Prime Minister Keith Rowley says he first heard that Marlene McDonald was in police custody via Facebook or WhatsApp last Thursday and was only told officially that she was being charged around 10.30 pm last Sunday.
"As Prime Minister and National Security chairman, where a Minister is in custody, the systems in T&T are so secure that nobody in officialdom communicated to me there was substance to what was going on before or during, or that a Minister was in custody for a reason," he added yesterday.
Speaking at the post-Cabinet media conference, Rowley attempted to defend his Government, himself and his stance on McDonald - though ending with the admission that in hindsight he'd judged the situation badly.
"But that was the information I had to work with at the time..." he'd argued.
Rowley had fumed about criticism including of his judgement regarding McDonald.
He also dismissed perception of a crisis in T&T following recent events, saying Government had committed to change the pattern where people felt anything could happen in T&T and nothing would be done, "... So where you see a crisis today, we say, feel good about it - this is how it's supposed to happen and it's happening for the first time."
Explaining the train of events regarding his knowledge of issues concerning McDonald, he said alleged wrongdoing had "nothing to do " with his Government, he wasn't in office in 2009 and that wrongdoing also occurred over 2011/13 when public monies were "apparently going around - but I wasn't aware, as Opposition Leader," he said.
Rowley said when he was dismissed from the Manning Cabinet in 2008, and up to 2010 he had no inside knowledge of the situation regarding McDonald. He said a package of allegations against her first came to his attention during PNM's candidate screening in 2014/15.
He said two unsuccessful aspirants for the Port-of-Spain South seat - one who'd screened in 2007 and another in 2015 - made allegations of misconduct against McDonald. As a result, their "enthusiasm" was taken with a pinch of salt. The allegations were also the same that were sent to the Integrity Commission (IC) on the Calabar Foundation. "When it was raised with me then, it had already been dealt with and a letter of exoneration existed."
After appointing McDonald as Housing Minister, the same matter arose "largely driven by the same people" on the Calabar issue plus there were allegations of how many HDC houses McDonald had and how many she'd given to people. He said he agreed the package and new information warranted probe and removed her from Housing . But the housing allegations could not be supported and the second IC probe of Calabar found no basis to go forward.
Rowley recounted how he also fired her as Public Utilities Minister in 2017 when a "person known to be of serious interest to the police," attended her swearing-in function.
"I decided that a Minister who was MP for the area ought to have known that and I was advised that the MP had known - the person was of interest to police - and therefore ought not to have been at President's House. I was told the person was there of their 'own free will and accidentally' got there ....all kind of interpretation," he added.
Rowley confirmed there was also a police investigation. "One of many. At that time police investigations were opened and were neverending."
Because he said he was told it was the same Calabar situation being probed "And having been there twice, it was reasonable for me to assume that unless and until this police probe finds something new and different, I'll make this judgement call and I made it - and for that I'm to be held accountable."
However, he said last week, police investigations revealed new information and completely new batch of witnesses. "A completely different state of affairs."
Complaining of criticism that he'd failed to act after her arrest, he added - after disclosing how the news came to him last week - "Look at my situation, I'm seeing something this way (now), having seen it before in those ways. I said last Friday, if it turned out to warrant action I won't hesitate to act - what do you want me to do, act without knowing what's involved?"
Rowley said if he'd called the Police Commissioner or other officers, he'd have been accused of interfering or seeking to influence the matter the way former PM Patrick Manning was, when he called a police station to see if his driver was being arrested.
He therefore decided to wait until police were in a position to say something and "I'd know what I was dealing with and what action might be required - what so wrong with that?" he said, adding he removed her from Cabinet and PNM's deputy leadership.
Reporter: Gail Alexander