Fri | Dec 15, 2017

Carolyn Cooper | Who wants reparation for what?

Published:Sunday | October 15, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Last Monday, I got a call from FLOW. It was a nice lady offering reparation. She admitted that I had, in fact, requested a service package with long-distance calls! But somehow, my request didn't get into the system. That's how I ended up with an exorbitant bill for long-distance calls made in September.

Then, as it turned out, I had asked for the option that allowed 300 minutes of long-distance calls. But I'd actually used up more than 600 minutes. The nice lady told me that, as a gesture of goodwill, FLOW was going to write off all the charges for long-distance calls for last month. I thanked her.

And I didn't bother to tell her that she couldn't compensate me for the spike in my blood pressure when I saw the bill. Nor for the half-an-hour I wasted on the phone waiting to get an explanation for the charges. Nor for the dangerous anger I feel when I think of all the people across the Caribbean whose protesting voice is not amplified by The Gleaner. They are silently suffering constant abuse from FLOW. Even when they speak out, there's no relief.

 

EMBRACING BAD SERVICE

 

I got several emails from FLOW customers who have complained in writing to the company about bad service and have received no offer of reparation. One man, who is a remote software developer, decided to look on the bright side of things. He's now using 3G for work. "I have not been on YouTube or used any social media for five weeks and don't miss it.

"For a long time, I've been looking for a way to kick my infotainment habit and FLOW's lack of service has helped me do it! With fewer distractions, my work has become more productive and my eyes less tired! With each passing day, I care less and less if broadband is ever restored."

Another man who operates a call centre and is a consultant to the industry said, "The call centres servicing companies like Vistaprint, Xerox, the hotel industry, AT&T and many more are all providing excellent customer service to US citizens, yet the local call centres are understaffed and the staff undertrained."

He added, "The cost of bad customer service is very large, yet the biggest of Jamaican companies seem to embrace the bad service instead of trying to overcome it." Last Monday, I did get a call from NCB apologising for their poor customer service. I also heard from another financial institution inviting me to bank with them.

 

RE PA WA?

 

Last Tuesday, the Centre for Reparation Research at the University of the West Indies was launched. Under the heading 'Why We Exist', the centre announces on its website that it "will lead the implementation of CARICOM's Reparatory Justice Programme, which broadly seeks to foster public awareness around the lasting and adverse consequences of European invasion of indigenous peoples' lands, African enslavement and colonialism in the Caribbean".

On Wednesday, the centre hosted a symposium with the theme, 'Post-Independence Cross-roads: Economic Growth, Sustainable Societies and Reparatory Justice'. On the printed programme, there was this optimistic declaration, 'Justice Repairs All Crimes'. I'm not convinced. There are some crimes so abominable that it would take a hell of a lot of justice to repair the damage. How do you bring the dead back to life? You can honour their memory. But that's not the same.

In a fiery speech addressed to the large number of high-school students in attendance, Emprezz Golding, youth advocate and radio talk-show host, threw out a challenge to the centre. Public education is essential. Most of the people Mrs Golding asked about reparations answered in this way, "Re pa wa?"

There was a panel on reparations for Rastafari who suffered state-sanctioned terrorism after the infamous Coral Gardens 'Incident'. Ras Ika Tafara emphatically declared, "Di paper ha fi walk an di paper ha fi talk." The centre's research - 'di paper' - must be animated by activism. Otherwise, it will be completely irrelevant to the vast majority of Caribbean citizens who are alienated from the bookish language of the academy.

 

A GRAVE ERROR OF JUDGEMENT

 

CARICOM has developed a 10-point action plan for reparatory justice under the following headings: Full Formal Apology; Repatriation; Indigenous Peoples Development Programme; Cultural Institutions; Public Health Crisis; Illiteracy Eradication; African Knowledge Programme; Psychological Rehabilitation; Technology Transfer; Debt Cancellation.

At the symposium, I sceptically asked if an apology could be legislated. Action can be compelled; but not emotion. Most of the people who continue to benefit from the legacies of the trade in enslaved Africans feel no shame. Instead of begging for an apology, CARICOM must swiftly take the case for reparation to the International Court of Justice.

Then it might seem like a grave error of judgement to use the word 'reparation' to describe both recompense for the terrible crimes against humanity that enslaved Africans endured; and compensation for poor customer service from FLOW and NCB.

But the owners of today's international banks and telecoms networks are the ideological heirs of the "old pirates" who continue to "rob I". Trafficking of Africans was financed by capitalists who put profit far above any concern about the humanity of the 'goods' they were transporting. That's a lesson we simply cannot afford to forget.

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.