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PUBLIC AFFAIRS

AJ Nicholson | Reparation of Jamaica’s sunken self-esteem

Published:Sunday | November 21, 2021 | 12:12 AM
CCJ at Port-of-Spain
CCJ at Port-of-Spain
AJ Nicholson
AJ Nicholson
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The far-reaching project for the historic sunken city of Port Royal to be named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO places Jamaica within dipping distance of the waters of an inviting developmental stream. That project should by no means be seen, and approached, simply as another occurrence on the national agenda.

This enterprising effort by the Government, being led by Culture Minister Olivia Grange, provides the powerful potential of serving to concentrate the mind for reflection on Jamaica’s deeply storied past and, at the same time, to point us in the positive direction of a sense of national self-fulfilment and self-esteem.

There is, at once, the stark reminder of what could have consumed the mind of the sovereign, Charles II, to cause him to have the notorious pirate, Henry Morgan, removed from the Tower of London, escaping severe punishment, knighted and directed to be lieutenant governor of the invaluable sugar-producing Caribbean outpost, Jamaica.

The project should remind of the exploits of the swashbuckling Welsh buccaneer, Captain Morgan, as much a part of British as of Jamaican recorded history, and the endeavours that pushed his headquarters and infamous playground to be designated “the most wickedest city in the world”. As a world heritage site, it will join other like historic sites around the globe and that process has now been set in train.

Of course, Minister Grange and the Government, along with other parliamentary leadership, should need no urging that there is more, much more, that is required to be done, including, most importantly, the restoration of the truly historical and cultural gems that remain asleep in the town of Port Royal itself, making for the creation of a desirable, lasting tourist attraction.

In addition, it is urgent that Jamaica should be ushered fully into the energy-giving waters of the developmental stream; as Dr Lloyd Barnett proposed in an article in The Gleaner in late 2015, into the stream of “’reparation” of our self-esteem and sense of independence’, a stream of ‘detachment from imperial institutionalism’.

Dr Barnett was writing in strong exhortation of the Jamaica Labour Party Opposition to register their required parliamentary vote for Jamaica to delink from the United Kingdom Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, originally, the juristic anchor on which the conditioning of Jamaica under British imperialism securely rested.

And so, the hard-working culture minister, Ms Grange, is enjoined to widen her perspective to contemplate the link of this Sunken City project to those elements of our history that have strongly influenced and conditioned our human existence in present-day Jamaica. Let us pause to focus on the “conditioning” of Jamaica, with the help of Professor Hilary Beckles’ lucid observations on “How Caribbean people are the unhealthiest in the world”.

As a result of having been fed incessantly on foods laced with salt and sugar during 300 years of slavery and colonialism, including, of course, the period when Sir Henry Morgan held sway in the “wickedest city”, most elderly members of every family among Afro-Caribbean people suffer today from diabetes and hypertension, costing hundreds of millions of dollars annually in healthcare.

‘GENETICALLY MODIFIED’

Moreover, that centuries-long toxic diet, as the UWI Vice-Chancellor stresses, has caused succeeding generations of Afro-Caribbean people to become “genetically modified”, so conditioned, that medicinal drugs which are intended to combat those diseases have proved to be less effective in their case than in the case of any other set of people anywhere else on the planet.

And the culture minister should, post-haste, come to the real understanding that, continually being swept along in the tide of imperial institutionalism – forced, or of our own deliberate decision-making – negatively impacts Jamaica’s profile and presents devastating challenges along with those in the field of health.

For example, Professor Beckles is internationally acknowledged to be an influential advocate for the long-overdue activation of the reparative justice that is owed by Britain to the descendants of slaves in the Caribbean. And in Jamaica, the National Commission on Reparations falls within the portfolio responsibilities of Minister Grange, who has dutifully seen to its continued existence and functioning.

In meetings between Caribbean foreign ministers and the British foreign secretary, the issue of “Reparation” is often an agenda item. As Jamaica’s foreign minister, on that subject matter in such meetings, notwithstanding the usual expert briefings provided by the foreign service officers, I took the extra special caution to weigh my words carefully in making any contribution.

I considered that I had to do this because I was painfully aware of the awkwardness that I would undoubtedly experience, should the foreign secretary proceed to seek my views on Jamaica’s bona fides in its strident advocacy for reparation in the face of Jamaica’s continued stubborn resistance to detach ourselves from seeking final justice from a British institution which was historically created to be the Great Imperial Court of the British Empire, and for free.

