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Tuesday 10 December 2019
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AG: Sexual harassment policy is for legislation

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said the sexual harassment policy he announced at a media conference on the Darryl Smith issue was for the establishment of legislation. He was speaking with Newsday after the meeting of the Special Select Committee on the Evidence (Amendment) Bill 2019 yesterday.

Al-Rawi mentioned the policy at a media conference on Friday at which he spoke about the committee report on Smith who had been accused of sexual harassment by a former aide.

Former head of the public service Reginald Dumas, in a Newsday interview, said he was confused by the announcement of a policy, as Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus had laid a policy in Parliament, and he stressed the need for enforceable legislation.

Al-Rawi, in response, said he could understand the cautious statement by Dumas and perhaps the policy was unclear because he had dealt with the issue in a very cursory way at the press conference. He noted there is the policy announced by the Labour Minister but this policy laid in Parliament “wider articulating policy and there are several subset matters that can happen.”

Al-Rawi reported he had set up team to treat with direct legislative improvements in this area. “It’s that policy that I’m talking about.”

He said for many years Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Congress of the People leader Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan
had been talking about the need for sexual harassment legislation, which was not surprising with the allegations of against former UNC minister Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh for “housing favours” and also allegations against former MP Delmon Baker.

Al-Rawi said Persad-Bissessar as head of Cabinet and Seepersad-Bachan as public administration minister did nothing about sexual harassment legislation. He stressed that it is a genuine issue. He said he had already brought law that would partly treat with the issue – the whistle-blower legislation.

“I understand that there may be some enquiry about the specifics of what I am doing. My intention is to make recommendations to the Cabinet, with urgency, as to what legislative prescriptions can be considered in this.”

He said there are multiple opportunities including: the Equal Opportunities Commission and tribunal; to deal with the issue as a stand-alone law in the industrial relations context; or treat with it in the civil law. He also questioned how it would be balanced against against freedom of information and “set-up cases.”

He added there is also a gender bias, as men are as capable of being sexually harassed as women. “So it’s not an easy situation to manage. It’s perhaps why Mrs Persad-Bissessar did nothing about it. And Mrs Seepersad-Bachan did nothing about it.”

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