Gillian Wall, co-founder of the NGO Powerful Ladies of Trinidad and Tobago says she meant no disrespect when she reprimanded Finance Minister Colm Imbert on Tuesday for telling a post budget forum that he was not there “to listen to sterile debate or academic discussions.”
She said the Minister's responses to questions throughout the forum were also quite condescending and she felt the need to draw this to his attention.
“I suspect he took it the wrong way but it was just meant to help him become mindful of the impact he was having. I think everyone in the room was quite livid, a bit challenged by the constant disrespect and condescension,” she told the Express.
“I have since been advised that he was rather outraged and that was not the intention. The intention was not to outrage or publicly humiliate. It was just to seek to get a level of mindfulness. The objective was simply respect,” she added.
Imbert's comment came at the start of his feature address at the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce event, at the Hyatt, Port of Spain.
He recalled that former President Barack Obama made a similar statement after listening to a two-hour long speech by then Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, during the Fifth Summit of the Americans in 2009.
“Barack Obama then came to the podium after listening to this dissertation from Daniel Ortega and said 'I didn't come here to listen to sterile debate or academic discussions'. And that is what I would say, I didn't come here to listen to sterile debate or academic discussions,” Imbert said.
Wall was not at all pleased and during the question and answer segment of the event she voiced her concerns.
“I want to understand what you consider sterile discussion and what you consider not? What do you think the business community came here for, because almost every single question posed at you was responded to with condescension and somewhat insulting,” she said.
“If we in business were to consistently belittle, dismiss and condescend to our customers we will lose most of them. And maybe that could be some of the reasons why you lose the support of the business community and if everyone is not getting it could it be there is something you're not getting and how can we help you get it,” Wall added, drawing strong applause from attendees.
Imbert, for the first time during the event, did not have much to say.
“Well I think I have made myself clear,” he said shrugging his shoulders and smiling.
Wall told the Express on Wednesday that she felt leaders past and present must be mindful of how they engage with the public.
“Our leaders, and I refer to past and present leaders, do not respond well to dissent and all great leaders need to understand that when the people they serve are expressing dissent it's a brilliant opportunity to address concerns. That's when you should be most engaged, not shut the conversation down,” she said.
She said Imbert's responses to some concerns raised at the forum were a “distraction in the room” and she was simply seeking to remind him of the focus of the forum.