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Sunday, July 2, 2017

For the third time in 22 months, Prime Minister Rowley has reshuffled his Cabinet. His first reshuffle came on March 17, 2016 (some six months after taking office), when he dismissed Marlene McDonald as Minister of Housing following persistent advocacy by the civil society group Fixin TNT who had called for her removal because of certain allegations that were put into the public domain by them and picked up by some media houses.

On that occasion, Prime Minister Rowley decided to reassign Randall Mitchell from being the Minister of Public Administration to become Minister of Housing and Urban Development, thereby replacing McDonald. He also decided then to reassign Maxie Cuffie from just being Minister of Communications to become Minister of Public Administration and Communications. In completing that reshuffle, he assigned to Stuart Young the portfolio of Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister in addition to his other portfolio as Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Having made what was a painful decision for him to dismiss McDonald, he used the opportunity to do some other reshuffling. However, by October 31, 2016, he undertook a more comprehensive reshuffle by dismissing two cabinet ministers, Ancil Antoine (Public Utilities) and Nicole Olivierre (Energy), and brought Kazim Hosein (Local Government) and Rohan Sinanan (Works and Transport) into the Cabinet, while moving Franklyn Khan to Energy and Fitzgerald Hinds to Public Utilities. He also elevated Stuart Young from Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister to Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, while retaining his other position of Minister in the Ministry of Legal Affairs. In order to make way for Kazim Hosein, he had the senatorial appointment of Sarah Budu revoked.

That was eight months ago. Now we have yet another reshuffle in which the main attraction is the return of Marlene Mc Donald to the Cabinet as Minister of Public Utilities replacing Fitzgerald Hinds who has been demoted to the position of Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs, while retaining his Cabinet rank.

Another surprising announcement was the appointment of Nicole Olivierre as Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Energy. Having been dismissed as Energy Minister some eight months ago, she accepted the offer to come back as a Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry that she once headed. It is true that Minister Franklyn Khan recently returned to office after a period of illness and he may require a parliamentary secretary to assist him with his duties.

What was strange about the press release is that it described Nicole Olivierre in the following way:

“Ms Olivierre is a respected professional in the energy industry and holds a Bachelor of Science in Analytical Chemistry and Computer Science as well as a Master of Philosophy in Chemistry.”

This sentence in the press release begs the question of why was she dismissed from the post of minister in the first place and now brought back as a parliamentary secretary.

In increasing the size of his government, Prime Minister Rowley also arranged for the senatorial appointment of Ayanna Lewis to be revoked and her replacement is now Allyson West, who will also be appointed Minister in the Ministry of Finance.

In the two cases of Hinds and West, their duties will be assigned to them by their respective line ministers, namely Faris Al-Rawi and Colm Imbert. One of the narratives that Prime Minister Rowley used when he was in opposition was a complaint about the size of the government under the People’s Partnership. He is slowly increasing the size of his government since he took office as far as new ministerial (Hosein, Sinanan, Mc Donald and West) and parliamentary secretary appointments (Jennings-Smith and Olivierre) are concerned.

The Ministry of Finance has operated since the beginning of this administration without a junior minister to assist Colm Imbert. As he faces what will be this Government’s toughest budget in September, he will need assistance which he now has.

Perhaps, there are two ministers who can count their lucky stars that they did not get the axe—and they are Sports Minister Darryl Smith and Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe whose controversial excesses with the public purse were headline news recently. It is obvious that all is forgiven and Prime Minister Rowley saw no need to deliver any punitive messages to either of them. The misadventures of Smith and Cudjoe with the public purse and their subsequent responses to their respective controversies were embarrassing to the Government.

The return of Marlene McDonald also has another dimension to it. She was the chief whip when the PNM were in opposition during the 2010-2015 term of the People’s Partnership and she brings much expertise to the front bench of the Government which is sorely missing.

Prime Minister Rowley has navigated around the Integrity Commission in returning McDonald to the Cabinet. There is still something that is being investigated, while other things have been cleared. Some in the Opposition may be taking note of this approach.


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