SPECULATION, rumour, conjecture, premature conclusions – all must be cast aside as the system of justice takes its course in relation to Marlene McDonald, who has been relieved of her duties as public administration minister. She will now answer allegations against her in court, where the principles of fairness, the rules of evidence, and the protections against abuse of state power will be strictly enforced.
The law must be allowed to take its course. Since last Thursday that is, in effect, what the nation has been witnessing as McDonald and others assisted police with their inquiries.
On the one hand, no one can take comfort in the spectre of a sitting Cabinet minister being asked to answer allegations of wrongdoing. At the same time, the fact that such a senior figure would have to face the police in such a way is a sign no one is above the law.
And having had to cancel the appointment of McDonald’s intended successor, Senator Garvin Simonette, even before he could sense the ambience of President’s House, the Prime Minister’s judgment of the right people for the job will be further brought into question. So where the buck stops is obvious.
Even then, in the case of the McDonald fiasco, the rule of law must be allowed to prevail.
It is not the first time a sitting member of Cabinet has been questioned by police. Indeed, several politicians over the years, across the political spectrum, have aided investigators with their probes in relation to a range of issues.
However, what marks this case as unique is McDonald’s relative seniority. She is one of a few individuals who have served in successive governments.
Additionally, McDonald’s previous portfolios under the current administration were integral to the State’s programme of service delivery: housing and public utilities.
In addition to her ministerial appointments, McDonald has served on several important Parliament committees, including the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee for Finance and Legal Affairs. She is the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
While in opposition, McDonald was Opposition Whip, another important and highly visible role. Under the last Patrick Manning administration, she was part of a crop of new female leaders thrust into the limelight in a move that served to underline the progress of women in politics.
Dr Keith Rowley, therefore, had little choice but to remove such a figure from his Cabinet once a clear reason to do so crystallised. To have acted hastily would have violated the presumption of innocence, a presumption which every citizen – even a politician – is entitled to.
Meanwhile, law enforcement authorities are entitled to do their work without fetter. Some aspects of the circumstances of McDonald’s police custody have drawn the attention of her lawyer, Senior Counsel Pamela Elder, who yesterday expressed concern over the process. It is hoped these concerns will be ventilated in the appropriate forum.
All of these circumstances formed the backdrop yesterday to Simonette as McDonald’s named replacement. A graduate of the University of the West Indies sought by the Prime Minister, Simonette did not even have time to think about how he would be able to bring his experience as a commercial lawyer to bear on a new and challenging role before his announced appointment was cancelled.
Once again, it emphasises where the buck stops.