By Jenique Belgrave
Deputy Chairperson of the National Task Force on Reparations David Comissiong says the $18 million pledge made by the United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG) for reparatory activities in St John cannot be considered as reparations.
He told Barbados TODAY that for the gesture to qualify as reparations here, it must be the result of negotiations between the liable entity, the National Reparations Task Force and the CARICOM Reparations Commission chaired by Professor Sir Hilary Beckles.
“We certainly appreciate the gesture of the $18 million project but at the same time, you need to know that that is not reparations. If it is a unilateral gesture on your part, it is not reparations,” he said.
Last Friday, General Secretary of the UK-based charity USPG Reverend Duncan Dormor pledged the multi-million dollar investment in reparatory activities in St John communities during a press conference in apology for the organisation’s historical involvement in slave ownership at Codrington Estates.
However, Comissiong said that as the official representative of the wronged community, the Commission had been assigned by the CARICOM Heads of Government with the responsibility of thrashing out reparations packages with civil society organisations, which the USPG would fall under as an Anglican mission agency.
“It would be appropriate for the CARICOM Reparations Commission, with input and participation from the Barbados National Taskforce, to engage with whether it’s the Anglican Church, whether it’s their church commissioners, whether it is this United Society Partners in the Gospel. If it is to qualify as reparations, then it must go through that process. And this is a point that I think we need to make very clear for all and sundry,” he stated.
Outlining the procedures which must be engaged in during the negotiations process, Comissiong said the matter of compensation would not be left up to those entities who orchestrated, participated in, and benefitted financially from centuries of slave trade and the enslavement of Africans.
“We need to point out to the Church of England and all similar institutions that reparations are not about them unilaterally determining what compensation they prepared to make. Reparations do not work like that,” he said.
He said that determination would be made as a result of discussions between the CARICOM Reparations Commission and the liable companies and institutions.
Asked whether the USPG had reached out to the commission, Comissiong replied: “Not to the best of my knowledge.”
This lack of communication was also highlighted by Special Envoy to the Prime Minister’s Office with responsibility for Reparations and Economic Enfranchisement Trevor Prescod during a branch meeting of his St Michael East constituency on Sunday.
He expressed disappointment that there had been no discussion between himself and the USPG before it pledged the funds in an effort to make amends for the slave ownership of its predecessor, the Society of Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, at Codrington Estates.
“We have no authority to see if they will execute the project. They did not pass money into the hands of any state agency. The governments have set up task forces across the Caribbean to play a specific role . . . .They don’t have any respect for the task force or my Office of Reparations and Economic Enfranchisement,” Prescod said.
When contacted, Kevin Farmer, Executive Secretary of the Codrington Trust which is working in partnership with USPG and had advanced the project’s proposals, told Barbados TODAY that the trust intended to work with Prescod’s office.
“As far as my office is aware, an invitation was sent to Mr Prescod. I am sorry if he had not seen it, which would have invited him to the press launch on Friday,” he said. “However, one of his project officers did make that meeting and the trust did state it looks forward to working with that department in moving forward in the implementation of the project. We look forward to what is a very important project and working with the community along with the USPG.”
Asked why the national office was not given the opportunity to offer input during the initial stages, Farmer responded: “At this point in time, the trust doesn’t have a comment on that.”