Sat | Jul 20, 2019

Patria-Kaye Aarons | PAAC not a sex assault tribunal

Published:Tuesday | July 9, 2019 | 12:23 AM
Nicholeen DeGrasse-Johnson, principal of Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, has come under fire for her handling of sexual harassment allegations at the institution.

In last week’s sitting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), someone accused the principal of Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts of being “judge and jury”. My response was: “Look at the pot calling the kettle black.”

Let’s be clear: I’ve been, until this point, a PAAC cheerleader. Especially with the televised sittings, an unprecedented level of transparency has been brought to how the Government spends Jamaica’s money. And I am thankful!

Clandestine Anancy business has often been brought to light and fleshed out in a manner I can’t recall having seen, except through these committee inquiries. Heads have rolled. Tough questions have been answered, investigations have deepened, people have paid back misused funds. And I hope we’ll see some people serve time.

I care zero about the motivation behind the exposures. It isn’t lost on me that much of it is stimulated by political showmanship. Orange and green finger-pointing in the hope of scoring talking points for the next general election. Even so, there have been the odd moments where integrity trumps JLP or PNP loyalty. Party lines are broken in the name of decency to speak up, and out, about blatant wrongdoings. Bravo!

But having the gathering hear the testimony of an accuser from Edna Manley, I believe, is out of the scope of the PAAC and won’t serve any good – not to her or anyone else involved.

Her story must be told. Her voice and concerns must be heard and addressed, but not there.

I’ve never been a fan of making any complaints to those who can’t make a difference. Speak up in the right space – not just to get it off your chest, but to advocate for and agitate change seems a more effective course of action.

The real business of the PAAC

As far as I understand, the PAAC is there to ensure that the country’s funds are allocated in the manner approved by Parliament. And the administrative remit of the PAAC is also tied to the financial accountability around decisions made by public entities. That’s why the matter of Petrojam salaries belonged on the floor. Why CMU funds should be fully ventilated in the sittings. Why Edna’s budget should be reviewed with a fine-tooth comb.

But listening to the detailed recount of harassment from a student should be reserved for the hearings at the educational institution – which are still under way – or a court of law.

Many things in how this particular matter is being handled by PAAC I don’t agree with. One is how the principal was roughed up about not knowing the procedure to have reports of sexual harassment escalated to the board.

(Crass comment alert!) If someone were to feel up a member of the PAAC at PAAC, what is the policy to deal with that? Who should get the report? How will it get to the chairman? Will the matter be heard at the PAAC? Will the person accused get the chance to respond at said PAAC? Can any PAAC member answer those questions right now?

Grandstanding and public shaming won’t get the problem fixed. The bigger picture is that far too many of our institutions, public and private, do not have a sexual-harassment policy. The country hasn’t even agreed on its legal position on the matter. The bill sits in limbo.

We don’t have written procedures for most entities, and Edna Manley is no different. It’s not just an Edna problem; it’s a Jamaica problem. And if we truly want to get past the headline-making juicy bits and get to implementing protective measures, the Ministry of Justice is the institution that can bring true justice to this matter, not the PAAC.

We must quickly get on with passing a culturally relevant sexual harassment bill with urgency and leave PAAC to follow the money trail. That’s their business.

Patria-Kaye Aarons is a confectioner and broadcaster. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@gmail.com.