In the face of many negative public criticisms, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. Keith Mitchell has for the first time commented on the appointment of his own son Olinga Mitchell as Legal Advisor in the Ministry of Finance.
Addressing Tuesday’s Post-Cabinet press briefing at the Ministerial Complex in the Botanical Gardens, Dr. Mitchell told reporters that the decision he took to give the job to his son was aimed at getting him to make a contribution to the development of the country in which he resides.
“Leave Olinga alone, he is a nice young man…”, said PM Mitchell who has been accused of engaging in nepotism over the controversial appointment.
The U.S-born Olinga is known to be engaged in several business deals including the passport-selling Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programme, the sale of nutmegs, and shareholder of a company that has expressed an interest in the importation of sand for the construction sector.
According to the Prime Minister, it is unfortunate that his son was the subject of innuendos from the public when he is highly qualified for the position in which he operates.
“It is unfortunate that my son became an issue, in fact it is extremely unfortunate…it’s not just Legal Advisor – he is doing other work. My son, he has a degree in law and he has been called to the bar in three states in America. So, he is clearly well qualified and of course he is an engineer, he has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering…”, he said.
“It was my advice to him while he was doing a lot of private sector initiatives to zero in on some areas and give us service. It’s me that says (to him) time to settle down, get something more specific and give some contribution, some knowledge and I think it’s extremely unfortunate”, he added.
Critics have pointed to the fact that as a qualified attorney-at-law in the United States, Olinga is not qualified to practice in the local courts unless he undergoes six months of legal training at a regional law school.
Prime Minister Mitchell did not take too kindly the utterances from some persons about his appointing Olinga to serve under him in the Ministry of Finance.
He said: “You have never heard me attacking the sons or daughters of politicians. I don’t do it because they have a right to work and if he can do the job why raise it as an issue,” he said.
“I don’t even know what he getting paid. I asked him what they paying him and he refused to tell me, so I have to find out. In other words, money is not the issue but he is making a contribution and that is what I am happy about.
“I am happy about the contribution because that is demonstrating a sense of responsibility which is what I want from him because I am not going to always be around to advise him”.
The Prime Minister drew a clear distinction between the Olinga appointment to serve under his watch with the situation that existed in the 2008-13 period under former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas and the failed attempt to appoint his wife as Chief Personnel Officer in the Public Service Commission (PSC).
“You have never heard me attacking the wives or husbands of politicians, no matter what…I made one objection one time when Tillman wanted to put his wife, and it was not about his wife as the CPO and … to compare Olinga being advisor to the ministry … how could that be.
“If you follow the definition of the CPO, it’s a very unique position, you cannot have your son or your daughter or your wife sitting there while recommendations coming from you, decisions to be made and you are in bed with her at night, something fundamentally, must be wrong with that – I would never even attempted this. If Tillman Thomas wife (is) qualified to be CPO, she would have been a good appointment for me to make and not Tillman Thomas to make, that’s the issue.
PM Mitchell also addressed the concerns of many that Olinga was being called to offer legal advice to an important government ministry and is not qualified to get admittance as a member of the Grenada Bar.
“If he is providing legal advice, he doesn’t have to past a bar, if you go to court and you have to practice then you have to past the bar”, he said.
“I could take a top lawyer from the United States to come in and advise me on an issue, they don’t have to be able to practice in Grenada to advise me on legal matters”, he added.
The 72-year old PM Mitchell scoffed at the idea that Olinga’s appointment as Legal Advisor is a step closer to grooming him to eventually take over the running of the country after he (PM Mitchell) retires from frontline politics.
He said: “That is so far from the truth…we don’t spend any time discussing politics, it is one profession he has said that he would never be in, when he was younger. I cannot say that he has the same position today as he was 20 years ago – he didn’t want to have anything to do with politics because he saw what I was going through.
So, if he was going to be in politics, the first place you would have seen him is being involved in my work in North West St. George’s and right now he is not”.
Well-placed sources told THE NEW TODAY that during the March 13 general election campaign, Olinga was often seen on “the battlefield” in the neighbouring St. George North-east constituency where then Congress leader, Nazim Burke was engaged in a tussle with Tobias Clement, the incumbent candidate of the ruling New National Party (NNP).
Prime Minister Mitchell pointed out that he is not in the habit of handing over anything to anybody and Olinga would have to work for the Prime Ministership of the country if he wants it.
“I don’t like this perception of family driven kind of positions, I don’t like it. If he has to be, he must do it on his own, he must earn it, it’s not going to be me saying I’m placing you there”, he said.
This notion of a family holding onto power is “fundamentally wrong”, he said because he is concerned that Olinga “may embarrass himself and me in the process”.
“…If he earns it (the Prime Ministership) on his own, fine …if he wants to be in politics, the field is open, he has a right.”