon claimed that Piper, 88, a longtime friend of his, had gifted him part ownership of the property. However Piper’s niece, Esther Nicholls, claimed that Dillon had acquired the ownership fraudulently.

After the matter was settled before the court, and details of the case sealed, Dillon claimed he had been exonerated of any wrong doing.

But Nichols said that this is not entirely true.

Justice Laura Visitacion-Lewis of the New York Supreme Court ordered Dillon to return US $10,000 to Piper, return the deed to Piper’s multi-million-dollar condo, and relinquish all documents and interests pertaining to Piper.

Now Rowley is saying that the matter was Dillon’s personal business and the property was a gift to the Minister. Maybe Rowley can ask how Dillon acquired a property at Trinidad Crescent, Federation Park, for peanuts after he retired as Chief of Defence Staff.

* On January 8, 2016, Minister of Planning and Development, Camille Robinson-Regis went to First Citizens’ Bank and deposited $93,000 in cash.

She said she made a withdrawal from Republic Bank and then went to First  Citizens and deposited cash. She said filled out a source of declaration of funds and returned it to the bank officers. Two days later, Robinson-Regis was asked to provide evidence that the monies standing behind the deposit came from somewhere. Al Rawi said, “She in fact provided copies of her bank account, taking money from Republic Bank, and that was provided to FCB and she heard nothing further.”

He said after a newspaper report made “certain suggestions” about the transaction, “the Prime Minister called for specifically, evidence that the withdrawals made from Republic Bank were vouched, and that those withdrawals demonstrated the connections with the deposits made at FCB on the same day.” The AG added, “I am very pleased to confirm that both financial institutions demonstrate nothing other than full compliance with the law, and full propriety in this matter.”

Saying the entire transaction has been vouched, Al Rawi added, “We have in fact received written correspondence from Republic Bank and FCB. That documentation conclusively ends this rather unfortunate sojourn into private matters.”

* Retired Brigadier Ancil Antoine, MP for D’Abadie/Omeara, was appointed Minister of Public Utilities in 2015, but unceremoniously removed in 2016 without explanation. He remains just an MP. Why?

* Shamfa Cudjoe has virtually brought the tourism industry to a halt. It came as no surprise when she was removed last week…although it was a bit too late. In fact, she has been placed at the Ministry of Sport, a place she knows nothing about.

But Cudjoe ran into problems in 2017 with a big roaming phone bill.

She said the bill was incurred as a result of roaming charges while she was attending the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s Caribbean Travel Marketplace in the Bahamas.

Cudjoe said her mobile phone was placed on roaming, hence the charges, which she said were ‘abnormally high’.

“I attended the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s Caribbean Travel Marketplace in the Bahamas in my capacity as Minister of Tourism during the period January 29 to February 3, 2017.”

“At the time of the trip, the Ministry was dealing with several issues which required my attention and therefore necessitated that I remain accessible.”

“During this period, as is common while travelling on official government business, my mobile telephone was placed on roaming.”

“However, when presented with the TSTT bill which covered the period in question, I was surprised and concerned as the charges appeared to be abnormally high.”

“I requested that the Ministry launch an immediate investigation with TSTT, which is still ongoing. The charges being examined are as follows:

“Call usage – $1,111.06

“Roaming Data usage – $50,616.61 and

“Value added tax – $6,562.13.

 She said TSTT indicated that it had no control over the charges imposed by regional and international carriers and explained that this would apply to roaming rates incurred while in the Bahamas.

She added that she tried to keep costs low by using Wi-Fi facilities “at every reasonable opportunity”.

Cudjoe assures that there was no abuse of the use of her mobile phone, which she used only in her capacity as Tourism Minister.

“Notwithstanding, I wish to give the assurance that there was no abuse of the telephone facility afforded to me as a Government Minister.”

“I sought then, and continue now to exercise fiscal prudence in all undertakings, especially in the conduct of affairs of the Ministry of Tourism.”

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SHAMFA CUDJOE

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DARRYL SMITH 

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CAMILLE ROBINSON-REGIS

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THE AG’S CHILDREN

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