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Public Utilities post revoked

Published: 
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Le Hunte holds dual citizenship
Robert Le Hunte, left, takes the oath of office as the new Minister of Public Utilities during a swearing-in ceremony at the Office of the President in St Ann’s last week. At right is President Anthony Carmona. Photo by:ABRAHAM DIAZ

Oops—did it again.

Government has again run into problems with the Public Utilities ministerial post and has revoked the recent appointment of Robert Le Hunte because it has now been discovered he is a citizen of Ghana.

That citizenship issue prevents him from becoming a Government senator and serving as a minister.

Unlike Marlene McDonald, who was rehired and refired as minister—in Public Utilities also—in the space of 48 hours between June 30 and July 2, Le Hunte, who was appointed to the post last Thursday, lasted four days before the problem arose.

Government, however, says he will be reappointed to the ministry once he rectifies the issue with his Ghanaian citizenship. This is expected by Friday.

Until then, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley who temporarily held the portfolio after McDonald was fired, will now hold it again while Le Hunte fixes his business.

Government sources last night said Le Hunte left immediately for Ghana yesterday, as he was notified of the issue by top officials of the PM’s office who were instructed to deal with the matter.

Career banker and People’s National Movement activist Le Hunte came into the picture after McDonald’s exit from the portfolio. Rowley held the ministry temporarily then.

On August 23, Government announced Le Hunte would be given the Public Utilities job and appointed a senator.

Then, the Prime Minister’s Office (OPM) listed Le Hunte’s credentials, including his positions with Republic Bank’s Ghana operations, HFC Bank, over 2013 to 2017.

The oath of office was administered to Le Hunte last Thursday at President’s House, St Ann’s.

He said he was offered the post by Rowley about two weeks prior. And despite being the fifth Minister in the ministry in the PNM’s two-year term, Le Hunte said he didn’t see the ministry as being “blighted.”

But yesterday, the OPM revealed it had “come” to the Prime Minister’s attention that Le Hunte is a citizen of Ghana.

Accordingly, the statement noted, Le Hunte is not qualified under section 42(1) of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago to be appointed as a senator.

This section states that people who do not qualify to be appointed as a senator include those who are a citizen of a country other than Trinidad and Tobago “having become such a citizen voluntarily or is under a declaration of allegiance to such a country.” (See box)

Parliament sources explained that the section debars persons from becoming senators if they have acquired citizenship of another country, as opposed to being born there.

As a result of not being qualified to be a senator, the OPM added, “Accordingly, the Honourable Prime Minister has so informed the President.”

The statement didn’t detail what had to be done as a result and OPM spokesman Stuart Young didn’t reply to repeated calls for clarifications.

But other Government officials explained that Le Hunte’s ministerial appointment had to be revoked and he couldn’t become a senator either until his Ghanaian citizenship was changed.

The OPM’s statement added, “Mr Le Hunte will be rectifying his position and once this is done the Honourable Prime Minister will appoint him as a Senator and as Minister of Public Utilities.

“Under these circumstances, until the matter is rectified, the Honourable Prime Minister will assume the portfolio of Minister of Public Utilities. It is expected this situation will be rectified by Friday 1 September, 2017.

SECTION 42 (1) DISQUALIFICATIONS FOR APPOINTMENT AS SENATOR

1. No person shall be qualified to be appointed as a Senator who— a. is a citizen of a country other than Trinidad and Tobago having become such a citizen voluntarily or is under a declaration of allegiance to such a country;

b. is a member of the House of Representatives,

c. is an undischarged bankrupt having been adjudged or otherwise declared bankrupt under any law in force in Trinidad and Tobago;

d. is mentally ill, within the meaning of the Mental Health Act, 1975;

f. is disqualified for membership of the House of Representatives by virtue of any law in force in Trinidad and Tobago by reason of his having been convicted of any offence relating to elections;

g. is not qualified to be registered as an elector at a Parliamentary election under any law in force in Trinidad and Tobago.

LE HUNTE EXPECTED BACK THURSDAY

The development broke as MPs and senators prepare to return to Parliament around September 8, following the current recess.

Le Hunte was to have been sworn in as a Government senator when the Senate returned.

PNM sources said the leadership had learned of the issue with Le Hunte “very recently “ - between Sunday and yesterday - and instructed OPM officials to handle it.

They added Le Hunte was notified of the situation yesterday and advised to rectify it and he immediately left T&T yesterday for Ghana to renounce his citizenship. He’s expected back by Thursday, it is understood.

Le Hunte didn’t reply to calls on how long he had become a citizen of Ghana. He’d served at Republic Bank’s Ghana holdings—HFC Bank—since April 2013, holding various executive posts up to August 21, 2017.

PNM sources speculated he may have had to become a citizen of Ghana in order to hold the bank positions there - but couldn’t confirm.

Regarding Section 42 (1), Parliament sources noted that former People’s Partnership senator Mary King had been born in Ireland, but had acquired T&T citizenship having married a T&T national.

Other former MPs also noted the cases of United National Congress MPs Winston Peters and Bill Chaitan, who held dual citizenship (of the US and Canada respectively) when they filed nomination papers. The PNM then filed a legal challenge claiming that as holders of dual citizenship, both were in violation of the Representation of the People’s Act, claiming that forbids persons with allegiance to a foreign power or state from being elected to Parliament.

Yesterday, several frontline PNM officials were red-faced over the Le Hunte development and several Government Ministers declined comment or distanced themselves from the matter, including on queries about who vetted Le Hunte’s credentials and how selection processes were done.

After Le Hunte was sworn into office last week, he’d said he was proud to be part of the Cabinet, especially during current challenging times when efficiency was important.

Once he rectifies his citizenship issue and is appointed Public Utilities Minister again, he’ll be taking over from a string of former ministry jefes, namely MPs Ancil Antoine, Fitzgerald Hinds, McDonald and Rowley.

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