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An international embarrassment

Charles Brown, right, and his brother, George, give evidence at the Commission of Inquiry into Historical Land Losses (File photograph)

There are some historical and national matters that go beyond politics, that appear to have been used as a simple political prop that has now become a national tragedy. Over the centuries, there have been historical injustices that have caused families significant loss and harm. It is a tempting exercise to want to remedy those historical losses. Perhaps too tempting for a leader who wants to make an impression on the public.

In my family, there is the tragedy of my great-great-aunt Liza Lusher (née Darrell), who died in 1857 from yellow fever. Before her death, she was a nurse who served the British Navy at Dockyard and their many cases of yellow fever in 1853 and 1856 — the Dockyard graveyard is full of those soldiers. The tragedy was that the officer that commissioned her services died, leaving her unpaid. She went to Parliament and petitioned the Government to recover monies for services rendered but lost her plea 13-5 in a parliamentary vote. She later succumbed to the same illness and an otherwise wealthy, land-rich but unpaid lady was penny poor, resulting in a tremendous land loss. This case was classic, clearly documented and possibly a matter involving the Crown that was swept under the carpet for no logical reason.

But who cares? Certainly not the Premier, who set up the Commission of Inquiry into Historical Land Losses, particularly with an initial budget of $350,000 — even with the overrun tallying up to $1 million, which was still a paltry sum when one considers what a “real commission” equipped with adequate resources such as investigators and property experts would cost. What could they purchase in the way of historical justice stretching over millennia for $350,000 when single property disputes rack up far more?

Then there were other matters that mirrored “the massacre of Black Wall Street”, which was bypassed, also swept under the carpet, and an inaccurate report written patronising their work that in too many cases was just false. There should be an ethical guideline to which any leader commits public resources. At least they should be honest in their intent; messing with the lives of families on legacy issues is not just insensitive, it is criminal. Then hiding under the guise of authority and being seen to attack an historical problem was more important than actually getting the job done. The government in this instance will possibly spend more money paying its lawyers as a result of its misdeeds than it did on the Commission of Inquiry. They say haste makes waste, and it is true.

When the CoI finished its work, it published the results and then added that they were final and could not be appealed, although one could seek judicial review if not satisfied. Folks, here lays the devil hiding in the details. The public were invited to bring their matters to the CoI with the objective of receiving justice. I don't know of any human being, group or even court that is infallible or perfect. So why disband and have no appeal? Why not dedicate six months, even if just a legal section in order to handle appeals free?

Was this another way the CoI was trying to save costs by putting the burden on the public if it made a mistake? It never told anyone that if it erred you must go to court, preferably pay a lawyer and seek a judicial review. Should you lose, you incur the costs of both sets of lawyers. The commission’s sign should say, "Come submit your case and if we through neglect, illegality or otherwise fail you, we fail at your peril.“

So this was not only a sham with too many individuals with conflicts of interest, which the late Walton Brown forewarned in advising Parliament that certain people should never be on a Commission of Inquiry for Historical Land Losses. It was a public debacle in every way imaginable.

Commissions such as these should be a once-in-a-lifetime event handled with care. Unfortunately, unless the Governor has compassion or some foreign secretary sees this as an international embarrassment, and it should be, this may be the last in most of our lifetimes and a national opportunity lost.

But then who cares if this was just an election prop or part of a bucket list of trophies to put on one's mantel? Public, let’s ask ourselves the question honestly, was the issue of historical land losses solved, and is it all settled now?

Disclosure of interest: Khalid Wasi submitted two complaints to the Commission of Inquiry into Historical Land Losses over allegations that he lost property through unethical, systemic and irregular practices

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Published November 07, 2022 at 7:53 am (Updated November 07, 2022 at 7:53 am)

An international embarrassment

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