Property Matters – Sandals MoU?

Afra Raymond continues to gnaw at the roots of the “Scandals” oops “Sandals” Agreement because citizens have a right to know the details.
I applaud him. Crafting a strong future will only be done if today’s actions are open, honest and transparent. It takes courage to be an Afra Raymond!

Adam Stewart, CEO Sandals

This is a continuation of my 8 March 2018 article on the Sandals MoU. That MoU was declared as no secret by our PM to the Parliament on 12 October 2017 and that was confirmed by the then CEO of the Sandals group, Adam Stewart, as reported on 27 February 2018 in the T&T press.

My 27 February 2018 request for that MoU under the Freedom of Information Act (embedded below) was therefore made against that background of both parties’ declaration that there was no secret. The Office of the Prime Minister responded on 22 March 2018 to refuse my request, citing that the MoU contained a confidentiality clause which prevented its disclosure at this time. I have since written to the OPM to request a reply in conformity with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act – I am still awaiting…

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Laventille nights and President Weekes!

Curiosity got the better of me and I chose the much publicized “Laventille Nights” with our country’s first female President over the usual Friday evening “lime”.            I wasn’t sure if it was at Beetham or Sea Lots. Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 09.42.45
As we drove along, blue lights signalled the presence of police cars at Sea Lots so that was our cue to drive into Sea Lots. Our car worked its way through the narrow streets and I counted 8 marked police vehicles, several heavily armed police officers and 7 dark tinted SUV-type vehicles.
The interview had already begun as we settled into the garden chairs. There was a continuous murmur as the interview continued. The 50 or so children in the audience looked between 5 and 11 years of age with a few babies on the shoulders of young women. A handful of young men sat in the stands of the basketball court and of course, Burkie and his partner with their obvious gold chains.
I commend President Weekes for responding positively to the request but I am challenged to understand the objective or the intended outcome. I am equally challenged to understand the thinking of the parents who would herd their children into a gathering in the basketball court when they should be in bed and asleep. The dearth of adults was also alarming.
The star moment came when the father of Andrea Johnson expressed his total delight and pride at the accomplishments of his daughter. The necessary thanks were then expressed and the President’s entourage departed.
As the President’s entourage disappeared, the entertainer Voice was introduced and the children became fully awake. When I left, it was to the trailing sound of the famous line in his hit song, “This Is The Year For Love” and I wondered: What has changed? What difference will our first female President make? What is the leverage needed to move our society?
The following evening, I drove past the entrance to Sea Lots and this time, only darkness engulfed the area, not a flashing blue light … not a uniformed police officer … only a shadowy figure in the distance. Life continues and I fully expect that the next time Sea Lots residents will receive a visit by heavily armed police officers and 7 marked police vehicles will be to quell some disquiet or extract a wanted citizen.





On Angostura Farm, all animals are holy but only cows are sacred!



“Red ting!”

“Slim ting!”

“Tick ting!”

“Tall ting!”

Their catcalls come at us from all sides, across the street, across the room, in the Stadium, in the Oval, in City Gate, at the taxi-stand, everywhere. Their candid remarks about our bodies are delivered without hesitation, with no concern for their impact on us; we might as well be dumb animals.

Their objectification (unabashedly expressed in the constant “ting,” (tall or short, slim or thick, white or black or red) knows no bounds. Nor does their lechery. And it respects few barriers, the major one being the presence of a male significant other.

Nowadays, things are a lot worse. Of course, there still are those ordinary, right-thinking men who stand up for what is right and insist on proper treatment of women. But they are, I am clear, outnumbered.

One effect of this growing anti-woman, man-is-boss attitude is that women unable to enjoy genuine freedom of movement on the streets. We find that we are now constrained to make complex arrangements so that we are almost always accompanied by a male. But, as attested to by the recent flare-up in the debate about whether mace and pepper spray should be legalised, it is not just to reduce our exposure to these unsavoury remarks but to protect ourselves and ensure our physical safety.

However, I find that idea much less uncomfortable than the idea that thousands of women have been socialized into thinking that catcalls and other similar aggressive behaviour are really compliments and, therefore, completely acceptable. Perhaps, sadly, it is a generational thing but there was certainly a time when many women would wonder aloud, “Why is it that men don’t understand that I dislike their crude comments?”

“Crude comments.” Say that to the members of the Boys’ Club and they will respond, with a dismissive wave of the hand, that it is “only man talk.”

“Whappen,” they might add, “ah man cyar even make ah joke with ah ooman now?”  Don’t be fooled into thinking that that behaviour is confined to the “bad boys” on the street corners; it is an all pervasive attitude, exhibited wherever men get together.

