Martin Henry | Budget speeches: promises of the past
With the 2016-2017 Budget Debate now under way, the historian in me drove me to pull up from my sources a couple of old Budget speeches by leaders of government at critical junctures in the nation's history.
I have often made the point that Edward Seaga and Michael Manley, in their 18-year period of parallel leadership of the two political parties and of the Government and Opposition which those parties formed during the prime tribal war years, are the two men most responsible for the state of Jamaica today, howsoever that state may be assessed.
The two speeches are exactly a decade apart and reflect both men's abiding interest that better mus' come for the have-nots of the two Jamaicas. If only we had been more careful to recognise the common interests, the common threads, in our politics, despite differences of approach in the earlier years of our politics, more better would have come a long time ago and more have-nots would have become better off.
On the cusp of Independence, Edward Seaga, minister of development and welfare, made his contribution to the Budget Debate of 1962-1963 on June 13, 1962.
A decade later, in the year that Prime Minister Andrew Holness was born and in which I came to political consciousness with the February 29 general election listening to the results on our battery-powered radio in the light of our Home Sweet Home kerosene lamp, Prime Minister Michael Manley delivered his famous 'Better Mus' Come' speech to Parliament on July 26, 1972.
Seaga, in his speech, naturally exulted in the election victory of April 10, 1962, the party in Opposition having yanked Jamaica out of the West Indies Federation by referendum only seven months before on September 19, 1961.
"The members who sit on that side had the very best intentions toward the county, but in as far as they applied their own medicines to the people of the country, they were the wrong doctors with the wrong medicines at the wrong time. We are the right doctors with the right medicines at the right time," Seaga boasted.
He heaped praise on Premier Sir Alexander Bustamante as the man Jamaica had called upon "when the chips are down" and "the country has been faced with crises, uncertainty ... ."
With Independence set for August 6, only seven weeks away, what were the major problems confronting the country? "I believe, Mr Speaker," Mr Seaga assessed, "that the greatest problem that faces Jamaica today - apart from the financial problem - is the lack of integration in the country which produces a division and, in the final result, produces two groups of Jamaicans." The minority, "a very small group", holding wealth and power and has "a certain culture". The other group, "a very large majority", with a very different cultural system with different beliefs, values and behaviour and holding no economic wealth or power.
Mr Seaga spoke of the futility of planning development without cultural understanding. "If the objective, then, is integration amongst the two sectors and the two Jamaicas, then it is an objective we can express in the [Independence] motto, 'Out of Many, One People'."
But then he went on immediately to level charges of political victimisation by the previous government, backed up with evidence. And political violence, before the guns. "There was blood in the streets of Kingston on election day, including mine," and in the election campaign, Seaga said.
Mr Seaga laid out a proposition for national unity. He defended the Government's decision for the 70:30 ratio of Common Entrance places to high schools, with 70 per cent of places being awarded to primary-school children and 30 per cent to prep-school children. The opposition ex-minister of education had opposed the move on the basis of a straight merit system. "But what of the centuries of inequality ... ? What of the lack of training and training facilities for children who go to the primary schools?" Seaga probed.
There was a plan to promote productivity for a bigger "national cake" to be shared with greater equity. There would be youth training for jobs. There would be cultural promotion and cultural development. "In this our Independence year, there is a greater awareness and a greater need for a national identification; and the concept of a national culture has regained increased interest."
The grand finale of the Seaga speech was the emergence of the "Jamaica Man" on the world stage in all kinds of fields and a vision of "our common destiny". "I want to see the day come for economic prosperity in the country, when a man will be able not only to buy what his woman needs, not only be able to clothe and send his children to the school of his choice, and to buy the tools and implements for his work, but when he will be able to do all these things and have something left over ... in his pocket ... ." "We can make this country anything we desire, we can break it and we can make it. We can destroy it and we can build it," he closed.
Here comes Michael Manley 10 years later with 'Better Mus' Come'. "At the end of every Budget Debate in the last three years," Manley complained, "I used to go away with the feeling that a great number of words have been spoken and ... this has not changed on this occasion ... ." After listening to the fine government speeches by ministers laden with spending plans for their ministries, Manley questioned what the central thrust of the Government was. He declared a new policy direction.
Assessing the first 10 years of Independence he saw a growth in unemployment, "the farming sector was totally stagnant, and rural life was in collapse", school buildings had been "mislaid", and while the tourist industry had grown, "it is incredible to observe that it seemed to have occurred to nobody that tourists ate food".
UNACCEPTABLE AND UNTENABLE
"After hundreds of years of colonialism and the 10 years of Independence, there are still some absolutely fundamental and unacceptable things about Jamaican society today," Michael Manley declared. Deep class divisions headed Mr Manley's list of things wrong. And Jamaica has a "grave psychological problem" over race, "particularly the question of blackness". The society, he said, also had an unacceptable and untenable attitude towards work.
Mr Manley restated his personal five campaign promises with the commitment for each, "and we are going to do it". These were to provide old-age pension for everybody, irrigate the plains of St Elizabeth, lower the voting age, "and fifthly, that we are going to restore integrity in public life, and we have done that already". There was no "fourthly" findable in the listing.
Mr Manley devastatingly compared social development expenditure in West Kingston, the constituency of the minister of development, Mr Seaga, with spending in neighbouring constituencies; $7 a head in West Kingston to only 12 cents a head at the lowest level next door.
"The kind of society we want to work towards is a society of equality, a society of social justice, a society of self-reliance and a society of discipline, because without discipline, no country can move," he pronounced.
The priority tasks of his Government would be employment, housing and nutrition. And, "in order to accomplish certain basic things" it would be necessary "first of all to restructure the Government itself". Economic planning would require a channel through which to achieve coordination of ministerial effort.
Mr Manley laid out a "politics of participation", referring to the new-style Labour Day which he had introduced and in which he had set the example from the top working on community development projects.
Manley announced the abolition of the national lottery after an extension, a new literacy drive, a reduction of outpatient fees at hospitals.
To the doubters that better was on the way, the prime minister of five months said, "Oh, ye of little faith. And to the sufferers who are the first and last concerns of my heart, I say to them, 'Be patient, we are working, and with God's help your time will come,'" he ended.
This is 2016, forty-four years on, and a Seaga protÈgÈ born in the year Michael Manley came to power and sharing many of Manley's political features is at Jamaica House promising growth and prosperity, "for the first time, at last". Let's be patient.