Chair of the National Reparation Committee, Jomo Thomas, has described as a “nonsensical argument”, statements that this country should postpone its quest for reparations.
Some Vincentians, including Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, have said that while they agree that reparation is owed and important, it is not a priority.
“That is the most nonsensical argument that I have ever heard in why whole life,” Thomas told I-Witness news.
“It is like saying if you’re building roads, you shouldn’t build the airport. It is like saying if you are building a seaport, don’t think about building schools. We are a multi-dimensional people,” Thomas said.
He, however, said that it is “unfortunate” that the 12-member committee Cabinet announced last month does not include anyone who is prominent in the opposition movement.
“I would have loved to see someone like that named. But I intend to ask the committee, using our co-option power, to suggest somebody from the opposition. Let them say no,” Thomas said.
The Opposition New Democratic Party and some of its supporters have said the reparations efforts are meant to distract from the economic realities in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The have also criticised Thomas as lacking principle for accepting the appointment in light of his resignation from the National Hero’s Selection Committee last month.
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But Thomas said that the two situations were different. He said he resigned from the Hero’s Committee in that Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves “poisoned the conversation when he chose to interject [his views]into a discussion for which he is the final arbiter”.
Thomas noted that the Reparations Committee is formed on the initiative of the government “and the Government would obviously have a lot of input.
“But if I think that there is a time when the initiative of the reparations Committee, roughshod is run over it and we are being steered in a direction where we don’t think we need to go, I will have my say if that situation were to ever arise,” Thomas said.
He further said the Government is not the prime mover of the reparations committee.
“It is not that this is going to engage the attention, the daily minute-to-minute attention of the government institutions and bodies. This is an entity where you are pulling people from across the society who would work on the reparations commission. It is not the government,” Thomas said.
He said some persons line up behind the position of their political party on national issues.
“That is a big problem in St. Vincent and the Grenadines because there are these two giants, … that are gatekeepers and they have their thought police. ‘Am I to interpret that as anti my party or anti my leader?’ And they send some hatchet men for you, one way or the other. It is a big problem, but the work has to be done.”
Thomas has been appointed to head the 12-member National Reparations committee announced by Cabinet last month.
The other members of the committee are:
Philemon Allen, Keisha Ballantyne, Mandella Campbell, Joseph Delves, Clem Derrick, George Frederick, Stewart Haynes, Curtis King, Jennifer Richardson, Marlon Stephenson, and Carl Williams.
The committee’s mandate is centred on the following:
To carry out, in conjunction with the government and other institutions, organisations or agencies, at home and abroad, a research and educational programme in St Vincent and the Grenadines on reparations for genocide and forced deportation of the Garifuna and Callinago people, for native lands ”stolen”, and for the enslavement of Africans in St Vincent and the Grenadines;
2. To work in concert with the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines and other Caribbean governments to prepare, and assist in the pursuance of the claim for reparations through available political, diplomatic and legal channels: and
3. To do all that is considered necessary and desirable in pursuance of the public policy of the government and people of St Vincent and the Grenadines regarding the quest for reparations.