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Can Machel continue to represent?
The conviction of soca’s only superstar, Machel Montano, and his producer, songwriter and the musician behind the Montano aggregation and success, Kernal Roberts, on serious assault and obscene language charges has had a huge impact on the national consciousness.
As could be expected, the conviction is provoking discussion and questions about the treatment Mr Montano should receive from the criminal justice system. Should he be summarily sent off to prison, as others of less important standing in the community would be, without a question being raised? Or should the magistrate work out some special dispensation for these young men who have grown up on a stage before our eyes?
That is a debate that will go on long after the magistrate determines whether there should be a custodial sentence for the two, or whether, given whatever extenuating circumstances may be considered, some form of community service would be more appropriate than incarceration. That argument will no doubt explode onto the national canvas in a month’s time.
For the moment though, the most pressing contention, for which there is no reason to wait, is whether the sponsorship deals of Mr Montano, especially those involving state agencies, should be immediately cancelled. TSTT’s management has telegraphed early its position that it will await the outcome of the magistrate’s sentencing and Mr Montano’s “plans for moving forward once the sentence is delivered.”
Caribbean Airlines and other sponsors who use the image of Mr Montano to win favour with consumers have so far remained quiet, perhaps waiting to see which way the wind is blowing in public opinion. A similar position has been taken by Planning Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie, who has said that only when the sentence is revealed will he comment.
These positions may be ill-founded, however, if they are intended to give Mr Montano the benefit of a doubt which ceased to exist on Monday. The soca stars were not merely charged with assault this week, but convicted. They now have criminal records.
What is called for is an honest, considered response with regard to whether Mr Montano is fit, after his conviction on very serious charges of attacking a group of people, to be a role model for young people and other citizens and to hold the position of cultural ambassador of the nation. Will the positions of the state-owned companies and the Government be determined by the severity of the sentence? Should they?
It should be remembered that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar recently said she has the responsibility to deal even-handedly with all citizens.
If the state-owned companies and the central Government need to find out what are the international best practices with regard to such high-profile individuals and their sponsorship arrangements, they should look no further than perhaps the greatest golfer the world has seen, Tiger Woods, and his fellow American, cyclist Lance Armstrong, who were stripped of sponsorship and, in the instance of Armstrong, all of his cycling awards.
Neither of these two real international superstars was convicted of a criminal offence. Those standing on the sidelines observing this drama played out will ask why Mr Montano should be any different. Some will say that holding celebrity status places an even greater requirement on the young men to establish and hold to standards that are acceptable to the wider population.
The Government also faces a serious problem of credibility over whether it should tap the two entertainers on the wrist while continuing to hold them up as role models, at the same time that the security forces and courts of the land hunt down and jail no-name young criminals.