Minister West’s persistence with dress code in gov’t bldgs betrays colonial hang-ups
Originally published Friday 14 January 2022 Guest Column
Minister of Public Administration Ms. Allyson West is reported as saying that Government has more important issues to deal with than a dress code.
Of course, you do, Minister West. Therein lies the problem.
It is a problem of politicians losing touch with the needs of ordinary folks and forgetting the old adage that little things mean a lot. Most of us just want to live, follow the rules and keep out of trouble but the system works against us.
The dress code issue is just one example of how a simple fix can positively impact the lives of many, yet the Government’s colonial-era behaviour towards this remains mostly unchanged.
The global estimates are that 15% of young women give birth before age 18. That is therefore the percentage of our young women who are likely to be single, unemployed, and in need of government services and support.
Think of the young, unemployed mother who has to access government services. She has to find someone to take care of her child, dress appropriately and rely on unreliable transportation to head to the government office.
If all she owns is a pair of slippers, she will be turned away to begin the process all over. But the second time around, she has to find money to purchase a pair of shoes.
Depending on the location of the service she is accessing, the workaround is to go across the street and rent a pair of shoes, or a shawl, or a jacket. This was a pre-Covid solution which I only became aware of because I was wearing a cap-sleeved dress and was denied entry to the Inland Revenue Office.
Replicate this same scenario for persons who are running small businesses or just operating ‘a lil’ hustle’. Accessing government services becomes a project which you have to prepare for and put in place a contingency plan for when the attempt fails since it is highly likely that you will have to return on another occasion to complete your transaction. This, despite repeated promises to make several services available online.
The newly minted Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Farley Augustine has demonstrated that this little irritant in the system can be changed by the stroke of a pen without any negative consequences for the way business is conducted.
He has taken advantage of low-hanging fruit and his action has resonated with the average citizen. Hopefully, he will continue to harvest the low-hanging fruit, which makes life easier, and demonstrates to his counterparts in Trinidad that governance is about delivering services to the population.
What I saw in Minister West’s response is arrogance and lack of care. She could have acknowledged the issue and promised to look into it.
After six years in office, this PNM administration has not even delivered on a change in the dress code.
Is it that our officials do not access services? Is it that they don’t have to hustle for transportation? Is it that they don’t see the daily struggles citizens face? Or is it that, through their SUVs with windows and windscreens perhaps tinted darker than the legal limit, everything looks rosy?
Whatever the answers, Government should take example from the THA Chief Secretary and remove some of the small irritants which confront us daily.