And that is why there is a need for radical change as regards how women are treated in both public and private spaces, high and low, in Trinidad and Tobago. I do not think the households where the narrative continues to be that “A woman’s place is in the home and her role to rear the children and make sure everyone is properly fed” are defined by level of income or of education. I do not think that men in only one type of environment socialise their male offspring into thinking that “roughing she up” is the manly thing to do; environments across every stratum of the society ooze male dominance and feminine abuse.

The attitude of man’s sense of entitlement as far as women are concerned is deeply embedded in our psyche, making the problem systemic. It will only be solved when we take a systems approach to understanding it and shifting the needle. My continuing focus on sexual harassment is fuelled by the lack of action with a view to embedding a system to help people understand the issue and their own reactions.

When I repeatedly call for legislation, it is with the full understanding that, without clearly articulated consequences for not making changes, the status quo will remain unchanged. When I repeatedly call for policy implementation, it is with the full understanding that the conversation about sexuality and sexual harassment must take place so that people will understand the changing norms and the new boundaries. When I repeatedly call for the removal of a top official still under the cloud of sexual harassment accusations, it is with the full understanding that that person’s actions speak so loudly that audiences cannot hear his words.

On at least one issue, audiences cannot hear their government’s words either. The current Rowley-led PNM Administration continues to be silent on the issue of an independent, transparent investigation into the sexual harassment allegations made against the Chairman of the 30% government-owned Angostura Holdings Limited. The absence of any action to remove the Angostura Chairman is a message, loud and clear, that, as far Government is concerned, all animals are equal but only certain cows remain sacred.

So if women continue to be on the receiving end of constant catcalls and treated like dogs, for Dr Rowley and his Cabinet, including no small number of women, that is really small ting.

Our First #MeToo?

Congratulations to Minister of Labour, Senator Jennifer Baptiste-Primus on being the first “Trinbagonian” woman to say #MeToo in the Sexual Harassment epidemic!
The  admirable Minister announced in a Sunday Express article that she too, was a victim of sexual harassment. It took courage and I applaud you, but why have you and your cabinet colleagues allowed a governmentappointed chairman to preside over sexual harassment accusations against himself, and then use $3.5m dollars of taxpayer money to defend himself against these charges?  Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 07.56.34

Have I missed the newspaper interview where you objected to the duplicity of his subsequently presiding over the disciplining of a supervisor who lunged at the CEO?  Have I missed the report that your government has initiated an independent, transparent investigation over the three incomplete investigations into sexual harassment charges?  Did I miss your presence at the International Women’s Day March?

Madam Minister, have you ever asked yourself why there has been a muted response to the Sexual Harassment campaign? In the recent Sunday Express article, you are quoted as saying: “I have attended over the years to many such complaints of women suffering from harassment on the job. It affects the performance of that worker. If you are working in such an environment you cannot produce at the level you are accustomed because you are on edge … Women have to assert themselves by being very firm. So you know the extent of the problem and understand its traumatic impact and hence the urgency for it to be dealt with. The last time I checked the legislative agenda, I did not see Legislation about Sexual Harassment. Maybe I should be thankful that you chose your Mother’s Day interview as the opportunity to bring light to this murky issue.

You and your government are going through a round of stakeholder consultations and the bureaucratic mulberry bush, but this time around, for all Ministries, State Corporations and the Protective Services under your government’s control, I would like to see the implementation of sexual harassment policy.

In the interview you stated that: “Women have to assert themselves by being very firm” and that statement tells me about your lack of understanding of the issue. The predators seldom approach strong women, who are likely to give them a kick in the testicles or else direct some public shaming at them for their conduct.  Many strong women have been cowed into silence because of the consequences which include being fired and/or public shaming that it is somehow their fault.  In the absence of legislation and policy, the predators will reign.

At the heart of this issue is a need for T&T to engage in meaningful discussion about sex and sexuality so our children develop an enlightened view.  Instead we continue to speak sotto voce about sex and still cannot even bring ourselves to use the appropriate names for penis and vagina. This is an issue which needs to be openly discussed. It is not a female issue but a people issue. It will not go away without an open conversation and the government is in the position to lead such a conversation. We owe it to ourselves to have that conversation.

Wanted – Male Voices Against Sexual Harassment

Men! You have a mother, wife, woman, daughter, sister, aunt… there’s a woman in your life who is being sexually harassed. What are you doing to protect her? She is relying on you to at least speak up for her. The majority of sexual harassment accusations are made against men so it will not lessen without the help of men. Here are some things men can do to confront this scourge.Sexual Harassment - 5th May 2018 - 1

Ask any of the women in your life to share with you any experiences she has had with sexual harassment and share with you how she felt. Before asking the question, assure her that you will not become emotional and want to lash out because of her honest response. Sex and sexual harassment is still a taboo topic in our country.

