Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie made an emotional plea to Commissioner of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) Sir Gary Hickibottom on the issue of slavery and reparations.
The matter of slavery and reparations has been a long and bitter topic for the descendants of slavery in the region. The matter was further compounded when the United Kingdom (UK) paid the slave owners for their loss in the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade but did not see it fit to offer an apology, much less reparations to the ancestors of the enslaved.
During the October 11 hearing, Premier Fahie told Commissioner Hickinbottom that while he is aware that the CoI is not a court, he would like him to include what he sees as lawful and unlawful in terms of the territory’s laws in his report to the United Kingdom.
“…But how can we have an entity implementing to make us adjust to what they see in the report when we have been violated by some of those same entities, and we have nobody to turn to? That’s what I mean when the goose and gander are on two different tables, and I crave your indulgence sir as you do your report. To ask them to bring a balance before they bring condemnation, that’s all I ask. I happen to be in the ancestry lineage of persons with Windrush and still slavery and reparations," Premier Fahie said.
He continued: “Through my lens, I don’t see it balanced, through my generation lens I don’t see that we are getting fairness, through my generation lens I cannot see that the terms of reference can be placed on us even if the ones to seek the laws and we have no way to bring closure to my ancestors for what has been done to them.”
Premier beseeched the Commissioner to find a balance with his terms of reference because “after that, nothing is going to happen unless an uprising come that will make us have the other side of the partnership look at it.”
He said he is referring to a ‘mutual partnership in modern times.”
“We cannot have a mutual partnership in modern times, and one side has all the power to look into the other side, and the one side that’s looking into us has done so many things to our ancestors; we cannot bring balance. It cannot be right, and I am asking Commissioner to serve and search your soul and bring a balance to this because it is easy to look into this and bring us in guilty, but who will be held for all what has happened in Windrush? Who will be held for what has happened with the slavery? Who will be held for what has happened with reparations?”
He further told the Commissioner that there are no laws on the Constitution that allows a CoI into the Governor or on how the UK is treating them, “we will have to spend more money with lawyers, the Constitution doesn’t allow for the balance.”
“Excuse me if I get passionate with it, but I know a lot of persons from the Caribbean in here in the BVI who have been disenfranchised because of this and sometimes we blame each other rather than going to the hub of it."
Premier Fahie said, "so I will try my best to help with belongership but no commissioner with due respect I’ll do it with an asterisk because I cannot believe that the great, great, great, great, grandson of somebody who was affected by windrush have to come and answer for doing something in a territory against the very entity that did it to my fore-parents. That is wrong, and I pray to God that he finds a way to bring the balance on it."
Hearing his pleas, Commissioner Hickinbottom said he is aware of his passion and that the people of the BVI are also passionate about it; however, “You will appreciate that my terms of reference are in that respect, very narrow. In terms of belongership I am looking at process, that’s what we are looking at and these wider issues which are sensitive, some of them are very difficult, but I understand that you feel very passionate about them, but they fall entirely outside my terms of reference.
He continued: “It isn’t to say that I am not sensitive to them, they may be relevant background to the report, but what I am doing in the report is looking at two things, firstly governance, the way the state decisions are made and implemented. Belongership falls into that category and also in relation to serious dishonesty in public office.”
Commissioner Hickinbottom added that neither of those two things are part of the very important things that he raised, but “what I need to do is focus on my terms of reference, modest as they are in compared to these things you’ve raised, but I am going to focus on my terms of reference, and Mr. Rawat’s [CoI’s Counsel] questions would be limited in the focus of those terms of reference.”
Premier replied that while he has been commissioned by the Governor to do a CoI on terms of reference that are specific, “you have to do what you are commissioned to do but who do we commission for reparation? Who do we commission for slavery? Who do we commission for Windrush? We don’t have any rights to commission anyone to have these things done.”
He added: “These are century-old debates, and we cannot do it because the entity that sent you is larger than us, and there is no law that allows us to look into areas that concern us with them. So when this is finished, yes, you would have completed your terms of reference, and while I am concerned about the tenants of the terms of reference, but that’s nothing for you who’s going to look out for us?”