Tue | Oct 23, 2018

Editorial | Mr Holness and prime ministerial museums

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

Michael Manley, the 1970s prime minister, used to complain that Caribbean leaders, with the odd exception, didn't write books. Mr Manley wrote - books on cricket and the politics of development, including reminiscences of his years in government, in the shadow of the United States during an ideologically turbulent decade.

His view was that books were a way for leaders to interpret their own times and to make their ideas permanently available to history, thereby permanently open for intellectual discourse. That was part of how societies advanced. Edward Seaga, Mr Manley's political contemporary and great rival, has written his own biography, in two volumes.

Other Jamaican leaders, though, have mostly been written about. Little, or not enough, is understood about their philosophies and/or the debate that underpinned their policy actions. It is a situation not unique to Jamaica, given, perhaps, the many other economic and social priorities that face the country.

It is in the context of Mr Manley's concept of the relationship between intellectual pursuit and national development that this newspaper appreciates, with caution, Prime Minister Andrew Holness' declared intention to establish museums to Jamaican leaders.

"I think that we must erect monuments for our leaders," Mr Holness said. "We must put museums and libraries in honour of all our heroes."

Mr Holness was speaking at a function for the rededication of a museum to the national hero and founder of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Alexander Bustamante, at which he announced the controversial decision to rename the North-South Highway in honour of Mr Seaga, another former JLP leader. Our sense is that Mr Holness wants, of a fashion, to replicate the presidential libraries of the United States that house papers, documents and exhibits relating to their lives and time in office.

 

TREAD CAREFULLY

 

Fundamentally, we have no quarrel with Mr Holness' idea, except that he has to be careful on two fronts. One is that he has to exercise caution about the line between the legitimate celebration of people who have contributed to a society's development and the promotion of cult, especially of the partisan kind.

Second, he mustn't allow his imagination to run away with him, rather than opting for what is affordable and can be managed in Jamaica's circumstance. In the USA, the development of presidential libraries - which tend to be massive undertakings - are financed with private money before being handed over to the National Archives for management. Private non-profits sometimes contribute to their ongoing existence.

We understand why Mr Holness appears to believe that the Government's hand will be necessary for libraries and museums to past leaders. The one to Sir Alexander at his former home at Tucker Avenue in St Andrew had badly faltered. Other museums and shrines to political and civic leaders, established and run by private foundations and groups, often quickly fall into disrepair. But this is not a problem of only non-governmental entities. You need only look at the ramshackle of many public places, including the broader park encircling the site where Jamaica's national heroes are celebrated.

Our suggestion to Mr Holness, therefore, is that his Government, for now, commit the available resources to a single library or museum dedicated to the lives and ideas of leaders and make it a place of excellence - properly funded and professionally staffed.

The danger, otherwise, is of the Government spreading itself thinly and serving up mediocrity. This would limit having discreet units for the various leaders within such a facility. Nor would it prevent private foundations otherwise studying their ideas and observing their traditions.

In the meantime, as part of this project of understanding Jamaica's leaders and ideas and how they governed, Mr Holness should accelerate the time for declassification of official documents and promote a campaign to popularise their perusal, including in schools, especially among high-school students.