Editorial

Government promise is a comfort to a fool

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

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Anybody who has ever won a legal case against the Jamaican Government and been awarded compensation can testify about the hell they have to go through to get paid. Some never live to receive their just due.

Between Thursday, April 11 and Friday, April 12, 1963 bloody violence flared up at Coral Gardens — then a farming community some 10 miles to the east of Montego Bay on Jamaica's north coast — resulting in the death of eight people, hundreds injured, and causing severe destruction of property.

Following this, there were allegations of violation and deprivation of the fundamental rights of Rastafarians, many of whom were not involved in the events at Coral Gardens in 1963.

The Government of Jamaica, over the years, has accepted culpability and promised to address the injustices committed there and beyond. In 2015, Senator Mark Golding, then minister of justice under the People's National Party Administration, said he believed that Rastafarian victims of the Coral Gardens, Pinnacle and Back 'o Wall incidents deserved both an apology and reparation from the Jamaican State, which he said had brutalised and oppressed them.

On December 9, 2015 also, Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry issued an explosive report, started by former Public Defender Earl Witter, in which she recommended, among other things, that the State establishes a trust fund of no less than $10 million “for the benefit of properly identifiable surviving victims of the Coral Gardens incident”, and that a co-operative society be set up exclusively for the benefit of Rastafarians and that it be granted a licence to cultivate ganja.

It was further recommended that: “The State use appropriate language to apologise to those persons who were directly affected by the events of Coral Gardens 1963 but who were not involved in the unlawful events or activities which led to the tragedy.”

To his credit, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in a presentation to Parliament in April 2017, apologised for the State's role in the Coral Gardens massacre and promised compensation to victims and families of the deceased through the establishment of a trust fund of $10 million.

We are now hearing that two years since that promise the Rastafarian victims or their survivors are yet to see a red cent of that money.

Why are we not surprised?

No court in Jamaica can force this payment. One may well have to consider going to the United Kingdom Privy Council or, more, get the International Monetary Fund to make this payment a part of any pact it signs. Only then might we have the confidence of follow-through.

Since no individual is going to jail, or no State property is being seized, the Government has nothing to fear from not going through with its promises.

We are in a dilemma when the Government does not set the example by which a country should operate.

How, then, does this Government look slave-owning countries in the face and talk about reparation for slavery?

At the very least, the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party Government should say what is the reason for having not advanced steps towards doing as it has promised the Rastafarians of Coral Gardens?


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