Call out your “pardner” the next time he talks about women as things and not as human beings capable of being hurt. For example, stop him when he calls a woman; “it”, “de ting”, “reds”, “gyal”, “bitch”, “whore”, or “slut”. These descriptors add a layer of separation between men and the person they are degrading, which blinds them to the fact if they are allowed to do this to a woman, the same dehumanization can happen to their mother, daughter, wife etc. The more we dehumanize anyone, the easier it is to abuse them.

Don’t share vulgar jokes or anecdotes with your co-workers. Let’s get something straight; the office is no place for the sharing of vulgar jokes or anecdotes, unless you are in a seminar on sexual harassment, and giving examples of what is not acceptable. Regardless of whether it is spoken aloud, whispered, or shared on social media or email, explicit references or comments about sex should be confined to your friends or intimate partner.

Don’t block a person from passing. Blocking a corridor so that a person must brush up against you is aggressive and intimidating. Allow your co-workers the freedom to pass without invading their personal space. This includes behaviour like sitting on someone’s desk or just getting too close.

A definition of sexual harassment taken from the Australian  Human Rights Commission is: “an unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated, where a reasonable person would anticipate that reaction in the circumstances”.   Sexual Harassment is not constrained by sexual orientation and can happen to women, men, transgender, and non-gender-conforming people.

In my own lifetime, I have seen women move from accommodating sexual harassment to finding their voice to say, “Stop!” In a patriarchal society like ours there are men who have explained to me that don’t understand what is the problem? They ask innocently, “Can I not even make a joke?” Of course you can, but you must first establish boundaries with people; have a conversation about what you think is allowable to say and how you think it can be said. We need to talk about what sexual harassment is and is not. We need to have grown-up, explicit conversations about sex and sexuality that do not try to hide or mystify it. We need to pass legislation about Sexual Harassment and implement sexual harassment policies in Ministries, State Enterprises and the Military. Come on guys, #Let’s do this!


Workplace safety includes from Sexual Harassment!

An employer’s responsibility to ensure the safety of employees includes keeping them safe from sexual harassment.  This is achieved by having a clearly defined, transparent policy and procedures which all employees can access whenever they feel violated.  It is the only way to protect both the accused and the accuser. The United Nations recently had to respond to a Sexual Harassment accusation made against a former UNAids Executive Director.  I say “former” because he chose not to apply for an extension of his contract after he was publicly accused of sexual harassment and the matter was widely reported in the UK Guardian.  Almost as soon as the matter was brought into the open, an investigation was launched and the UNAids Executive Director recused himself from the final decision-making role in the case in order to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest. Instead, the UNAids Executive Director delegated authority over the case to the Deputy Executive Director for Management.”

This is what a transparent, open and independent process looks like.  Why is it so difficult for us to operate at this level? It simply means if you have been accused, you cannot continue to remain at the pinnacle of the organization and preside over the investigation.  

Mirror Clipping 2 2007MIrrow clipping 2007

In the case of the UNAids, “Luiz Loures, a UN assistant secretary general and the subject of a recent sexual assault allegation stood down from his position.  In a media release UNAids said, “Loures would not seek renewal of his contract, which expired at the end of March, adding that the decision had no connection to the allegations against him.” #speakwithforkedtongues.

An internal inquiry cleared Loures of wrongdoing following complaints from a female employee that he assaulted her in a lift. While investigators found the allegations to be unsubstantiated, campaigners said the investigation process was flawed and should have been handled externally.

Sexual Harassment is a complex issue which requires transparency both in the process and the method of selecting the artibers.  If either is tainted, the result will be compromised. So in this UNAids case a interest group called  Code Blue, wrote to Secretary Guterres, alleging that the investigation was undermined by a conflict of interest, with the executive director of UNAids, Michel Sidibé, who reported to Loures acted  both as a witness and as the “final decision-maker” in the case. The group called for Guterres to review the allegations and hand the investigation over to an “external, neutral and independent body”.

Here we go again; a flawed process, despite its transparency, allowed the harasser to escape the brunt of the law.  But this issue also attracted the attention of Britain’s secretary of state for international development who: was urged “to call for an independent inquiry into allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct within the agency. In the letter, the Labour MP Gareth Thomas warned of “inadequate processes” for dealing with complaints at UNAids. There has been ‘a decade’s concern about a declining culture in the organisation, described to me as misogynistic and patriarchal,’ ” wrote Thomas, a former minister at the Department for International Development.

