Sexual Harassment or Bad Skylark!

“Muted” would be an accurate description of Trinidad and Tobago’s response to the international #metoo movement, despite the rampant sotto voce comments about who slept their way to the top and with whom.  Our collective ambiguous response is understandable given the size of the country.  In another context, this was described as the economics of consent.  Additionally, there is a culture of open secrets which negatively impact women’s opportunities for professional advancement.  Who would be so crazy to say #metoo or to name the perpetrator(s)? Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 08.20.35 Reference what happened in the Angostura case; a woman accused an executive in 2016 of sexual harassment; she has since been fired and the matter is still unresolved.  Despite having women well-placed in their hierarchy, Angostura Limited has demonstrated an amazing level of duplicity.  On the one hand, when you look at the establishment, there are women in management  while on the other hand theres no sexual harassment policy so when the senior executive was inspired to call out the then Chairman, her only option was to use the “Whistleblower” policy which is totally inadequate to deal with issues of sexual harassment.  This duplicity is fully supported by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago who appointed the Chairman and to date has spent M$3.5 dollars on his defence against the sexual harassment charges.

What is ironic is that the male decision makers in this scenario all have wives, sisters and daughters yet they seem numb to the fact that it is only a matter of time before either their wife, mother, sister or daughter is sexually harassed.  Given the current response, she would have to take the harassment and shut up.

North American data says that one in four women is sexually harassed in the workplace.  Why do we think that the data would be different for us?  It is likely to be higher but there is not data to clarify.   Oops… I forgot; we call it “bad skylark” and if we take this sexual harassment issue seriously, it will negatively impact our level of camaraderie and culture.  Well, it’s about time to change this unfortunate response. Your inappropriate comment about how sweet I am looking this morning is not appreciated. The use of the word “sweet” in this context is offensive.  Your catcalls are disgusting! Your focus on my breasts is repulsive!  Your “feeling up” my hand is not a hand shake and on and on!

Men, if you’re interested in protecting your daughter from sexual harassment, please desist from the locker room talk with your guy friends about what “it” was like with so and so from the office.  Please give me a straightforward “3-pump” hand shake.  Please hold my gaze and not stare at my breasts.  Please speak out against sexual harassment. The most important thing you can do is NOT use your position of power and influence to gain sexual favours! Bob Dylan in 2018 sang “Your silence speaks louder than those who condone!”

 

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Where’s your broughtupsy Minister Young?

What would make Minister Stuart YoungScreen Shot 2018-01-29 at 09.37.06 think that he could call into a radio programme last Friday (26 Jan 2018) – or any day for that matter – and deliver his “prepared statement” without interruption? What would make such a thought even enter his brain?
Ignorance? Arrogance? Or is it to follow the lead of his political leader who has developed a penchant for coining new words. Who can forget the debut of “ignorrogance” into the local vernacular?
As far as I am aware, when you call a radio station, you have to abide by the station’s rules. The host did not invite you; you invited yourself, so you cannot expect to dictate the rules of the game.
I am not very clear on the rules by which the government can claim a certain amount of media time every month. What is clear, however, is that it is not relevant in this case. Government minister or not, if you have not paid for the broadcast, you have no right to determine the rules of engagement. Not even to attempt it.

I liken Minister Young’s behaviour to his storming a fete; “how he could vex if dey t’row he tail out? He eh pay nuttin, so he eh ha’ no right dey.’”

From an etiquette point of view, he was completely wrong. It was intolerably ill-mannered to call in to the station and not want to engage in even the minimum of courtesies.  As far as media engagement is concerned, this was also bad strategy, especially as there was no subsequent explanations of what is actually happening with the CNC/NGC impasse.  And perhaps most tellingly for a politician, subsequent calls to the station say unequivocally, that even if he thinks he won the battle, he certainly lost the war.

Media Engagement 101 teaches you, Minister Young, that it is of no consequence whether or not you like the host or agree with what he thinks; you simply have no choice but to play by his rules. You see, what matters in the case of this show host, is that he has developed a loyal listenership over many years. His content is generally viewed as being informational and educational.  It is beyond dispute that he has created a space for simple dialogue on complex economic and financial issues. Many see him as having demonstrated that his interest is in the country and not in any particular party.

And even if that were not so, you simply can’t behave as if you own the place. As far as we know, you do not.  If it were possible for to wipe the slate clean and rewrite this horror story, there are five things I’d suggest you do.

  • The first is to make sure that you are very clear on the reason for your action or what is your why.  This is ultimately what becomes your key message.
  • Suggestion number two also has to do with your key message – don’t forget to summarize your key message at the end of the conversation.
  • Number three: Impatience and anger are definitely not assets during a public “appearance.” You would be well advised to breathe deeply before you go on air so both disappear even if they are present before you begin.
  • Number four is so obvious that I am a little embarrassed to add it here: keep to your script and make the conversation pleasant.
  • But all four of those suggestions become rather less important if you are willing to go with number five: have one of your functionaries call the host and ask politely if there is any objection to your calling in and making a contribution on the issue; the likelihood of aggro is then severely reduced.

Minister Young, you had an opportunity to provide clarity on an issue that can have broad, long-term implications for the development of this country. Instead, you chose the bully strategy, seeing that opening as an opportunity to stuff something down the citizenry’s throats. That is perhaps why you tripped over the issue of whether or not the matter is subjudice or merely confidential. I think you should be made aware that, to some citizens, this will probably be taken to mean that you are disrespectfully saying: “We are not discussing this with you stupid people.”

Minister Young, your intemperance is just one more thread in the tangled web of government’s mismanagement in general, and in particular, mismanagement of its communication strategy – if we can be generous and say that one exists.

