Sunday, April 21, 2024

EVERYTHING BUT: Hand of antiquity


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There is no denying the Preservation Of Antiquities And Relics Bill has caused us much trepidation.
As prolific letter writer Lennie St Hill has opined, our Government is bringing a law “to disinherit citizens of private property, claiming that property by compulsory acquisition as national heritage”.
Simply put, a law is coming that will say the Government, through its arm the Barbados Museum &?Historical Society, can take from you any item that it deems of national heritage.
And the article, whether heirloom or other personal property, need only be 50 years old or more.
But Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley has denied that the Preservation Of Antiquities And Relics Bill will do any such thing. He is adamant that the bill is designed to preserve Barbados’ historical artefacts, monuments and buildings. It’s “no tool for taking hold of family heirlooms”.
Promises Mr Lashley: “. . . Don’t be worried one bit.
We are not going to come after your cherished heirlooms . . . . They are safe; and, of course, we will be speaking to this and other issues in the regulations of the act, which will come shortly.”
Having had the Preservation Of Antiquities And Relics Bill passed in the House Assembly, what exactly is it to be addressed now by Mr Lashley and his colleagues? At any rate, whose words shall we take? The politician’s or that of the proposed legislation?
 Just Tuesday last week, the minister declared in Parliament: “I applaud the fact that where a relic is discovered and notification is made, the bill provides for negotiation in the first instance. But if no agreement is secured, steps can be taken toward compulsory acquisition.”
Mr Lashley said then that the “process” was “detailed” and gave high priority to protecting owners’ rights – that, I imagine, we wouldn’t have to be revisiting issues.
But won’t we?
The minister told the House that he hoped Barbadians who owned antiquities would want them to be properly preserved for the good of Barbados, and would therefore negotiate in an amicable way.
Of course, where amicability on the owners’ side did not materialize, compulsory acquisition would be it – even if “only after extensive discussion” with the owners.
“The objective of the bill is to ensure that the heritage of the country is properly preserved,” Mr Lashley told Parliament, and he sought to assure all that the proposed legislation had undergone “an extensive consultative process” with entities like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister’s Office, Customs & Excise Department, the Barbados National Trust, Barbados Arts Council, the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean, and a whole set of historians.
No organization representing the ordinary people, whose heirlooms in the proposed legislation stand to be swept away in the tide of national heritage-mania?
That we would have a statutory obligation to provide the Barbados Museum with a comprehensive description and list of personal precious things it may deem of national heritage import is worrying, if for nothing more than it smacks of the defilement of one’s space.
Yet Mr Lashley would have us not worry “one bit”.
He would have us accept that our relics of 50 years or more, which under law would include documents, books, photographs, paintings, would be guaranteed untouched.
Again, shall it be the words of the politician, or the proposed legislation?
And what is the real rush for this Preservation Of Antiquities And Relics Bill? Its “crucial” nature to preserving Barbados’ recently designated UNESCO?inscription of Historic Bridgetown And Its Garrison, admits Mr Lashley.
Whatever the reasoning or excuse the hard cold facts are that the proposed legislation would confer “far-reaching powers, including entering and searching private properties”, as well as the compulsory acquisition of any historical relic by the authorities of the Barbados Museum & Historical Society; that Barbadians who own family heirlooms or items considered important historical relics face the possibility of these items being compulsorily acquired by the Government.
Unless the legislation be further amended, these are the hard cold facts laid bare before us, and no amount of political posturing will change any of the above.


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