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.

Beetham – A Recurring Decimal

Violent protest from the Beetham is the new normal! Beetham flared up under the UNC in 2013 and this current flare up in 2017 is under a PNM administration.  Despite having a different political party in power, the response has been nearly identical: hold a news conference, threaten stronger action, state that behaviour of this nature will not be condoned and move onto the next crisis while the citizenry retreats to their “safe space” or escapes to the rituals of Christmas and Carnival.

We are on the brink of civil war between those who have power either by the gun, their physical strength or their money and those of us who perceive themselves as having less.   The majority of us have neither guns nor much physical strength so we become trapped between the world of the affluent and the world of the sufferer.  Old calypsoes sung about violence long before the situation got to this stage. Big businesses may not have physical strength but wield power in a different way to their own benefit. Until we accept that all parties are at fault, we are not going to move forward. We all evolved around each other into this state of affairs.

Successive governments have presided over this continued deterioration and when out of office, threw stones and accusations at those in office.  There is little difference between the persons in the Beetham and the average income earner.  We are all facing similar situations of deprivation in a society which should have utilized resources in a more equitable manner.  If you liken the society to a fish tank, we are all trending towards becoming “bottom feeders” as the one percenters flagrantly continue their lavish lifestyles.  Without meaningful interruption, a once thriving society will become unrecognizable. Just glance at our neighbours in Venezuela.

I am not encouraged by the Prime Minister’s statement that a line had been drawn by last Thursday’s “lawlessness” along the Beetham Highway because it is so similar to the statement in 2013 by the then Minister of National Security that “this anarchical behaviour will not be condoned”.  In a Trinidad Guardian article on Friday 21st August  2009, it was reported that in response to Beetham residents shooting at police officers, “close to 100 police and soldiers responded and locked down the area in search for the attackers who could not be found”.  The lesson here is that “gun talk” and threats of punitive measures have NOT worked.  Additionally, several pieces of seminal research  have demonstrated that punitive measures do not reduce crime or criminality.

We have to operate on several different levels to have any impact.  The police must take the appropriate action and the wheels of justice will spin at its own sweet time but this sticky problem requires a multi pronged solution and I am not hearing any plans to engage a different strategy.  This problem is deep and systemic and requires a radical response.

Different approaches are being tried in other parts of the world.  The one that gives me hope came to my attention from a TED talk by Epidemiologist, Dr. Gary Slutkin who “applied lessons learned from more than a decade fighting epidemics in Africa and Asia to the creation of a public health model to reduce violence through behaviour change and disease control methods. He is an Ashoka Fellow, a Professor of Epidemiology and International Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a senior advisor to the World Health Organization and the 2009 Winner of the Search for a Common Ground Award”.

I noticed that Trinidad was listed as an adaptation partner in 2015 (see image on this page) which means his work is known to the government   My expectation is that the Prime Minister will take leadership on this issue, call in the Leader of the Opposition and account to the nation that there is a collaborative approach to implementing solutions to crime as a national issue.

Gary Slutkin

Beetham by their actions has not favoured either party.  They are equally brutal to each. The masterminds behind the protest have learned that the protest must be on both the Highway and the Priority Bus Route to have maximum impact. They have mastered the weapons of the weak. It is in the political interest of both parties to collaborate and begin the process of solving this sticky problem.  To do otherwise would be to condemn Trinidad and Tobago to a future of anarchy.  



Voting for your STAIN!

Every 5 years, state enterprises are torn apart, diplomatic missions are populated with neophytes and the financiers pull out a different company tailored to the new party which forms the government. The losers continue to be all of us who cannot pay for private medical attention, cannot send our children to private or prestige schools, who have to wake up at 3:00 am to avoid the traffic, who cannot afford personal body guards etc, etc, etc. The citizenry continues to be abused by our politicians who quickly lose touch as they zoom around with police escorts, move into living accommodation they could not afford just 25 months before or as we saw recently, are given special privilege to bypass sticky immigration lines.