Minister Young, I have heard it said, “who have more corn feed more fowl.” Given the feeding frenzy of 2010-2015 and the forced frugality of the current period, will incumbency guarantee you the advantage the next time the election bell rings?

Minister Young, communication has to convey the “corn” message. And ultimately it is the better communicator who will reach more of the citizenry. Our country continues to underperform and the legacy voters (i.e., your powerbase providers) continue to disappear. It is not hard to see people like you, who were brought in to represent the younger cohort will be soon be seen waving the opposition flag.

After all – and I sincerely hope that you will prove me wrong – your presence has changed neither the game nor the methodology.  

Not condemning, just commenting.

 

 

Desperate exile of Despers …

When Despers returns to “the Hill” to create their music, Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 12.53.30I will believe that we have turned the corner on crime! Until then, I expect very few improvements.
It is a tragedy that we allow Despers to move from pillar to post in order to find a spot to practice for carnival. It is a tragedy that the children of Despers have chased them off of the hill with guns and bullets.
It is a tragedy that our politicians are collectively wringing their hands as young and old are gunned down in the streets. (oops! Opposition Leader recently agreed to re-open talks on the the Gang Legislation).

 

Laventille has simultaneously been problematic while producing some of the most talented and competent sons and daughters of our soil (which includes a US ambassador to Trinidad). It has also provided leadership and creativity to the steelband movement for many years. Despers supporters from outside of the area have traditionally felt some fear of going up the hill to listen to their band but was always comforted in the knowledge that the community had “their backs”. Then something happened… maybe it was the passing of “de man with de hammer” but what began as small robberies escalated to full-on attacks upon visitors to the area. It became even worse when gun-toting bandits ran through a practice session of the band. Then someone made the decision that the safer option for the band was to practice elsewhere.

The social consequences of that decision are yet to be analyzed and measured, but the first consequence that I see is the absence of any positive visual role models for the young men and women of the area. For more than 30 years, generations saw men and women hard at work in the panyard mastering their craft. They say, “people striving for excellence.” That imagery is no more, having been replaced by the image of the “bad man” – so what do we expect will emerge? More “bad men.”

The aggression and violence which removed Despers from Laventille is both a criminal and a social problem for which there is no single root or solution. One type of solution lies in systematically addressing the evils; drugs, guns and poor self-esteem. But at the heart of low achievement is the issue of indiscipline which comes from not seeing the value of what you are doing. T&T has always been dreadful at organising anything but Carnival, because people saw the goal and thus the point of the work. Admittedly, even this is failing now.

From captain to cook, the lack of discipline which pervades our society is unbelievable. Even more incredible is a sense that there is a reluctance to bring wrong-doers to justice. At some point, the government must ensure that the necessary action is taken even at the cost of unpopularity. The public must see those “sacred cows” taken to the butcher’s shop because it is the right thing to do. Indeed we must feel that there is the discipline to just do what is right.

I live in hope that Despers will soon return to their practice home overlooking Port of Spain and once again bring hope and vision to a community which is in the wilderness.

Monetise Cannabis … don’t burn it!

Newspaper headlines scream, “Police burned millions of dollars worth of marijuana plants”. Different versions of this headline are frequently repeated and we dismiss them as, the drug rings are at it again. But what if we saw cannabis as a viable economic diversification option?

35565350815_f0f18bff6e_mFour possible outcomes surface. 
Firstly, we would stop jailing “little black boys” for the recreational use of cannabis.
Secondly, the agricultural sector would get a much needed boost with a potential foreign exchange earner.
Thirdly Trinidad and Tobago would join countries like Canada, Portugal and Norway in the decriminalisation of drugs.
Fourthly, we would benefit from early mover advantage in the business of the commercialisation of cannabis.
Our system has to halt the deliberate destruction of countless black lives because the possession of a simple “joint”. The practice of charging persons for the recreational use of cannabis is alleged to encourage corruption amongst Police officers who willingly accept “ah change” to not charge or when they charge a “youth man” Police often don’t turn up in court. Decriminalising cannabis would free up Police time to hopefully deal with solving murders.

Some people object to decriminalising the use of cannabis because of claims that It is a gateway drug but the evidence just does not support that notion. People who abuse drugs to their detriment are unwell and should be dealt with by the health care system, not the penal system.

Globally, the tide has turned on cannabis. A November 27, 2017 story on CBC Canada titled, “Canada’s marijuana industry enters consolidation phase,” is instructive. The developed world is consolidating their cannabis business and we are burning the plants and beating our chests in the “war against drugs”.

I am told that the agricultural conditions in Trinidad and Tobago are great for us to enter this market as a grower. We were once tobacco farmers, so why can’t we become cannabis farmers? There’s a good chance that young people will be attracted to cultivating “de herb”. There is a spike in global demand for cannabis to satisfy both the recreational and medicinal needs. This is a train TnT needs to ride hard and fast but it requires the establishment of an operating framework, structures and processes so that the state can collect taxes and the growers can operate within an organized system.

Norway recently announced that it will become the first Scandinavian country to decriminalise drugs. The majority of the Norwegian parliament backed the historic move and directed the national government to reform its policies on drugs.

15 years ago Portugal decriminalised the use of drugs of this kind and today their Health Ministry “estimates that only about 25,000 Portuguese use heroin, down from 100,000 when the policy began”. Compare that with the US where around 64,000 persons died of drug overdose in 2017 and this is almost the same as were killed in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars combined.

I am not advocating leniency on illegal drug traffickers, nor am I advocating legalising unregulated use of drugs, I am advocating an enlightened approach to the use of cannabis and a focus on the commercialisation of this plant which has been around for more than over 10,000 years!

Let’s do this!

 

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.