Retired THA chief administrator

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Bernadette Solomon-Koroma has been a public servant for more than 35 years. – THA PHOTO

Through her life, former chief administrator in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Bernadette Solomon-Koroma is hoping to inspire women and girls to achieve their fullest potential.

Solomon-Koroma has contributed to the public service for more than 35 years, having served from 1985 to 2022. She is a former permanent secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister, Central Administrative Services of Tobago (CAST), while she has also served the THA previously as an administrator before being elevated to the post of chief administrator in 2019.

She proceeded on pre-retirement leave on February 25, concluding her role as Chief Administrator.

Solomon-Koroma, a former student of the Scarborough Secondary and Signal Hill Senior Comprehensive schools, said her career began when she assumed the duties of clerk 1 at the Ministry of Works, Tobago office in Scarborough. She said from there in 1979, she took up duties as a library assistant 1 at the Scarborough Secondary School, before proceeding to the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados in 1981.

“I did a bachelor’s in accounting, graduated with upper second-class honours in 1985, around May/June. I started in the auditor general’s department in October 1985 as an auditor examiner 1, left there and went to England in 1991 to pursue the Association of Chartered and Certified Accountants’ qualification. Graduated with that in 1993. Came back in the auditor general’s department, moved up to audit senior immediately when I came back with that qualification, and they assigned me to the Tobago office to help the Tobago branch office.”

The mother of three said she continued as an audit senior until 2001 when she transferred out of the department.

“In 2001, I assumed responsibilities at the THA Division of Finance as the director of finance following which I was promoted to administrator in 2008 before I was sent to Trinidad to act as deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education for one year from 2008-2009. From there, I then came back in the Assembly as an administrator before leaving again in 2010.”

She said when the People’s Partnership came into government in 2010 and created the Ministry of Tobago Development, she assumed the duty of deputy permanent secretary before she moved up to permanent secretary, a position she held until 2019 during the reversion to CAST.

“I started an MBA in 2017 and in May 2019, I left CAST to take up the position as Chief Administrator in the THA.”

She recalled the experience since then.

“It started off okay in 2019 when I came and then we had the elections in 2021 – that was real hmmm – I don’t know. I had to ask God for help to just keep the assembly on an even keel while we had that six-all tie (PNM-PDP) to ensure everybody was paid on time and there weren’t any hiccups in the assembly at that time.”

She added: “It was a real challenging time, but I had to maintain my calm and composure so that the other administrators would maintain their calm, so that the staff could maintain their calm and we could do what we had to do.”

But was becoming Chief Administrator ever part of her career plan?

“I never saw that – never, never in my – I never thought I would have ended up there.”

Solomon-Koroma said as a woman there are a lot of stereotypes she has had to deal with. She said the assumption is that women do not know how to handle projects.

“When coming to projects – that is a man thing, and women don’t know about building bridges and completing buildings and so on. That’s the impression, but I proved them wrong.

“I completed the meteorological building, that new building in the Crown Point airport. I finished the (Buccoo) boardwalk, they had the boardwalk tied up there for years with just sand and concrete, I completed that.”

She said she also started the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in Speyside.

“It is only because I ran out of time, but we are building an emergency building for TEMA (Tobago Emergency Management Agency) in Speyside. So, there is this feeling with persons that as a woman they think you don’t know how to handle projects.”

The most satisfying part of her job was helping people.

“Just being able to help people because so many persons came with some problems that they thought was hard and difficult and it was satisfying in the job to be able to contribute to the solution; whether it was providing assistance to NGOs, churches, helping those who couldn’t get their gratuity – daily paid and monthly paid – so just helping people.”

But what’s next for her?

“I don’t know, and I don’t want to think – my brain is tired; I am mentally drained.”

She had some advice for all other administrators.

“There’ll be good days and bad days. You just have to conduct yourself in a professional manner. Once you are trained and qualified – the auditor general’s department taught me the rules and regulations of the public service – that everything has a rule and regulation, you just have to look for it. Give professional advice to the politicians above and be able to stand by your decision and defend it. I always swore to whatever decision I made; I must be able to defend it right up to the Privy Council, if it is challenged in a court of law.”

She added: “You just have to know that you’re trained in the public service, give good advice, stand by the advice you give, let the politicians respect you, don’t be partial in what you do – I was never partial to anybody; chief secretary or minister – total professionalism to them. I wasn’t leaking any advice to anybody; do your work, be professional, give sound advice and you command respect that way.”

She said through her journey, she hopes that she would be able to be inspire more women.

“I hope I can inspire other females in Tobago to ignore the naysayers and critics and just trust in God. If you don’t know what you want to do now, it’s okay not to know. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and just trust God to work all things out.”