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Errors of judgment

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Last week there were a number of errors of judgment that decorated the public square. The most glaring was the one committed by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in demoting Darryl Smith from the position of Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs to Minister in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.

This was apparently done in response to a front page story in the Express about Smith that was most unpleasant. By Monday evening and overnight into Tuesday morning, it seemed as though the Prime Minister had made a serious error of judgment based on the information that he already had before him.

By Tuesday afternoon, it was apparent that there was “new information” that caused the Prime Minister to advise the President to have Smith’s appointment revoked. The fact that it took “new information” to convince the Prime Minister is where the discussion about an error of judgment will go.

What was already in the public domain was enough on the face of the record to warrant dismissal. The decision to demote was clearly a miscalculation and the public response was swift which caused the Prime Minister’s response to also be swift, once the backlash had hit home.

What was most disturbing was the error of judgment shown by some on social media and in the wider society who unfairly attacked the new President, Paula-Mae Weekes, with an uninformed narrative about Smith’s demotion. This forced the President to issue a forceful public statement which read, in part, as follows:

“It has come to the attention of Her Excellency President Paula-Mae Weekes that there is currently in circulation on social media a message stating that the President refused to act upon the Prime Minister’s advice and appoint Darryl Smith as Minister in the Ministry of Housing. Her Excellency denies unequivocally any such action.”

That should never have happened from people who ought to have known better. Those on social media who joined the fray with an ignorant rant about the Prime Minister making a “pappyshow” of the presidency was based on the erroneous belief that people who had their portfolios reassigned would be required to take an oath of office.

Nothing could have been further from the truth, but nevertheless, there were plenty of errors of judgment, and of fact, floating around between the Smith demotion and subsequent dismissal and the Maxie Cuffie re-assignment from Minister of Public Administration and Communications to Minister in that Ministry.

Prime Minister Rowley has been grappling with the political effects of Minister Cuffie’s situation. He has to balance compassion with the public interest. Apart from demoting Minister Cuffie to a position whereby he is unable to perform the duties of his office, the President would have had legitimate grounds to raise questions about this if it were an appointment, and not a reassignment.

Cuffie was granted leave of absence from the sittings of the House of Representatives for the month of April and we shall see how long this will continue. The challenge for Cuffie right now is to get better. It is obvious that he cannot continue to function as a minister or as MP for La Horquetta/Talparo. The revival of Marlene McDonald as a minister was designed to soften the administrative difficulties of operating the Ministry of Public Administration and Communications with an absentee minister and the Prime Minister holding on for him.

The Prime Minister has now seen it fit to add to his workload by becoming the substantive Minister of Housing and Urban Development and he had planned to have a junior minister to assist him, but those plans were scuppered when he had to dismiss Darryl Smith.

With all of this controversy swirling around the Government, at some point, they will have to sit down and ask themselves: How did they get here?


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