Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley was quick to point out on Thursday that he had acted quickly on allegations of improper conduct against former Minister of Sport Darryl Smith. He was moved to do so in the wake of a leak of information disclosed in the report of a committee appointed to review the allegations which found that there was a concerted effort to cover up the incidents that led to the eventual firing of Smith. That three-woman committee was chaired by former PS Jacqueline Wilson and included Folade Mutota, director of the Women’s Institute for Alternative Development, and attorney Elaine Greene.
The report was submitted to the Government on June 4, 2018, and Colm Imbert, speaking as acting Prime Minister, said that there would be no premature publication of the report, stating that “we are following due process and allowing natural justice to be done.”
Three months later, Dr Rowley would only state in Parliament in response to a direct question about the report by the UNC’s Barry Padarath that the report contained “damaging information.” In April, he acknowledged that the report “is the subject of a legal challenge.”
There are many aspects of the management of the matter that remain unsatisfactory, most notably the length of time it took the Government to act on a situation that was demonstrably unacceptable even at first blush, and the PM’s satisfaction in his handling of the matter is misplaced.
To date, there has been no action taken on the larger issue raised by the Smith matter, the significant power imbalance between employees in the public sector and their managers and ministers and the lack of an effective system to address incidents arising from it.
To be direct, the PM should have acted clearly and decisively to not only investigate the allegations into Smith’s conduct, but also to direct the development of a policy to address allegations of abuse of power and sexual harassment in the public sector and in ministries.
To be even more blunt, the lack of such a policy, process and formal legislation for addressing sexual harassment incidents is appalling in 2019 and the Government’s inability to grasp the need to act a year after receiving the committee’s report is unacceptable.
This was an opportunity for Gender Affairs Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy to lead and champion a campaign for equality and justice in the business of governance and to push for sexual harassment legislation to be tabled in Parliament.
That she has not done so is an abdication of her role in government and should stand as a source of shame within her party’s male dominated cabinet.