A Time for Introspection
For many years there has been talk on the matter of REPARATION among Caribbean politicians, academics and other anti-colonial protagonists. Here in Jamaica the debate has gained momentum, since the horrifying treatment of the people from the Windrush generation and their offspring’s by the government of the United Kingdom, most of whom are Jamaicans and most recently the murder of George Floyd has ignited worldwide anger of the systemic Racism against Black People across the nations of the world.
The call for reparation has become much louder and widespread in the Caribbean with every passing day since these events. Voices to the cause in Jamaica include that of Sir Hilary Beckles of the University of the West Indies who have consistently spoken to the basic principles on which the entitlement rests.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of our people both here in Jamaica and the wider Diaspora might not understand the significance of reparation to the present generation and there’s the need for public education on the subject.
Several dictionaries describes the word Reparation in different versions such as, (1) sums of monies that are paid after a war by defeated country for damage and suffering caused to other countries such as Israel. Another description is a payment for something wrong that you have done to someone. The third version which depicts our cause states, a demand for payment from your pass rulers for the atrocities and suffering they caused over their period of rule. Notably, the indignity of enslavement, punishment, abuse, plunder and rape of our women deprivation of education sub-humane living conditions etc.
History reveals that the past rulers of the Caribbean people are the Europeans and the British. Therefore, it is from them reparation is demanded.
In Jamaica’s case, our claim would be mostly on the British or the United Kingdom (UK) as is now called and significantly being the greatest beneficiary of slavery in the West Indies. It is to be remembered however, that the U.K government has consistently rejected any notion of Reparation as stated by former Prime Minister David Cameron on his visit to Jamaica. Therefore, let us pause for a moment and ask the question. Why?
There is no denying on their part that they (Britain) was one of the main traders and owners of slaves and were the rulers for hundreds of years. There is no denying that with the abolition of slavery there was no compensation paid to former slaves or their descendants by the British. How then can they be so emphatic in their refusal or even to give consideration?
Are they of the view that the Britain/United Kingdom do not qualify in the definition as past rulers? One could conclude from present articles of attachment to Britain namely the Jamaica Constitution Order in Council 1962. Therefore, any claim for Reparation is an exercise in futility. Some may rubbish this thought since we are supposed to be an Independent country which for the past fifty-seven (57) years we celebrate and very shortly on August 6th we will do again.
The words ‘suppose to be’ is used deliberately to provoke a closer reading and understanding of our constitution.
- The opening paragraph of the constitution reads as follows:
The Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty in council.
Her Majesty, by virtue and in exercise of the powers in that behalf by subsection 1 of section 5 of the West Indies Act 1962 or otherwise in Her vested is pleased, by and with the advice of Her Privy Council, to order and is hereby ordered as follows:
- This order may be cited as the Jamaica (Constitution) Order in Council 1962.
That being said and done, one could form the view that Jamaica was then free of the queen in the affairs of the country. But,
- Chapter 4 section 27 of the same Order quickly rebut that view with the establishment of the Office of Governor General which states:
There shall be a Governor General of Jamaica who shall be appointed by Her Majesty and shall hold office during Her Majesty’s pleasure and who shall be Her Majesty’s representative in Jamaica.
- However, as section 31.1 reads, Parliament may from time to time prescribe the offices that are to constitute the personal staff of the Governor General, the salaries and allowances that are to be paid to members of that staff and the other sums that are to be paid in respect of the expenditure attaching to the office of Governor General.
Any salaries or other sums prescribed under sub-section 1 of this section shall be charged on and paid out of the Consolidated Fund, Note (not by the Queen or from her coffers) but, by the taxpayers of Jamaica.
- Further, under section 34 it states that, There shall be a parliament of Jamaica which shall consist of Her Majesty, a Senate and a House of Representatives. Are we still Her subjects?
- Section 60 reads as follows:
- A Bill shall not become law until the Governor General has assented there to in Her Majesty’s name and on Her Majesty’s behalf and has signed it in token of such assent.
- When a Bill is prescribed to the Governor General for assent he shall signify that he assents or that he with holds assent.
- Section 61 and all sub-sections there to reflects the authority of the Queen through the Governor General which reads
- In every Bill presented to the Governor General for assent shall commence with the words of enactment as follows:
Be it enacted by the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and the House of Representative of Jamaica and by the authority of the same as follows:
- At chapter 6 section 68.(1) Executive Powers states the Executive authority of Jamaica is vested in Her Majesty.
- Subjects to the provisions of this Constitution, the Executive Authority of Jamaica may be exercised on behalf of Her Majesty by the Governor General either directly or through officers subordinate to him.
- After a general election when persons are elected to the House of Representatives by the people of Jamaica, the majority members of that House according to the Constitution shall decide who will be Prime Minister who is usually by tradition, the leader of a political party. But, after he has been voted for by the people and selected and appointed by the people’s representatives, he cannot act in that capacity until and unless he is appointed by the Queen through the Governor General acting in his discretion, section 70.
In this regard and on calm reflections of the underlining features of the Constitution, the question now is: Are we really an independent country?
In an approach to the answer let us examine the definition of the word ‘independence’ my dictionary defines independence thus, if one thing or person is independent of another they are separate and not connected, so the first one is not affected or influenced by the second.
If someone is independent they are free to live as they want because they do not need help and have no obligations to anyone.
Then there is Independence Day which we have celebrated since nineteen sixty-two (1962 the definition of which is as follows: A country’s Independence Day is a day in which its people celebrate their independence from another country that ruled them in the past. Is Britain our past ruler? Do they have any influence on our daily lives today? Let the government of Jamaica answer before seeking Reparation.
Think on these things our future depends on it.
Navel Foster Clarke O.D, C.D
Former General Secretary of the N.W.U and UCASE
Former Deputy President of the Senate of Jamaica