A.J. Nicholson | The development journey and the ‘againsters’
Accommodation is yet to be arrived at among Jamaica’s legislators, after almost six decades along our independence journey, to emulate the outstanding example set by the recently departed Owen Arthur, former prime minister of Barbados, and his astute parliamentary colleagues in bonding together to allow their country to delink from the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Caribbean man in the highest tradition, Owen Arthur openly welcomed the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice in the first decade of this century. Its supporting guardrails, the meticulous creation of which he had dutifully helped to oversee, would have been readily recognised by him as a vivid expression of the talent and ingenuity to be found within our regional family.
With the approach of the 58th anniversary of our independence here at home, after a lengthy conversation with a colleague older head, I was left to contemplate how much differently things could have turned out in our Jamaica had there not been so much of what we chose to call contrary thinking in place of the adoption of a sensible collaborative embrace of visionary ideas.
The older head shared with me his views concerning this contrary thinking on the part of our two major political parties. And he placed great stress on what he saw as an ominous warning signal that was sent at the ceremony for the opening of Jamaica’s national stadium at the time of our independence in 1962.
According to my colleague, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), over the years, has been unwavering in its opposition to many developmental proposals that led former Attorney General Carl Rattray to label the party “the Againsters”:
1. A still youthful People’s National Party (PNP), in the early 1940s, pushed for the grant of adult suffrage so that all adults within the society would become privileged and enabled to enjoy the fundamental right to exercise their franchise. In those colonial times, the right to vote was extended only to propertied citizens.
In what turned out to be a defining and lasting posture assumed by the JLP, that push for universal adult suffrage, for the upliftment and boosting of self-confidence for Jamaica’s less privileged citizens, in effect the Black majority, was not supported.
2. During the 1950s, the first PNP Administration led by NW Manley was enthusiastic in its determination for that expansive strip at Negril in the parish of Westmoreland – extraordinarily blessed by nature but at the time covered in bush and thicket – to be opened up for development as a tourist destination.
That early foundational economic initiative has ripened into the world-famous tourism Mecca that Negril has become.
3. The historic JLP-led vote against the continuation of the experimental search for a cohesive federal entity that the countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean had embarked upon left the region consisting of a group of individual small vulnerable states instead of a potentially united, influential regional force.
4. The construction of the National Stadium laid the foundation for unearthing and developing sporting talent in abundance, which has led to Jamaica becoming an irresistible competitive force in athletics at the Olympic and World Games and to gain representation at the World Cup of football.
The concept of a national stadium for Jamaica emerged from the thinking of the Administration headed by Premier NW Manley.
The completion and opening came to take place at the history-making time of our independence in 1962. Notably, the PNP had just been swept from power by the JLP.
My colleague recalls with feeling how at the opening exercises, a recently appointed minister, Edward Seaga, then in charge of the proceedings, amazingly wondered aloud how come “that man” – NW Manley – had been allowed to occupy a prominent place in the area reserved for dignitaries.
5. The gigantic protest demonstration in Montego Bay early in this 21st century against the signing of an accord between Jamaica and Venezuela for the latter to assist in our country’s rescue at a time of grave challenge to meet our energy requirements represents a searing blot on our collective cultural sensibilities.
One is left to wonder whether that protest was not a signal of inevitability – a forerunner – that the respectful bilateral accommodation between both countries, stretching from the time of the Bolívar letter, would come to wither on the vine, as it now apparently has.
6. The decision for the construction of the most modern roadway in Jamaica – the North-South corridor, a burnished portion of “carpeted roads”, which Mr Holness now refers to as representative of “the new Jamaica” – was opposed by the then JLP leader, Edward Seaga.
At its completion, the JLP, happening once again to have recently taken hold of the reins of government, proceeded to name the new highway in honour of the long-retired Seaga.
There was little surprise in my colleague’s anxious recall of the unforgettable signal that he maintains had been sent at that ceremony for the opening of the National Stadium relating to comments on the space occupied by NW Manley.
There have been, then, as the years rolled by, these lasting development milestones that came from proposals initiated by the PNP. But my colleague older head observed that it also should not be denied or forgotten that the PNP did not allow the national insurance regime, a far-reaching proposal of the 1960s government of the JLP, any easy passage to its coming into being.
Yet, this recognisable contrast in the positions adopted by these two political parties from the 1940s to the present day is strikingly summed up in the starkly different responses to each of two seminal proposals in recent times.
The recommendation for a Charter of Rights arose from an accepted proposal of then Opposition Leader Edward Seaga in the early 1990s. It came forward during the deliberations of a Joint Select Committee on Constitutional and Electoral Reform under the chairmanship of the late David Coore.
The governing PNP readily embraced the idea in full acknowledgement that such a measure would bring new and improved rights to be enjoyed by all our people.
Indeed, the numerous Joint Select Parliamentary Committee meetings to drive and develop the policy initiative and the drafting of the necessary amendment of our Independence Constitution, required for a positive outcome, were all provided for from the late 1990s to the early 2000s during that long, extended Administration of the PNP.
When the bill eventually came to the Parliament in 2011, the Government, once more, had fallen into the hands of the JLP, this time under Bruce Golding’s prime ministership.
Its passage necessitated the cooperation of both sides of the legislature for the required two-thirds majority vote in each House to be met. Every member of the Opposition PNP in both chambers voted in support of the passage of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.
REGIONAL CARIBBEAN COURT
The recommendation for Jamaica to abandon final appeals to the Privy Council and to have a regional Caribbean Court as our most superior court of justice was also an accepted proposal during deliberations of that same Joint Select Committee under the chairmanship of David Coore.
That proposal had come from the PNP. Jamaica’s full participation in the regional final-appeal tribunal has been, and continues to be, inexplicably opposed.
Also, as in the case of the Charter of Rights, the required bill for that change to take place calls for the very same process of inclusiveness from the legislators on both sides of Parliament for its passage.
Further, with the court programmed to sit right here in our country, all Jamaicans would, after having been so deprived for almost 200 years, be enabled, finally, to enjoy unimpeded affordable access to our court of last resort. Lamentably, that kind of mature outcome for such a positive new chapter appears not to be respected.
It is well that we remind ourselves, as we mark the attainment of Independence from Britain, that the Judicial Committee was established in 1833 to be the truly effective bastion of the oppressive practice of subjugation known as colonialism.
And my colleague laments the granite-like opposition and general disinterest that have sadly been displayed and taken root against regional initiatives over time. No lessons have been learnt from that studied history.
All of those projects and proposals during those many years were so designed that once they came to be implemented, as we have seen, would unleash untold game-changing benefits for our people’s development, in particular, for our less-fortunate citizens.
What is it, then, that exists in the DNA of a political organisation, ostensibly formed to seek after the best interests of our people, that has served from the time of its infancy to condition it to consign itself, immovably, to such an uninspiring mould?
For, make no mistake, looked at from any angle whatsoever, that low bar constitutes a phenomenal stain that no amount of favourable poll numbers at any juncture can conceal, far less erase. It is a stance that is glaringly inimical to the proper practice of representational democracy.
Along the development journey, before and after our independence, we are clearly left to contemplate what more might have been accomplished with a different, transformational approach coming from the Jamaica Labour Party!
The COVID-19 pandemic, the pundits say, is likely to change the world economy forever. Any bets on any hunger for reversal or any eagerness to pause and reflect that even such a powerful change agent could bring to that long-cemented negative posture of the Againsters?
A.J. Nicholson is officer emeritus of the People’s National Party.