LEAD-TRINIDAD-Prime Minister fires Public Utilities Minister for second time

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jul 2, CMC – Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley has fired his Public Utilities Minister Marlene Mc Donald, less than a week after she was re-appointed to the Cabinet after being dismissed as Housing Minister 16 months ago.
A brief government statement issued Sunday gave no reasons for the dismissal of the minister, who is also the deputy leader of the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM). But there had been widespread speculation that Rowley had not been pleased with the appearance of a “community leader” among the guest at the Office of the President when McDonald was sworn in on Thursday.
The statement said that Prime Minister Rowley had advised President Anthony Carmona “to revoke the appointment of Ms. Marlene McDonald, Minister of Public Utilities with immediate effect.
“The President has also been advised that the portfolio of Public Utilities should be assigned to the Prime Minister who will now assume these duties in addition to his other responsibilities,” the statement added.
Media reports here Sunday had speculated that McDonald, who had been fired as Housing Minister 16 months ago, had come under criticism after the “community leader,” a euphemism here for gang leader, was present at the swearing in ceremony.
But Cedric “Burkie” Burke, who said he had accompanied another person to the event, told reporters that while he had not been invited by McDonald to the event, he was not involved in any criminal activity in the past.
“Whoever has said that I belong to the underworld, I would say it’s stupid, baseless allegations,” he said, adding that “the underworld I know about is in the movies”.
Soon after she took the oath of office for a second time since the PNM came to power in 2015, McDonald, an attorney, told reporters “you notice upstairs, I have two persons, upstairs and you know I invited them here?
“They are from East Port of Spain, from the Sea Lots area. They represent the best of what East Port of Spain has to offer. We are not just nobody or anybody, we are people, first and foremost,’ the attorney said.
Burke was among persons detained during the 2010 state of emergency and charged under the anti-gang legislation, but was never convicted. He has filed a lawsuit against the state. Burke insists he is a “businessman”.
His entry to the President’s Office has also been a matter debated here with his name not being included among the list of invitees.
But photographs of Burke shaking hands with President Carmona and also posing for pictures with the Head of State, Rowley and McDonald soon appeared on various social websites.
Minister of State within the Office of the Prime Minister, Stuart Young, Saturday told reporters that the issue had not been discussed at the party’s general council meeting. Neither Rowley nor McDonald had been present at the meeting.
The social watchdog Fixin T&T also posted a 2016 music video featuring photos of alleged gang members, some posing with firearms. Burke is featured in that video as “President of the Rasta City Gang” and “Godfather Burks” and is seen smoking, drinking and heavily decked in gold jewelry.

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