AS IF to prove he really meant he has full faith in his Cabinet, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley did not fire anyone in the latest reshuffle announced yesterday, but instead moved around several ministers chief among them, Sport Minister Darryl Smith, who is now junior Housing Minister and will be working with Rowley, who has assumed the Housing Ministry portfolio.
At the post Cabinet press briefing last week, Rowley declared his full confidence in the Cabinet and also said he will investigate several claims and allegations arising out of the sex scandal within the Sport Ministry in which an official was paid $150,000 by tax payers not to pursue a sex suit filed against a Ministry official and also to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
A release from the Office of the Prime Minister stated Rowley advised President Paula-Mae Weekes to revoke Diego Martin Central MP Smith’s appointment and reassign him as junior minister in the Housing Ministry. As a result of this move, Smith is no longer a Cabinet minister. Rowley also advised Weekes to appoint himself as Housing Minister.
The reshuffle also saw Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe replacing Smith as sport minister. Former housing minister Randall Mitchell has replaced Cudjoe as tourism minister. Former Public Administration and Communications Minister Maxie Cuffie, who is recuperating from a stroke he suffered last year, is now junior minister in that ministry.
And Port of Spain South MP Marlene McDonald, has come full circle, replacing Cuffie as the substantive Public Administration and Communications Minister, in what is her third appointment to this Cabinet since the PNM won the general election in 2015. Smith took no questions from reporters prior to or during the tea break in yesterday’s sitting of the House of Representatives.
During that sitting, Smith said no decision has been taken with respect to the granting of statutory approvals for the construction of Housing Development Corporation (HDC) houses at the St Augustine nurseries. His comments prompted some Opposition MPs to ask him: “What do I have to do to get a house?”
Speaking before yesterday’s sitting, McDonald said, “I have been through a lot.” Prior to her new appointment, Rowley had fired McDonald from the Housing Ministry after certain allegations were made against her. The Integrity Commission recently cleared her of those allegations. McDonald said she saw no issue regarding the role reversal between Cuffie and herself. “We work as a team,” McDonald said.
She disclosed one of her priorities will be dealing with the re-launch of TT Television (TTT) which Cuffie was dealing with before his illness. McDonald said the board of Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG) would be looked at as part of this exercise. During the sitting, Speaker of the House Bridgid Annisette-George granted Cuffie leave from Parliament for this month.
Before the sitting, Mitchell said he did not view his reassignment to the Tourism Ministry as Rowley being disappointed in his performance. Recalling that he gave a commitment to serve in whatever capacity Rowley deemed necessary, Mitchell said the Housing Ministry is at the stage where it will soon be distributing more houses.
Having served as housing minister under former prime minister Patrick Manning, Mitchell said Rowley did not want any momentum gained in the ministry under his tenure to be lost. “He has been here before,” Mitchell said. He was confident of helping to enhance the country’s tourism product and identified Tobago as a priority.
During the sitting, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young answered a question on Sandals on Mitchell’s behalf. At one point in the sitting, Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal looked at the Government’s benches and remarked, “I don’t know who is who.” Before the sitting, Young told reporters, “Every ministerial position is in the complete discretion of the Prime Minister.”