Trinidad and Tobago has had two recent cases of Sexual Harassment with fingers pointing to prominent men and in both cases, State Funds has, in my opinion, been used to thwart the investigations.  Where is the high level support or interest in the issue? It was the late President ANR Robinson who spoke of “streams into rivers and rivers into seas” and I heard current Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley say “it begins with raindrops”.  The raindrop here is a transparent process to investigate Sexual Harassment complaints. If our workplaces are to be safe, there must also be the implementation of sexual harassment policy in all Ministries, State Enterprises and the Military.  Come on guys, #Let’s do this!

Sexual Harassment Saga continues!

(Originally published in Wired 868)

Merely promising legislation will not stop sexual predators in their tracks.  The promise of sexual harassment legislation is welcome news but it is insufficient to impact behaviour change. We know only too well that legislation alone has not solved our problems; we know only too well that effective law in Trinidad & Tobago is about what you can get away with, especially if you have deep pockets.

So, unless the goal is merely to pave another piece of the road to Hell, the government must move beyond the promise of legislation and in short order implement sexual harassment policy throughout all ministries, State enterprises and businesses where the people are significant shareholders.

Between now and when the government delivers on its promise of legislation—if it ever delivers on that promise—several women will be sexually harassed by men who are confident that nothing will be done; in the public and the private sectors, the indiscipline, the exploitation, the abuse will continue.

Those who are in the Public Service and are senior enough will now be comforted by the precedent that their victim can be paid off—with public funds, taxpayers’ money—and maybe even bullied into signing a non-disclosure agreement. Precedent is a powerful thing in a country where the effective law is what you can get away with.

Those whose victim(s) work(s) in a State enterprise or at a company where the GoRTT is a major shareholder will be comforted by the precedent that the company might spend more than TT$3.5m to defend the harasser, especially if (s)he is Chairman. And there is always the additional possibility that someone will orchestrate the firing of the victim, who dared to become a complainant.

All of that notwithstanding, if there is legislation and a clear policy, that will create the opening for a free and frank national conversation that can clarify expectations and define expected behaviours. It will also provide many of us women with the psychological security and the peace of mind that come from knowing that, even if we can’t avoid future face-to-face encounters with the worse kind of predator, someone in authority has our back.

Finally, it will help men and women refine the language needed to compliment without offending.

But the recent announcement by Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy simply does not inspire confidence that either satisfactory legislation or satisfactory policy will emerge soon. What I have seen of the document out of which, I assume, the announced policy is to come simply does not pass muster.

Here is a sampling of the gobbledegook that is currently floating around:

  1. “Various support services such as the Employee Assistance Programme are available for victims or complainants.”
  2. “National Policy on Gender and Development has been laid in the Parliament as a Green Paper for further comment.”
  3. ‘The policy document clearly highlighted the importance of the development of a Gender Just Society to attaining our Vision 2030 goals.”
  4. “Sexual harassment could lead to a hostile work environment and can make the victim feel humiliated or intimidated. Therefore, all employees must conduct themselves in an appropriate manner.”

Really, Madam Minister? Do you really think that stuff will cut it? I say that it won’t. I say generously that we would need all the refining capability of Petrotrin, Petrobras and PDVSA combined—and then some!—to be able to begin to transform that anodyne stuff into anything with the kind of oomph we shall need if we are to slow the advance of this sexual harassment juggernaut.

So if the Minister wishes us to take her announcement about action on sexual harassment seriously, her first step has to be advising her Cabinet colleagues to remove the Chairman of Angostura. She can do that tomorrow.

Tomorrow will be too soon to move against the former minister of sport and youth affairs, who must still benefit from the presumption of innocence. But once the all-female committee has reported and the facts are in the public domain, if the ex-minister’s name is not cleared, the Minister of Gender Affairs must throw the book at him. Publicly.

That is how we shall know that she means business, not merely because she announces that legislation is coming; talk, particularly in politics, remains cheap.

I also invite the Minister to keep both the former minister of sport and youth affairs and the Government-appointed chairman firmly in her sights and ask herself the following questions: What protection do alleged victims currently enjoy? What is likely to happen if an alleged victim goes to the Equal Opportunities Commission for redress? What are the resources an alleged victim must have at his/her disposal in order to be able to put up any kind of fight against the GoRTT, which has such a vast quantity of resources?

But the real question that the Minister must answer to give context to any talk about legislation is this: Are there any laws that will help if Government is going to use taxpayers’ money to fight taxpaying citizens and/or pay off victims?