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Grange defends expanding reparation council membership

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, August 19, 2019

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MINISTER of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange is standing by her decison to expand the membership of the National Council on Reparation (NCR) from 12 to 20, arguing that the professional diversity reflected in the composition ensures that the body has the necessary expertise and experience to make the requisite inroads.

The composition of the 20-member council for 2019-2022 was announced last week.

The complement for 2016-2019 was 12 members; while there were 13 members, for 2012-2015.

“It reflects a diverse group of qualified individuals, who are committed to making important gains in the struggle for reparations, especially in relation to the African slave trade,” Grange told the Jamaica Observer on Friday. She was responding to questions about the task she has given the council headed by legal counsel for The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Laleta Davis Mattis.

Grange is confident that with her experience heading Jamaica National Heritage Trust, her legal work with the National Environment and Planning Agency, coupled with her current role at the region's leading university, Davis Mattis is quite capable of leading the council's efforts to move the most important issues closer to resolution over the next three years.

“The council reflects a diverse group of individuals who, with their skills, can make an impact,” she told the Observer.

The NCR 2019-2022 also includes: Bert Samuels (deputy chairman); former co-chairman Professor Verene Shepherd; Frank Phipps, QC; Lord Anthony Gifford, QC; Dr Jahlani Niaah; Professor Rupert Lewis; Steven Golding; Dr Michael Barnett; Professor Clinton Hutton; Donald Roberts; Michael Holgate; Ras Lanceroy Ho-Shing; Vivian Crawford; Jo-Anne Archibald; Dr Winsome Gordon; Lorraine Williams Tafari; and Dr Tamika Peart.

Grange noted that the clergy now has a seat at the table, with the appointment of former president of the Jamaica Baptist Union, Rev Dr Stephen Jennings, and Pastor Bruce Fletcher of the charitable church organisation Operation Save Jamaica.

In addition to the 20 members, Davis Mattis indicated that there will be need for competent people to sit on the NCR's subcommittees.

“That certainly is something that we want to do, and that is what we did in the last dispensation— engage grassroots persons who are also engaged in their own reparatory justice movements and to bring them on board,” she said.

Turning to the issues currently before the NCR, Davis Mattis stated that among them is that of compensation for the victims of the Coral Gardens incident, in which several Rastafarians were beaten and jailed following a confrontation with the police in St James in 1963.

Grange explained that there have been ongoing discussions with the Rastafarian community, and that she had met with their representatives on the issues up to two weeks ago.

There is also the question of Jamaica's position on Caricom pursuing reparation on a regional basis via the Caricom Reparations Commission, which is chaired by Sir Hilary Beckles, vice-chancellor of The UWI.

Grange explained that while Jamaica continues to participate within the regional body, it has no obligation to limit its efforts to fit decisions taken by Caricom.

She noted that Jamaica was the first to set up a reparations body in the region, following parliamentary debate on a motion tabled by Jamaica Labour Party Member of Parliament (MP) Mike Henry. The body, previously called the National Commission on Reparations, was mandated to pursue reparations from the United Kingdom.

“Subsequently, the Caricom commission was set up and we have renamed our commission, as Caricom would not want each member state to have a commission. But we have our mandate from our Parliament, while we are working along with Caricom as a member state,” Grange explained.

Davis Mattis also confirmed that every Caricom country takes its instructions from its own government; however, there are initiatives which involve all member states, she said.

“So, it is just a matter of the pace at which each country can implement, but I believe that we are agreed in terms of what we want to achieve as Caricom,” she noted.

She disclosed that as it relates to the route to securing reparation, research has been ongoing to determine whether or not Jamaica should continue on its own or wait on the other Caricom nations to move.

“Those are the discussions that we are still having,” Davis Mattis conceded.


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