Saturday, March 17, 2018

PM’s gamble on Marlene

IN once again giving ministerial rank to Marlene McDonald, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley must believe that the odds inside his party are not securely in his favour as he prepares his campaign for re-election as political leader of the People's National Movement (PNM) in the party's elections due in June.

Only politics, and not national governance considerations, can explain the PM's patently illogical decision to have the Port of Spain South MP sworn in a third time, given the multiple clouds that hang over her regarding allegations of abuse of office, use of public funds and connections to individuals of suspect income.

With an active police investigation still being conducted into her possible role in the distribution of public funds to her husband's organisation, the political stakes must be very high for Dr Rowley to risk the worst-case scenario of having one of his ministers arrested and hauled to court.

In attending her swearing-in, Dr Rowley was wise to keep his silence given that there is no compelling governance reason for her promotion to ministerial rank and, in particular, to be assigned the communications portfolio.

The best that can be said about Ms McDonald's suitability for the portfolio is that in her ten years in Parliament she has not demonstrated any particular interest or aptitude in the field of communications.

Dr Rowley's rationalisation that “everybody deserves a second chance” is farcical given the tough, uncompromising position that he had very rightly adopted against former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in her handling of ministerial transgressions.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot, realpolitik would appear to be holding sway over his declared commitment to do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may.

Whether he recognises it or not, in arguing for a second chance for Ms McDonald, Dr Rowley is asking for a second chance for himself.

Since there has been no demand for her return at the level of the national community, one can assume that it is Ms McDonald and her supporters within the ruling PNM who are being asked to give him a second chance.

The fact that Dr Rowley is motivated to go so far beyond his own political comfort zone to accommodate a nationally unpopular decision that could open him up to ridicule reveals his own assessment of the strength of his political base inside the PNM with leadership elections due in three months' time.

While Ms McDonald does not have a national base, and possibly not even a substantial constituency base that is more loyal to her than to the PNM, her base inside the party may be politically valuable enough for Dr Rowley to run the risk of taking egg on his face a third time around.

While it is not known whether the recent unrest in Laventille also factored into the PM's decision to promote the Port of Spain South MP, it cannot be ruled out given Ms McDonald's known links to so-called “community leaders”.

As he pursues his high stakes gamble with the re-appointment of Ms McDonald, the greater risk may not be for Dr Rowley but to all T&T.