Sun | Jun 24, 2018

Carolyn Cooper | Seaga’s highway back to Carinosa

Published:Sunday | April 1, 2018 | 12:00 AM

I know I'm going to be accused of tribalism for bringing up Carinosa.

But it was Mr Seaga's own justification for the naming of the North-South Highway in his honour that provoked the flashback. Seaga is quoted in a Gleaner article published on March 24: "This highway is linked to two of the biggest projects that I have done being a minister and prime minister. One is building the Kingston waterfront. The other is Ocho Rios, which I virtually recreated with the Turtle Beach, etc."

Mr Seaga appears to have conveniently forgotten about one of his big Ocho Rios projects, Carinosa, the enchanted garden. I suppose that's covered under "etc". I do understand why Seaga would probably not want to be haunted by memories of Carinosa. It was quite a scandal. In The Sunday Gleaner of August 3, 2003, Phyllis Thomas, news editor, reported the following in an article headlined 'Rocky road for Seaga':

"The Privy Council upheld a decision of the local Court of Appeal that Seaga's companies, Premium Investments Ltd and Town and Country Resorts Ltd, must pay up $30 million in general consumption tax (GCT), plus interest, owing on their Enchanted Garden hotel at Carinosa, in Ocho Rios, St Ann. When the GCT is computed, the companies will have to pay $30 million, plus a penalty of 15 per cent of the $30 million for late filing of returns, a further 15 per cent for late payment of tax, and interest at 2 1/2 per cent per month, totalling more than $100 million.

"That, in any term (sic), is no monkey money, and although Mr Seaga does not personally owe the GCT, this ruling of the Privy Council will affect him directly, being chairman of the companies. It will, by extension, impact his career politically. The problem here, however, is that the few imaginable options available to him as ways forward seem to amount to Hobson's choice. In other words, 'anywhere im turn, macca jook im'".

 

GRUDGEFUL COMRADES

 

So much for Ms Thomas' prickly prophecy! Macca never really jook Seaga. He emerged from the enchanted garden relatively unblemished. But he did lose the title of financial wizard. No magic wand could make all that unpaid GCT just disappear. Now, Seaga is an elder statesman consolidating his legacy. And he attempts to silence the critics of Andrew Holness' ill-considered decision to brand the generic North-South Highway with the stamp of partisan politics. Seaga draws the ever-ready tribalism card: "Some grudgeful Comrades - that's all they are."

I'm definitely not a grudgeful Comrade. I am not even a card-carrying Comrade. And I don't want any highway to be named after me. Especially one whose operators appear to be intent on digging out our eyes with extortionate tolls! Because of the high cost, hardly anybody uses the highway. So the few who do are heavily taxed.

If Andrew Holness has his way, both Labourites and Comrades will soon be dragging poor Seaga's name in the mud. As the toll keeps climbing, there will be nuff cussing bout di tiefing tax to travel on di dyam Seaga Highway. Mr Seaga might want to reconsider having his name attached to what many of us think is a rip-off enterprise.

Then, by most accounts, Mr Seaga objected to big spending on highways. It is alleged that he thought more attention should be paid to improving existing roads. And he may very well have been right then. But now he's claiming that he supported the construction of the North-South Highway right from the start. Which is it? Both 'facts' can't be true.

 

SELLING OFF OUR BIRTHRIGHT

 

Peter Phillips, leader of the Opposition, is adamant that the highway should not be named after Seaga. He is quoted in an RJR News story published on March 23: "We feel that if the prime minister is going to name the highway after a former prime minister ... it should be named after Portia Simpson Miller, who was integral in the construction of the highway during her tenure as prime minister. It was her vision of having a highway cutting from North to South."

The highway is, indeed, an excellent development. There's no question about it. Reducing the length of time to travel between Kingston and Ocho Rios and on to MoBay is good for both business and leisure. The big issue is the price we'll be paying for a very long time. It's such a pity that Portia Simpson Miller's vision was not far-sighted enough. She should have negotiated much more favourable terms for the building and maintenance of the highway.

Portia Simpson Miller will be remembered as the prime minister who presided over the sale of our birthright to the new Chinese colonisers. We are a very small island. Not a vast continent! We cannot afford to practically give away our land to foreigners. Where will future generations of Jamaicans live? At sea? The North-South Highway should be dubbed 'Di Politician Dem'. To the eternal shame of the Comrades who sold us out for little or nothing! And the Labourites who did not object!

- Carolyn Cooper is a consultant on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.