FORMER PNM Port of Spain South MP and former government minister Marlene McDonald, 65, has died.
McDonald died while she was still fighting to clear her name from corruption charges that caused her to exit active politics.
News of her death was confirmed on Friday by her parliamentary successor Keith Scotland. He told Newsday that McDonald had been ill for some time, but her death came as a shock to him.
“I am at a loss for words right now. I’m at a loss.” Scotland attributed his entry into politics largely to McDonald.
He described her as a fighter and a champion all the way to the end.
“We have lost a champion and a half.”
Scotland said he would be speaking later with McDonald’s family. The Prime Minister led expressions of condolences from the Government on McDonald’s death.
In a statement on Friday, Dr Rowley said, “Today the Peoples National Movement (PNM) received the sad news of the passing of a servant and a dedicated colleague, Ms Marlene McDonald.”
He added, “She was a dedicated fighter who devoted much of her adult life to the service of others. We mourn her loss as we extend deepest condolences to her family.”
PNM chairman Stuart Young and party lady vice-chairman Camille Robinson-Regis also publicly expressed their sadness on McDonald’s passing.
Young, who is also Energy Minister and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister said, “My colleague Marlene McDonald has transitioned.”
He fondly remembered her as “Marls.”
Young described McDonald as a warrior who “guided the PNM to a resounding victory in Port of Spain in the recent local government election a few months ago.”
He said, “She was dedicated to the party and ensuring our success.”
Robinson-Regis, who is also Housing and Urban Development Minister, said, “We are very saddened by this loss.”
She agreed with Young about the integral role that McDonald played in helping the PNM win all of the seats in the Port of Spain City Corporation in the local government elections in August.
“Anywhere Marlene worked, she left her mark.”
Robinson-Regis also remembered McDonald as a strong advocate for women’s success.
“As deputy political leader, legislative of the PNM, she was an invaluable support to Dr Rowley and all of us in the local legislatures and the Parliament.”
She said, “I deeply mourn the sudden passing of my friend, my colleague and adventurer on this political and life journey.
Robinson-Regis added, “I was hoping that she would have lived to be victorious in her court matter and resumed her normal vibrant political life, but the Good Lord had other plans. Her passing is a great loss to all of us.” She extended her condolences to McDonald’s family and friends.
McDonald: I’ll have my day in court
In 2019, McDonald was charged with six counts of money laundering, conspiracy to defraud and misbehaviour in public office.
After she was charged, McDonald was removed as public administration minister and a PNM deputy political leader.
She remained Port of Spain South MP, but was not screened for the constituency for the 2020 general election.
Last March, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, discontinued one of the charges against McDonald.
The notice of discontinuance of the charge of misbehaviour in public office was dated March 25, 2022 and was made under his powers under section 90 of the Constitution, which allows him to discontinue any criminal proceedings undertaken by him or anyone else at any stage before judgment is delivered.
Also charged in 2019 with McDonald were her long-time companion Michael Carew and three others – Edgar Zephyrine, Victor McEachrane and Wayne Anthony.
In 2019, when they were charged, the five faced a total of 49 charges of attempting to defraud the government by allegedly procuring funds for Carew’s Calabar Foundation, under the guise that it was a charity.
The discontinued misbehaviour charge against McDonald was in relation to the alleged approval of $2.3 million for a project at Marcano Quarry in Laventille. She was the only one charged with that offence.
The other charges against her and the others allege that they conspired to defraud the State of funds available to the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs to allocate grants to two foundations – Provident Foundation and Calabar Foundation – by falsely representing they were genuine organisations, and allegedly approving grants to be used for education, skills enhancement and business development programmes in poor communities.
The specific charges against McDonald allege she misrepresented that she had no connection to either foundation.
At a hearing in November 2020, prosecutors appearing before the chief magistrate signalled the DPP’s intent to go straight to indictment for the matter, which should have been filed by January 2021.
