Release the Darry Smith report

On 9 April 2018, I blogged: “How would things have been different for the minister of sports had the GOTT implemented a sexual harassment policy throughout all state enterprises and ministries and piloted relevant legislation? Women’s rights are human rights and once again this government is failing us.”

Eighteen months later and there isn’t even draft legislation. So, it means that in the next session of parliament, a strong lobby will have to be mounted to make good for this failure of the 11th Republican Parliament.

Photo: Former Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs and Diego Martin Central MP Darryl Smith.

Here’s an opportunity to insist that any political party that intends to sit in the 12th Republican Parliament must first be clear about piloting sexual harassment legislation. This is not wishful thinking; it’s a key requirement if we are to achieve gender equity in this country. In 2017, the government of Barbados enacted an Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Act, so it isn’t that complicated, and quite doable if we set it as a priority.

If there was legislation in place, the Darryl Smith issue would have been dealt with in a court of law, and there would be no question as to what the real agenda is at play. In refusing the freedom of information request by Kirk Waithe, the permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister wrote: “Senior Counsel has advised that these requests as formulated, do not comply with the Freedom of Information Act” and provided verse and chapter about how the request does not comply.

When this government does not wish to satisfy a citizen’s request, it usually resorts to the legal position. What is so interesting in this report that it cannot be released? Who or what is being protected? Is there a principle here that escapes me?

I am not surprised because early in this sordid episode, the reference was made to a non-disclosure agreement, which signalled to me that hedging had begun. It turned out to be just another attempt to suppress the report.

You might be tempted to say that this is a personal matter, but I beg to disagree. The minister was, and still is, a member of parliament (ie being compensated with public funds) and was allegedly engaging in sexual harassment while he was a minister of sport. The alleged victim was also employed by the government, so public funds were being utilised. Since the public continues to underwrite the MP’s existence, it’s reasonable for the report to be made public. This cannot be seen as a private matter.

Photo: (From left) Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, then Sport Minister Darryl Smith, West Indies cricket icon Brian Lara, ex-West Indies cricket star Gordon Greenidge and then SPORTT chairman Dinanath Ramnarine at the opening of the Brian Lara Cricket Academy in Tarouba.
(Copyright CA-Images/Wired868)

So what if there are embarrassing details about the former minister? He should have used his brain to temper his actions. It’s important to send a message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated from whatever quarters it emanates. There are times when leaders must do the right thing, and in this case, the right thing to do is to release the report.

It’s even more important that action is taken to encourage victims to speak out on these and other issues. We must remove the fear of backlash, and that can only be done by building the appropriate systems and structures that will support all victims.

For our society to grow, we must nurture an environment in which people are unafraid. Once fear becomes ingrained, we will be in a very dark place and our freedoms and rights will be trampled upon.

Release the report, Mr PM.

State failure to blame for Arouca rehab facility

Leave alone … zap … seems to be the preferred management strategy being deployed throughout this country. It is a very unhelpful strategy to leave any situation to fester then swoop down and try to zap it out of existence.

The recent furore over the 69 or so people being housed by the Transformed Life Ministry (TLM) in Arouca is an example of deep systemic failure. Back in June 2016, when the pastor appeared before the joint select committee, it was clear that action needed to be taken to regularise his situation. Instead, it was left to deteriorate and now, zap, the authorities and media come down with a heavy hand and use the misnomers ‘slavery’ and ‘human trafficking’.

Photo: People found in cages at rehabilitation centre Transformed Life Ministry, Arouca. (via

For the record, slavery means that you are doing physical labour for no financial recompense. Human trafficking is the action or practice of illegally transporting people from one country or area to another, typically for the purposes of forced labour or sexual exploitation. The recently discovered situation may be kidnapping, torture, and fraud, but is neither slavery nor trafficking.

Some of us have observed the disappearance of noted characters from our streets. Did we think that they went on all-expenses-paid vacations? No! They were taken off the streets in an attempt at rehabilitation. They were removed because their families had suffered enough at the hands of the drug-addicted or the mentally ill. Their families had given up on them. The state had abandoned them. Some of them may have ended up in the Arouca facility, recommended by a social worker, because of the dire insufficiency of official places to accommodate the socially displaced.