Our dilemma is that both political parties as currently configured are unsuited and inadequate to provide us with any leadership to attract our attention or in particular, the attention of the 18-45’s who will make the difference in the next elections.

As we approach the halfway mark for both political parties, the population awaits some concrete signal that either of the dominant political parties has a transformation strategy which will be rolled out. The PNM could have appointed a new General Secretary to tackle the transformation of Balisier House into that hub of excitement which is generated at any functioning “party headquarters” while the UNC could just have a “kuchoor free” approach to staging their internal elections.

The dominant political parties continue to offer us the equivalent of exhumed corpses with moribund ideas and expect the population to follow along in docile compliance. As time passes, the next General Elections will see us move deeper into traditional voting patterns as the legacy voters (i.e. the over 50s) dig their heels in and support the red or yellow stains.

Both parties are aware that constitutional reform is needed, though while in office have not found the time to address this fundamental issue. They continue to pay lip service to the notions of Accountability, Collaboration and Transparency (ACT).

I keep scanning the horizon for the emergence of a third force which will be the game changer that this country needs. Yes, the situation was different to when the NAR trounced the PNM 33/3 in 1986 but a landslide victory is what is needed to transform Trinidad and Tobago.  Based on past performance, the new Seepersad-Bachan led Congress of the people (COP) has a lot of rebuilding to do to regain any traction.

We continue to make the same mistakes over and over, hoping for a different result. What we are in fact doing is assuring that Trinidad & Tobago will continue to head to backwardness and self destruction as we continue on this path of winner-take-all and reap political reward.  

Here are some things a courageous leader could do:

  1. Engage talent from wherever it lies even it is across party lines.
  2. Rationalize the existence of State Enterprises.
  3. Establish a system where appointments to state boards are based on applications to an independent Authority.

Malicious or Hapless Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs?

Was it maliciousness or just haplessness at the root of the recent bungling of the appointment of Makeda Antoine to the post of Ambassador to the United Nations Office in Geneva?  From the article in the recent Sunday Express, the young lady appears to have the potential to do a fantastic job, but unfortunately she will be remembered by the Express Headline: “Anxiety as rookie appointed ambassador to UN.” Heaven forbid that she has any diplomatic missteps!

The main reason this has become a news headline is that her line Minister, the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs refused to confirm her appointment when asked by a reporter.  Had he confirmed her appointment, it would have taken the sting out of the news story but instead it gave Sheila Rampersad the opportunity to dig in and create a Sunday Express story which was published on November 12, 2017.

What befuddles me is that for a government being led by a politician of more than 30 years standing, they continue to make basic errors.  This could have gone so well if only the Minister had handled the announcement in the same way he did in March of 2016, when he presented instruments to 4 persons.  At that time the instruments were presented  to His Excellency Fitzgerald Jeffrey as High Commissioner for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to Jamaica; His Excellency Dr Amery Browne as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Federative Republic of Brazil; Her Excellency Pennelope Beckles as the Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Nations, in New York and His Excellency Dr. Lancelot Cowie as the Ambassador of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to Cuba.

Is it that Minister Moses was unaware of the appointment or did he not agree? Whatever the reasons, the Minister and the Prime Minister appear to differ on this appointment.  Looking at the track record of “maybe Ambassador Antoine”, it could have provided an opportunity to woo the 18-45 age group whose vote has a great potential to determine the future leadership of our country.

Having made this foulup, I expect the Prime Minister himself to welcome Ambassador Antoine and signal his high expectations for youth leadership in our country.  He still has an opportunity to clear the path for a positive tenure even though he missed a great opportunity to comment and clear the air at yesterday’s PNM convention.

In every aspect of our national development, what I see is missed opportunities.  This country is crying out for leadership that is sensitive, logical and structured.  Meanwhile, best wishes to Makeda Antoine, Ambassador Designate to the United Nations Office in Geneva.  

Of tweets and bites!

What do Mario Sabga and Colonel (Ret) Dave Williams have in common?

