Collaborate on Sexual Harassment Legislation!

If ever there was an underperforming country, it is Trinidad and Tobago. We have underperformed in every area of development and the PNM and the UNC are equally responsible. Both parties have demonstrated an astounding reluctance to collaborate. Even on the achievement of Independence, there was such a lack of agreement that a minority report was submitted to the Colonial Office.  This absence of collaboration has plagued our country for the past 55 years and the losers have been Jane and Boysie Public. The most recent failure to pass the anti-gang legislation is another painful example. As we count the murders, the population will create more gated communities, lick our wounds and get over our dashed hopes. One thing that is clear; both political parties are equally culpable.

National Flag

As the universe unfolds, another opportunity for bi-partisanship presents itself. It is an opportunity to cooperate on the passage of Sexual Harassment legislation. Such legislation will provide an opportunity for an open conversation to clarify expectations and expected behaviours. It will provide most women with the peace of mind to think that someone has their back even in the presence of the worst kind of predator.

Interestingly, Barbados recently passed their sexual harassment legislation and now has a structure and process for dealing with this scourge. Why couldn’t we have a bipartisan approach to the passage of similar legislation? Why couldn’t our first female Prime Minister reach across the aisle or go behind the Speaker’s chair and say to Prime Minister Rowley: “Keith boy, let’s show our people how to work together, let’s do this!” Why is this too much to ask?

In less than 90 days the world will celebrate another International Women’s Day and my hope is that we will be able to report to the world that we have given a gift to the women and men of our nation; that we have implemented a Sexual Harassment Policy across all Ministries and State Enterprises and we have passed the enabling legislation.

Long before March 08, 2018, I expect that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet will remove the Chairman of Angostura Holdings Limited to allow a transparent, thorough and independent investigation into allegations of sexual harassment. Until then, I will #drinksomethingelse.


No flavour of the month!

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 13.36.51When there is no law against Sexual Harassment, those  engaged in such activities are in fact fully protected to continue their wrongdoing.  This is the stark reality in Trinidad and Tobago today.  There are few policies and no legislation to provide redress to the victims of sexual harassment. Harassers can go unpunished, protected and even defended with the use of state funds which are really our funds.

The Prime Minister is quite right when he says Angostura is a company quoted on the Stock Exchange.  This however, is a weak justification for his inability to “just fire” the Chairman, when it is a fact that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet themselves  who appointed the Chairman.  By whatever power they appointed him, they should be able to evoke that same power and remove the Chairman and appoint an independent team to ventilate the matter.  To do otherwise is to harbour an alleged wrongdoer in the bosom of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.

Sexual Harassment is an issue that resonates with women either because of the direct, negative impact on their own well-being and mental health or because their sisters, mothers and aunts have suffered at the hands of miscreants who have been sanitized by the establishment.

How well I remember working at an oil company where the unspoken status quo was that if men wanted to be promoted, all they had to do was to allow their bosses unfettered access to their wives at lunch time and the promotion had a greater chance of happening.  What bothered me at the time was the psyche of the women who would entertain that suggestion from their husbands.

It is 30 years later and the world has moved on but Trinidad and Tobago remains stuck in a time warp.  Globally, women continue to find their voice and decide who can worship at our altars.  Some will even call men out for a risqué suggestion.  In Trinidad and Tobago, we fire those women who dare to call out their aggressors.

Worse case scenario is that if the Prime Minister is thinking, he would see this Sexual Harassment issue as an opportunity to win the favourable consideration of women across the political divide.  But he is adamant that his government cannot do anything about this, and to my mind, it is yet another example of a politician who cannot see the forest for the trees.  Or is it that I just don’t get it?  Maybe I don’t understand the nexus to the CIB bailout. Maybe I just don’t understand that some men feel entitled to hug a woman with their hand on the fleshy part of her hip, or the salacious steers down a woman’s bosom or even the explicit expression of what he can do to you.  Maybe these things fly past my understanding.  What I do understand is that we need a conversation about the boundaries and expectations. We need to teach children (both/all) genders how to behave, and lay the groundwork there. In the meantime, we need the laws in place, and published codes of conduct addressing Sexual Harassment; we can’t assume that both/all parties (male/female/whatever) will miraculously know how to behave, and know what’s involved. It’s just like getting a drivers’ licence. Can’t drive unless you have been trained. Untrained drivers cause accidents.  Sexual Harassment is now a necessity.

Here’s what I do understand: that Sexual Harassment must be outlawed and that until our leaders demonstrate their willingness to have these uncomfortable conversations, then nothing will change.

Let’s begin by implementing sexual harassment policies in every Ministry, State Enterprises and indeed in all Trade Unions.  Let’s pilot the Sexual Harassment Bill and have it proclaimed in Parliament.  It is only then that women will feel that they have an equal place and that we do in fact stand side by side. I hasten to add that this is not just a feminine problem because men are often harassed and can’t find the courage to speak up.

Ending Sexual Harrasment!

Our institutions are weak and failing daily. Sexual harassment policies are the exception rather than the norm. In developed countries the converse is true. Once again, the state has an opportunity to change this game by implementing sexual harassment policies throughout the Ministries and at all State Enterprises.

This administration led by Dr. Rowley can begin at Angostura Holdings Limited where he and his Cabinet appointed Dr. Rolf Balgobin as Chairman. However, before implementing the policy, Dr. Balgobin must be removed. Such action will signal to women that we can sit at the table as equals without fear of predators lurking and if they do lurk there is a system and process through which the matter can be determined.

This cry for action is not new. Recall “Die With My Dignity” by Singing Sandra. She was singing about sexual harassment in its worst form, yet we did nothing as a society. Sometimes the worse thing that could happen to an issue is for a calypso to be sung about it because it seems that once we enjoy the ditty, we forget the issue.

The fact that this issue has arisen again tells me that it continues to simmer under the surface. From the information in the public domain, three things concern me:

Firstly, a board member and chairman of the Audit Committee was appointed as the first investigator. Just the structuring of this committee is wrong because the Chairman presided over the appointment of his peer to investigate himself. That appears to be an injustice.

Secondly, the Diana Mahabir Wyatt Committee was established to conduct a second investigation, and this work was thwarted by the Chairman’s refusal to appear and his legal intervention in the matter so that investigation was not concluded.

Thirdly, a retired judge was appointed to investigate the matter. While his findings were inconclusive, there is an impression that the perpetrator was exonerated and this is not the case. The retired judge did not act on behalf of the courts.

Meanwhile the polygraph results of the victim have been circulated widely yet there is no evidence that the perpetrator was polygraphed.

Sexual harassment is a critical issue in Trinidad and Tobago. This matter has brought it to the forefront and requires closure so that healing can occur and women can feel safe in the workplace. The only solution is the removal of Dr. Rolph Balgobin by the Prime Minister. When that happens, we shall all believe that you value women as equal contributors.