Over time, the capacity of institutions to house the socially displaced has not kept pace with growing numbers of people needing help. Once there is shortage, if the official system doesn’t compensate to satisfy demand, there will always be those who seek to fill the gap for a price. In this case, we have seen an increase in the number of informal institutions that operate under the radar and in the absence of rigorous monitoring and evaluation. Administrators of such institutions are left to their own devices to operate at whatever standard they choose.

It is not the first time that the authorities have made a dramatic swoop-down to rescue people who were in unacceptable circumstances. It has happened before with orphanages and elder-care centres. It will continue to happen until we strengthen the systems, processes and procedures to ensure compliance with standards.

In the case of the Transformed Life Ministry (TLM), it would be instructive to find out about the history of the authorities visiting his premises and providing recommendations for improvements. A monitoring and evaluation (M&E) visit would have revealed that people were being housed in circumstances not fit for purpose. But then, how different is this cage strategy from other isolation strategies at the St. Ann’s facility?

Photo: St Ann’s Hospital

This is yet another example of the state failing in its responsibility to provide institutional support or monitor and evaluate the circumstances under which such institutions are operated. It is particularly unfortunate that this is a case of people who are mentally challenged or who suffer from a mental disease or substance abuse. This is an example of spontaneous development to satisfy a need that is not being satisfied under any other circumstances.

The lesson from this should be that we urgently need to provide institutions both in terms of bricks and mortar and properly trained human resources to manage and inspect these institutions. Otherwise, this and similar dramas will continue to unfold, as people design their own solutions in response to any systemic failures.

The commissioner of police and the government will get some popular support for their apparent rescue, but the 60-plus families, who will have to deal with unstable loved ones, are now under pressure from a situation for which they are neither prepared nor have state support.

Patriotic can be the game-changer

The consummation of this deal with Pa­tri­ot­ic En­er­gies and Tech­nolo­gies Com­pa­ny Ltd (PET­CL) might be the game-changer we have been looking for to change the work ethic of Trinidad and Tobago. But it will require a level of collaboration that we have not experienced in recent times.

From one perspective, the Petrotrin Refinery failed because employees were overpaid, produced very little and the union was unbending in its demands. From another perspective, the failure occurred because successive governments ensured that incompetent party supporters held top positions for which they were unqualified and unprepared. Both the PNM and the UNC are culpable.

Photo: Oil refinery at Point-a-Pierre

If you are a former Petrotrin employee, please rethink the automatic role you see for yourself at Patriotic. If you and Petrotrin were in noise about some industrial relations issue, please do not apply. If you got your job either because of your PNM or your UNC strings, please slink away quietly because you were part of the problem. And if you were just an innocent bystander making no positive contribution, you also have no place at Patriotic.

Whatever the final financial arrangements, the rebuilding of this refinery will require a different mindset, one which is goal-oriented and focussed on objective criteria. Plans, processes and procedures will have to be king. The people who occupy the space will ultimately be responsible for the success or failure of this new venture, and it is at this point that I begin to worry.

What is the system that will be implemented to ensure the human resources engaged in this new arrangement are fit for purpose? How will we mitigate against being re-infected by the former entitlement culture? No doubt Trinidad and Tobago has the talent, but there is a deficit when it comes to matching talent to task.

Assuming we get all the physics and science right, I worry about how the new organization will motivate and inspire the people to do their best in an external environment that epitomises lack of productivity and rewards mediocrity. For this new entity to be successful, it must treat the host environment as a highly contagious disease and ring-fence its operations to prevent itself from being infected.

The statistic of moving from position 64 to 105 in the ease of doing business index in four years has implications for every aspect of the functioning of this new organization. Ease of doing business is not simply a ranking, it is a statement about the country’s capacity to succeed. For anyone who wishes to challenge the data, please remember that the World Bank has been engaged in this analysis over the past 16 years, and it is now saying to Trinidad and Tobago that the following 11 areas of doing business are becoming more difficult: “starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts, resolving insolvency and labour market regulation”. Trinidad and Tobago has to get these indicators moving in the opposite direction if we wish to be successful with this new venture.

For citizens who believe that this country can change, this is an exciting opportunity to be part of a game-changing initiative. Human resource companies, technology companies and talented citizens should be beating a path to this new organization, not with greed in their eyes, but with a view to making a difference. This is an opportunity to redefine the relationship between labour and capital in such a way that we understand that prioritizing people over profits will ensure our future profits.

History will remember kindly those who grasped this opportunity and made a difference!