Thu | Jul 2, 2020

Delano Franklyn | Mike Henry scores own goal against P.J. Patterson

Published:Sunday | May 24, 2020 | 12:06 AM
Delano Franklyn
Delano Franklyn

The Hon Mike Henry, minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister and member of parliament for Central Clarendon, wrote an article entitled ‘PJ’s focus on scoring own goal instead of the real goal’, which was published in The Sunday Gleaner on May 17, 2020, and the Sunday Observer on May 10, 2020.

In the article, Mr Henry criticised Mr Patterson for “seeking to cover behind a call for debt relief from the global financial community for the ravages of COVID-19”.

Mr Henry also criticised Mr Patterson for “remaining silent” during his 14 years as prime minister on the issue of reparative justice.

Mr Henry, who used his article for quite a bit of self-promotion, declared that he has been “front and centre on the mission” of reparations. At no time did he mention the work of others such as George Nelson, who founded the Jamaica Committee for Reparation in 1991; Dudley Thompson; Rex Nettleford; Flo O’Connor; Maureen Rowe of the African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica; Verene Shepherd; Rupert Lewis; Anthony Gifford; and many others who have also been “front and centre” of the reparations movement in Jamaica.

Mr Henry’s article was in response to a policy document issued by Mr Patterson on April 22, 2020, in his capacity as statesman-in-residence at the P.J. Patterson Centre for Afro-Caribbean Policy Advocacy, which is based at The University of the West Indies.

In the policy document, Mr Patterson outlined the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the Caribbean and in African countries and suggested that a multilateral response was required. He called on the African Union and CARICOM to demand, among other things, debt cancellation and debt relief to poor countries and for renewed international campaigns for reparative justice against the enslavement of African people.

Mr Henry is way off course on his two main assertions that Mr Patterson was silent during his leadership years on reparations and that he is using the COVID-19 pandemic as a cover to call for debt relief for poorer countries.

Patterson and reparations

Ambassador Emeritus Audley Rodriques, in an article that was published in the Sunday Observer on May 17, 2020, pointed out numerous instances of the support given by Mr Patterson when he was prime minister to the call for reparations.

I wish to add a few other actions by Mr Patterson that clearly show that he was not “silent” on reparations, as Mr Henry would wish for us to believe.

Mr Patterson gave full instructions to his minister of foreign affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to prepare for Jamaica’s full and total participation in the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which was held in South Africa from August 31 to September 8, 2001. This conference was extremely significant in advancing the international debate on reparations.

Mr Patterson also gave his full support to the resolution that was adopted by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) proclaiming 2004 the international year to commemorate the struggle against slavery and its abolition.

In 2005, recognising that 2007 would mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, which contributed significantly to the abolition of slavery, Mr Patterson established a committee headed by Professor Verene Shepherd to make recommendations to the Government on how best to undertake the celebration. This effort was concluded by former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who was the prime minister when the celebrations took place in 2007.

Ambassador Rodriques, therefore, was quite correct when he concluded his article by saying that “not only did Mr Patterson make a significant contribution on the matter of reparations during his time as prime minister, he was present front and centre along what is still an unfinished journey”.

Mr Henry also claimed that Mr Patterson remained silent on the reparations issue when former prime minister of the UK David Cameron visited and spoke in the Jamaican Parliament in 2015. This is simply not true.

It was Mr Patterson who issued a stinging rebuke to Mr Cameron’s suggestion, “to forget the historical past and move on together to build for the future”. How could it have escaped Mr Henry’s attention of Mr Patterson’s denunciation of slavery, “as a most heinous crime against humanity – a stain that cannot be removed merely by the passage of time”.

Certainly, Mr Henry should not have forgotten Mr Patterson’s assertion that the slave owners received £27 million while the enslaved got nothing.

Did Mr Henry not read the portion of Mr Patterson’s open letter to Mr Cameron, dated October 8, 2015 in which he called for “reparatory justice as the beginning of shaping a new future”?

Debt relief

Mr Patterson has remained true and consistent over the years in calling for debt relief on behalf of poorer states. His call for debt relief as a result of COVID-19 is in keeping with this position.

In June 1992, at a United Nations conference on the environment and development held in Brazil, he said that he “[gave] full support to the calls for practical ways of reducing the stock of debt and debt-service ratios in relation to poor countries”.

On March 4, 1994, at a conference on financing the Caribbean held in Montego Bay, he called for “further debt and debt-service reduction for some of the countries of the region”.

On September 25, 1997, in an address to the United Nations 52nd General Assembly, he pointed out that “the debt burden remains a major constraint on development”.

At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Scotland in October 1997, he argued that “there still remains the problem of the small, middle-income, heavily indebted countries, where a large part of the debt is owed to international financial institutions”.

In February 1999 at the ninth summit of the G15 countries held in Montego Bay, Mr Patterson noted that the need for “effective responses to the inequities of low-income debt is imperative”.

I could go on and on enumerating pronouncements by Mr Patterson on the issue of debt relief for small, developing countries.

Mr Henry is totally ‘off side’ when he claims that Mr Patterson is using COVID-19 as a cover to call for debt relief for poorer countries. If Mr Henry, who is also the chairman of the Humble Lion Football Club, had done the necessary research, he would not have scored an own goal.

n Delano Franklyn is former chief adviser to PJ Patterson, send feedback to delanofranklyn@gmail.com