And it was my fervent hope that the foreign secretary would not find it necessary to make mention of the straight talk of the first president of the recently established Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, that appeals from the Caribbean consume far too much of the judicial time of the members of his court, and that it would be highly preferable that the independent Caribbean nations move to make use of the final court of appeal that they had creatively established for themselves within the region.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck would no doubt suggest to the present foreign minister that, in such a meeting, the point could be made that, after the Supreme Court president had made his public declaration, the Jamaica Labour Party, unrelenting, had sought the views of the secretary to the Privy Council, who advised of not being aware of any move to prevent use of the court for appeals from the Caribbean.

Minister Chuck would, of course, be clearly obliged to go further to advance what the foreign minister’s reply might be, should the foreign secretary seek the minister’s views as to whether the Jamaican Government would be content with the United Kingdom authorities moving to activate the candid warning, delivered by the Supreme Court president during that same declaration, to draft some of his judges of the equivalent rank of the Jamaican court of appeal bench to adjudicate upon final appeals from the independent Caribbean territories.

And the foreign minister might also proceed to advise the foreign secretary that Jamaica’s ruling party had long stipulated that a referendum should be held for a vote to be taken on whether Jamaica should withdraw from the Privy Council and accede to the full appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

Whereupon the foreign secretary might incisively enquire: To what end, minister, for Jamaican voters to express a view as to whether they agree with the diplomatic pronouncements of our Supreme Court president concerning the continued use of our court? And, what is more, are not all the legal experts of the firm view that there does not exist any constitutional or other legal requirement for Jamaica to embark upon such a traditionally befuddling exercise as a referendum?

And yet, it is hardly likely that the foreign secretary would be aware of the scant respect that Jamaica Labour Party-led governments, over the years in too many instances, have shown towards their oath to uphold and be faithful to the provisions of our independence Constitution.

Indeed, concerning this very issue of moving away from the Judicial Committee to embrace the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ, the courts in 2015 had to intervene to expose an attempted corrupt manipulation of the constitutional requirements for membership of Jamaica’s Upper House of Parliament in an incredulously unworthy effort to thwart a legitimate initiative to obtain legislative approval of the enabling bills.

And so, such looming awkwardness and obvious threat of discomfiture and embarrassment faced by Jamaica need not exercise the mind of the foreign minister of Guyana or Barbados. Notably, the Barbadians, having followed Jamaica in achieving political autonomy from Britain in the 1960s, have determined that they will now take their enlightened position in the stream of reparation of their self-esteem, by completing their circle of independence at the end of this month, witnessed by the watchful eye of Prince Charles, heir to the British throne.

The best interests of the Jamaican people call for Minister Grange and the ruling party to come to the clear understanding that any decisions that they have taken for Jamaica to remain wedded to the jurisdiction of the British Privy Council, or any promise or pledge that they might have made on that score to any person, dead or alive, merely serves to keep Jamaicans decidedly loitering within the harsh conditioning waters of imperial institutionalism.

CANNOT SIT COMFORTABLY

The culture minister and her colleagues should also ponder that, in this 21 century, stridently seeking after reparative justice from Britain does not, and cannot, sit comfortably with seeking final justice from a British court, with Jamaica approaching 60 years along its independence journey.

Amazingly, Jamaica is one of only six or so countries – all within the Caribbean – which share companionship in that stream. Do our leaders consider that to be where Jamaica’s self-esteem and sense of independence have been conditioned and condemned to remain?

Professor Beckles has advised that research is being conducted at the UWI seeking for solutions to address the diabetes and hypertension malady that clings so adhesively to Jamaican and Caribbean people of African descent. Expected positive outcome from that research is likely to better assist those who are better prepared – those already being washed by the waters of the dignity-enhancing stream.

Culture Minister Grange and her colleagues in the leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party need urgently to relinquish their partisan political position concerning Jamaica delinking from the British court. The Sunken City project must serve as a jolting reminder of the clinging requirement that the sunken treasure of Jamaica’s self-esteem must be raised from the depths and made to assume its prominent place on the surface of the national agenda.

Justice Minister Chuck needs to wake up and take the lead! And he should need no reminder that the enabling bills, drafted seven years ago under the supervision of his predecessor in the ministry, the present leader of the Opposition, cannot assist in a visionary project involving reparation of our self-esteem by their continued slumber within the Attorney General’s Chambers. Far too much of Jamaica has too long fallen asleep!

- A.J. Nicholson is the former minister of justice. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com