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Martyring our saints

Posted: June 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Column | 4 Comments »

Verna St Rose-Greaves wasn’t the biggest loser in Friday’s Cabinet reshuffle; we were. Fired from the post of Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development, Verna’s only sin was that she was too committed to serving this country according to her conscience, by seeking to protect our women and children. Instead of being lauded for this, Verna was thrown under the bus by the PP government. Given the choice between the Christian/conservative vote and the smooth introduction of the Gender Policy Verna championed, the PP government chose the votes, going against what its leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar had seemed to stand for before she became Prime Minister.

I say without apology that this makes Verna a political martyr to the cowardice of the PP government and its failure to stand for what it seemed to believe in before it formed the government. There are those who feel Verna was fired because of the Cheryl Miller episode. In March Millar was taken from her desk in Verna’s ministry and committed to the mental hospital against Miller’s will. It’s possible this is what led to Verna’s firing. However, it’s more likely that the government saw too many protests against the Gender Policy, and the imaginary LGBT marriage lobby. (Surely it’s imaginary, since most LGBT organisations in the country haven’t said a peep about gay marriage, and have only asked for equal human rights for LGBT folk.) Verna, being Verna, stood up for what she believed in and presented a Gender Policy that wouldn’t embarrass her as a longstanding women’s activist. Would that the PP government had the same courage.

I am not Verna St Rose-Greaves’ friend, but I have interviewed her many times in my capacity as a reporter. She was always a straightforward, blunt advocate for the people she served as a social worker; and she was passionate and well informed about women’s and children’s rights and the wrongs done to them. In fact, Verna was the go-to interview on any such topic, because she was one of a very few public servants who would risk defying the public servant ban on talking to the media. She might have looked mad to play “warner woman”, complete with bell, during the Summit of the Americas in 2009 in Port-of-Spain, but I agreed with her choice to protest the then-government’s holding of an expensive international summit and spending millions of dollars to spruce up the parts of the country the delegates would see while our women and children were being murdered and suffering egregious poverty. Jada Loutoo reported in the Newsday at the time, “After leaving her post on Wrightson Road, St Rose-Greaves […] walked down to the fountain at the Summit Village on the Port-of-Spain Waterfront promenade, where she was accosted by security officers who took away her bell […] and called for backup.”

Now it’s 2012 and once again Verna’s bell has been taken away. She has been whisked out of government back into the shadows where her cries for justice and equality will be easier to ignore. She told the Guardian in an interview published Sunday, “I was offered an ambassadorial position in Costa Rica, which I chose not to take because I didn’t come into government to go to Costa Rica… The one thing that I am sure of, my voice will not be silenced. Death will have to silence me.”

As Ataklan sang, “I’d rather be a shadow in the dark than a big fool in spotlight.”



Years ago, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who was once a politician. I told him I felt politicians were the lowest of the low, opportunists who had only entered the field for what power and wealth they could gain. I cited the infamous declaration by Desmond Cartey—“All ah we thief”—as proof that in this country people enter politics to line their pockets and the pockets of their friends and families. My friend corrected me: far from being the slimiest occupation, politics was among the highest callings an individual could follow. Being a politician was an opportunity for service to one’s country and one’s fellow man, he said. What could be nobler than that?

But the take-away lesson of Verna’s firing is that conscience and integrity have no place in T&T politics. When you enter the government, leave your conscience at home. Verna’s firing is a loss for the country because it spells out in bold, clear letters to service-minded individuals, “Don’t go into politics.”

This column appears in today’s Trinidad Guardian.

4 Comments on “Martyring our saints”

  1. 1 Trinidad & Tobago: The Real Political Losers · Global Voices said at 12:21 pm on June 26th, 2012:

    […] journalist and blogger Lisa Allen-Agostini writes a thoughtful post about one of the Ministers who was fired in the restructuring exercise: […]

  2. 2 Trinidad & Tobago: The Real Political Losers :: Elites TV said at 12:43 pm on June 26th, 2012:

    […] journalist and blogger Lisa Allen-Agostini writes a thoughtful post about one of the Ministers who was fired in the restructuring exercise: […]

  3. 3 Will Ganness said at 1:22 am on June 30th, 2012:

    While you are not Vernas friend I suspect that you identify with her philosophy and ideology. I used to feel that way. I met her some time ago and had a long conversation with her about childrens issues, and I identified with her passion about this topic. My mind changed when I read a report in the Newsday about her position on leniency toward delinquent mothers who find themselves in difficulty. Women like Verna appear to be biased toward other women, and who sometimes call themselves feminists. I dont know if you realize that most of the serious harm caused to children in Trinidad (and anywhere else) almost always happens when the child is in the mothers care (as opposed to the biological father). Go back and research every major case that appears prominently in the newspapers – the biological father was not around, and she ended up by herself with her vulnerable children in the company of a new boyfriend/partner/husband what ever you want to call it. Verna thinks that we must be lenient and tolerant and give that mother an extra ‘bly’ when she does wrong or compromises her children safety, like the two recent cases in the media. In other words COMPROMISE the childs position and put the mother FIRST. Because Verna belongs to a class of women that put other women first and children second. In other words she is willing to USE children to meet her feminist objectives. The father is almost NEVER associated with the harm of his children (maybe if he feels hopeless and decide to commit suicide or something he might harm them). Why are so many cases of absent fathers? Maybe he is a deadbeat dad, but in more than a few cases the mother uses what ever resources including the children’s affection (Parental Alienation), the system, DV hotlines, the family court, social workers, the courts etc. to get back at her ex, why? Because he didn’t live up to HER expectation. And the system is infested with women who are only too happy to give life to the unreasonable behavior of the mother. For that reason, while we will be going two steps backward with the firing of Verna, she is NOT the type of person we want in these positions. We dont want women who have an agenda – they are biased and dangerous and they are an insult to women of substance. I believe women who pretend to seek the interest of children with underlying feminist objectives are in the same class with child molesters.

  4. 4 lise said at 2:09 am on June 30th, 2012:

    As a feminist myself and a divorcee, I have to disagree with you. 1) Your inflammatory statement about child molesters and feminists is downright insulting. I take personal offense; as a survivor of child sexual abuse I have to say quite adamantly that my motives are nothing like those of the man who molested me. 2) I want the best for my children. That does not mean I will subject myself to a dysfunctional relationship for the sake of a two-parent household.
    We all have to make choices for ourselves; as parents we also have to make choices that affect our children’s lives. There are some women who are selfish but there are also some men who are selfish. Statistically, it is women and children who bear the brunt of poverty. They endure worse diet, worse access to services, worse access to medical care, education, adequate housing etc. This is indisputable and a phenomenon that is found worldwide. Please bring something better to the table than “single mothers suck”. Statistically it is a fact that more mothers end up as single parents (and the why of that is another debate entirely, which I won’t go into), ergo it stands to reason that more women would be found to have children at risk. There are also many mothers who move on from bad marriages and go on to stable relationships, and single mothers whose children do well across the board. I know of one situation in which a good father was alienated from his children. I know of countless situations in which fathers were behaviorally irresponsible, abusive, violent, financially delinquent etc etc. I’m not man bashing. I love men and I believe they are intrinsic to the raising of a healthy, balanced individual. I’m just unwilling to concede that a woman owes it to anybody to stay in a bad relationship for any reason.
    And as far as I am concerned, Verna is exactly the kind of person I would want in a position of power: a person with heart, bravery, integrity, education, intelligence and good sense.

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