An assumption that they know their businesses so well that they can handle media exposure without the necessary training or preparation.  Mario Sabga made an unfortunate reference to 1% being the most powerful in T&T and Colonel (Ret) Dave Williams said small thing in reference to the flooding situation. These statements forced apologies out of these otherwise successful professionals.

Despite previous success, level of confidence, or where you are located on the hierarchy of power, only a naïve person faces the media without a plan.  That plan must place the audience and media at the centre and ask the question: What is the outcome I expect?  If you don’t have a clear understanding of the outcome you expect or even the angle you want the media to take, then someone else will make that decision for you and ultimately make a decision which you don’t like.

Crying that Anthony Bourdain or Khejan Haynes quoted you out of context is after the “horse has bolted”.  You should have been on top of your game and tempered that urge to be quick, witty, or whatever else you want to call it.  Had both gentlemen sat in a moment of  sober reflection with communications professionals, they would have understood the “no-go” zones.  In an age of “Live Tweets” and instant communications we need to understand the power of 140 characters and frame our messages to suit.
If you are going into an interview which is controversial, take the lead on the difficult questions and put the information out so you lead the issue.

Oftentimes, leaders believe that they can suppress information but in this era, nothing is a secret, it is just a matter of time before it becomes known to the public.  It would be better for you to lead the conversation and provide the information.  In instances where there is data to support your statement, your credibility suddenly shoots up.  But please ensure that the statistics are simple and that you have the right interpretation – I am reminded of the statement about the “decreasing increase in crime”.

While the media has a tremendous responsibility to provide fair and balanced coverage, experience has shown that we cannot rely on this. Journalists and news agencies will do what is in their interest first, last and always.

Running alongside three evils!

UWI Half Marathon 2017

Exciting Finish with Dexter Charles!

13.1 miles provides ample opportunity for reflection as you seek relief from the boredom of taking each of the 30,000ish steps expected to be taken to complete a half-marathon.

For my umpteenth UWI half-marathon, I focused on the Priority Bus Route (PBR), the daily horror of commuting from the east, and the promise of relief that was so boldly made on the election campaign trail of 2015.

I also remembered Dr. Ray Furlonge and Dr. Trevor Townsend, because they both have spent their lifetimes suggesting practical solutions for easing the traffic congestion, to no avail.  

There are 3 evils which the Government of Trinidad and Tobago permits on the PBR.

The first evil is the issuing of PBR passes to members of the “in-group” while the population endures the pain of an almost non-existent transportation system. This special pass has become a prized possession and re-enforces the notion that privilege will get you special access and therefore special advantages in this country.  When will the playing field be levelled in every way?

The second evil is the facilitation of houses with direct access to the bus route.  Indeed, people have paved over the drains and park their vehicles on the shoulder of the PBR or house their cars in these paid for by the state garages.  How can this be permitted on such an important transportation artery?  Laws are broken with impunity and nobody cares enough to take action.  In addition to this encroachment on the PBR, there are structures whose boundary lines are built on the edge of the shoulder.  Isn’t there a “set back” law for buildings?

I observed the third evil less than 2 miles into the race.  There is a gas station with an entrance and exit onto the PBR.  Why should one station be given that kind of business advantage over any others?  What is the rationale? If this entrance and exit is designed exclusively for the Maxi drivers, how is this being monitored? I don’t accept the rationale that this exclusivity is designed to reduce traffic on the main road.

Recently our leaders have been talking about the lawlessness of our country, and that’s valid, but I say to them, “Don’t complain about what you permit!”  Someone permits the excessive issuance of PBR passes and that just adds to the congestion. Someone permits these illegal structures on the PBR … someone allowed the gas station access to the PBR.

We can start doing the right thing and send a message to the entire country.  How about starting with just the PBR?

I assure you that I’ll be taking those 30,000 steps in 2018 and checking if the illegal structures still exist; if the gas station still has this special access and during my training, I will take note of the number of vehicles using the PBR without permission.