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More in the mortar…?

by Vernon Khelawan

Before I begin this week’s column I want to make pellucidly clear that I belong to no political party. My interest as a patriot, because I was born and grew up here, is to ensure that the nation’s best interests are always paramount. Everybody, including parliamentarians, is expected to put the interests of the country first.

But when one looks at what is happening today there’s no alternative but to wonder about patriotism. Remember the phrase ‘morality in public affairs’ that was coined by PNM founder Dr Eric Williams some 60 years ago? Today it seems the phrase has become useless, no meaning. There is a total lack of morals, not only in politics, but in Carnival: our songs, our behaviour in many of the public offices in the country, our schools and even in our homes.

The Prime Minister crossed the line with the third ministerial appointment of Marlene McDonald. But there appears to be much more in the mortar than the pestle. The portfolio which McDonald has taken up as a Junior Minister substantively belongs to Maxie Cuffie, representative of the La Horquetta/Talparo constituency.

Cuffie suffered a massive stroke last September and as far as we know is unable to carry out his ministerial duties. He is at present warded at the Walter Reed Hospital, Washington DC, but, according to the Prime Minister, is expected back in the country before Easter. Obviously, the PM knows much more about Maxie than he is prepared to reveal.

From all reports, backed up by statements allegedly made by Maxie, he is supposed to be doing well and on the road to recovery. And as a journalist I wish my former colleague a complete recovery. But while Maxie is recovering, his Ministry—Public Administration and Communications—was being handled by the Prime Minister. But this sudden appointment is suspicious and reeks of deception.

But this is where it gets dicey. Maxie is expected back in the country soon. Whether he will be well enough to resume work is the question. But Marlene is there now. Is she being prepared for Maxie’s job because the powers-that-be know something we don’t? So, the question is, if Maxie is unable to carry out his duties: Would Marlene then become the de facto senior Minister?

Further, if Maxie is unable to serve his constituency, would the State withdraw its medical help from Maxie? Would Maxie be forced to resign? If this turn of events happens and a by-election is called, is the PNM sure to retain the seat, or would Maxie be allowed to ride out his term? Another question. Would the government be brave enough to call a by-election half way through its term?

On the other hand, the Prime Minister has publicly stated he has evidence of malfeasance in public office during the last administration, but two-and-a-half years into his term, nobody has gone to jail and no charges have been laid, except against the former Housing Minister regarding some EMBD contracts.

That is why I say ‘morality in public affairs’ has now become passe. What we are sorely lacking are people with strong principles and morals to buck the authorities if they strongly believe that things can go awry. Now we can understand why former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday made his famous statement – “Politics has a morality of its own”.