At the 2020 hearing, the court was told statements had all been sworn to and there were some 22 witnesses, but that number was likely to rise before the eventual start of the case. The offences are alleged to have occurred between 2008 and 2009, but the police investigation only began in 2016.
After she was charged, McDonald was confident that she would be vindicated.
She expressed that confidence twice.
“I feel everything will be all right. We moving on.”
“I will have my day in court.”
The matter is still before the court. No trial date has been set.
PNM: Constituents called her ‘mother’
In a statement, the PNM highlighted McDonald’s political career from November 2007 to August 2019. The party said as one of its deputy leaders, McDonald encouraged robust political activity and maximum participation amongst all members.
She was remembered for her passion for the people of Port of Spain South.
“Marlene McDonald used her training as an attorney-at-law to be a champion of and for the people of her constituency and of the country. She was a fearless and outstanding debater, well researched, and always ready to lift the level of the debates, both academically and politically.” The PNM said McDonald’s wit was unmatched in Parliament and on the political platform.
McDonald, the party continued, was referred to as “mother” by her constituents and those closest to her.
“Ms McDonald was truly regarded as a one of the people. Throughout her three parliamentary terms of service, she was always present and standing in the gap for those who she represented.”
PNM general secretary and Youth Development Minister Foster Cummings said, “Marlene was an extremely hard worker, in life and for the PNM, and she will definitely be missed by those who worked with her.”
Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal said, “Deepest condolences to the relatives, friends and supporters of former minister Marlene MacDonald.”
Moonilal recalled his working relationship with McDonald in Parliament while the People’s Partnership (PP) coalition government was in power from May 24, 2010 to September 7, 2015.
“I had the opportunity to work closely with her as Chief Whip when I served as Leader of Government Business in the Tenth Republican Parliament. She was an affable and dedicated representative. May her soul rest in peace.”
UNC public relations officer Dr Kirk Meighoo said the party had not yet issued an official statement on McDonald’s death.
But on his own behalf, Meighoo said, “We send our condolences and sympathies to her family, and we hope that God gives them strength in this time of grief.”
He added, “Although we were political opponents, our hearts are only filled with love and best wishes for her soul’s journey onward to the Creator.”
National Transformation Alliance (NTA) political leader Gary Griffith extended condolences to McDonald’s family and to the PNM.
“She was one of the good old school in politics.”
Griffith recalled that when he was national security minister in the former PP government, McDonald was one of his liming partners in the Parliament’s tea room.
“She was one of those that made me feel good about being a politician.”
Griffith remembered McDonald as a no-nonsense parliamentarian who did her work and did not engage in gutter politics.
He lamented that McDonald was the last of a dying breed of politician who entered politics to serve constituency, party and country.
Griffith said there was never any animosity between McDonald and himself despite the fact they were political opponents.
“I learnt a lot as a minister by watching how she operated.”
He recalled having similar relations with other PNM MPs who served under former prime minister Patrick Manning.
“She’s coming down to the last of the Mohicans (of a particular breed of politicians).”
This story was originally published with the title "Marlene McDonald dies" and has been adjusted to include additional details. See original post below.
FORMER PNM Port of Spain South MP Marlene McDonald, 63, has died.
News of her death was confirmed on Friday by her parliamentary successor, Keith Scotland.
He told Newsday McDonald had been ill, but her death came as a shock to him.
"I am at a loss for words."
Scotland attributed his entry into politics as largely due to McDonald.
He described her as a fighter all the way to the end.
"We have lost a champion and a half."
McDonald was Port of Spain South MP from November 8, 2007-August 9, 2020.
In government, she held the ministerial portfolios of culture, community development, housing, public utilities and public administration.
In opposition, she served as the PNM whip. McDonald was also the party's deputy political leader.
From 2016-2019 she was fired as housing minister, public utilities minister, public administration minister and deputy leader of the PNM, over issues including donations to a foundation headed by her partner; charges of fraud, money laundering and misbehaviour in public office; and the late Sea Lots businessman Cedric “Burkie” Burke attending one of her swearing-in ceremonies at the Office of the President.