Since 2005 there have been allegations of sexual harassment levelled against Dr Rolph Balgobin. To quote a Trinidad Express Newspaper report of 4 January 2017:
“Former (Arthur Lok Jack) ALJ Chairman and (at that time) University of the West Indies Principal Clement Sankat yesterday confirmed that he had inherited the issue when he became Chairman.”
He said that, “[…] there was an issue dealt with at the board. The result was that he [Dr Balgobin] resigned and a new director was appointed. There was a discussion with Rolph on how to manage relationships in the future.”
That statement leaves one to assume that all he got was a slap on the wrist, effectively. This is the unfortunate level of protection which the “patriarchy” extends to its members and it’s time to put an end to it.
Dr Balgobin, the former Angostura Holdings Limited chairman, must not be allowed to retreat from this issue while the wounded women remain the subject of whispers and “couyon mout”—a twist of the mouth in the direction of someone you wish to ridicule, especially without them seeing.
In the same newspaper article, there is another notable excerpt:
“A former director told the Express yesterday that if Balgobin had not resigned, he would have been fired.”
This suggests that at least some of the directors acknowledge that what he did was wrong. Despite this major cloud, the Dr Keith Rowley-led PNM Administration appointed and retained Dr Balgobin as Chairman of Angostura Holdings Limited, flying in the face of demands for his removal, pending a transparent, independent and thorough investigation about the allegations.
In fact, women received a metaphorical slap to the face by the administration’s support for the expenditure of more than three million dollars—some of it belonging to taxpayers—to defend Dr Balgobin. The “patriarchy” is alive and well in this country and women will continue to be peripheral to core decision making.
There are at least three reasons why the new Chairman of Angostura, Mr Terrence Bharath, must commission a transparent, independent and thorough investigation into this matter.
Firstly, there is a need for closure on this matter. The majority of Angostura’s employees are female and every effort must be made to assure them that the matter has been fully ventilated and resolved. An effective resolution will also send a powerful signal to women throughout our country that organisations are prepared and willing to take the necessary action to ensure safety and equality in the workplace.
A second reason is to demonstrate that, as the new Chairman of Angostura Holdings Limited, he is committed to ensuring that Angostura retains a sound reputation amongst a significantly large portion of their customers. Organisations must never underestimate the spending power of women.
A third reason is that Chairman Bharath must demonstrate his commitment to a process which is procedurally fair and transparent. There is an old saying, “Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear your words.”
In this case, if the Chairman allows silence, he will be signalling by his actions that he is prepared to turn a blind eye to allegations of sexual harassment.
That would be an unfortunate note on which to begin his tenure!