When Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley reshuffled and reassigned ministerial appointments on Monday, the demotion of Maxie Cuffie as Minister of Public Administration and Communications to Minister in the Ministry of Public Administration and Communications left many people concerned.
They are now wondering whether if he was already absent from Parliament since September 2017 due to illness, how he could be expected fulfil his new job functions. Aside from the Opposition, there have been calls from various circles for Cuffie to step down.
A post on We Are Trinis’ Facebook page went up on Thursday with the message: “Maxie Cuffie needs to be fired!
“Maxie Cuffie continues to receive his salary of $40,000 (plus perks) monthly, in addition to taxpayers’ footing his medical bills of over $2.5 million. What purpose is this man serving in this country? Is he working from his hospital bed?” the post read.
Nikoli Edwards, vice-chair of Policy, Advocacy and Projects at the Commonwealth Youth Council, said it was now important the PM also revoke the appointment of Cuffie as Minister in the Ministry of Public Administration, since he is clearly unable to carry out the functions of his office due to health complications. The precedent has already been set, however. Cuffie is not the first absentee MP in T&T.
He is number three. That dubious distinction belongs to Dr Rudranath Capildeo, leader of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), and MP for St Augustine in the first independent congress.
In 1963, Capildeo accepted a permanent position at the University of London, but did not resign his Parliamentary post and attempted to run the DLP and serve as Opposition Leader while based in London. He was able to retain his seat in Parliament through special dispensation from the Speaker of the House Arnold Thomasos.
People’s National Movement MP for Port-of-Spain North/St Ann’s West, Gordon Draper, became the second representative missing from Parliament from 1995 to 2000, by leave of Speaker Hector McClean, for personal business. Political scientist Dr Winford James said the closest thing to Cuffie’s situation, though from a different time, was San Fernando East MP Patrick Manning, who suffered a stroke and was absent for the House of Representatives for almost a year.
Manning, now deceased, was absent from 31 sittings of Parliament and Speaker Wade Mark had granted his requests for leave at three-month intervals. In 2013, councillor for Mon Repos Shaka Joseph said there was no need to replace Manning in the San Fernando East constituency, which he had served since 1971.
Speaking to the Sunday Guardian on Thursday, James said: “In our democracy, for Manning to no longer be the MP for San Fernando East, he had to resign or his constituency had to bring pressure upon him to resign. That was different from a prime minister asking the President to appoint somebody who was medically ill and cannot perform his functions.
“The reason why Cuffie was moved from being full minister to a minister in a ministry is because of his incapacitation and he cannot fulfil his responsibilities.”
He said in Cuffie’s capacity as MP for La Horquetta/Talparo MP, his constituency office can make an arrangement for the people to be properly represented while he is ill and away.
James said this was straightforward, but the question to answer was if Cuffie cannot be full minister because of his illness, how can he be a minister in a ministry and was still ill?
A close family relative of Cuffie said on Wednesday that he was in good spirits and was awaiting the doctors’ call for the most appropriate time to perform an operation to implant a metal implement (brain stent) in his head.
The relative said as soon as the procedure has been worked out, Cuffie will do the procedure but will still need rehabilitation, adding he should be back home in about three weeks time after the operation on the call of the surgeons.
Cuffie is now walking on his own, talking animatedly with family and medical personnel and was making great progress.