Wed | May 27, 2020

Seaga’s story

Published:Wednesday | May 29, 2019 | 12:00 AM
In this Gleaner 1963 photograph, then Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante stands beside Development Minister Edward Seaga as he signs a contract for television services across Jamaica. With them are other government and television officials.

Birth and education

As Minister of development and welfare, his first Cabinet post, and later as minister of finance and planning, he had been responsible for a great deal of social and economic change in the island, initiating reform in the areas of finance, culture and social development – a record of performance that eminently fitted him to become prime minister.

Due to his vision and foresight, a network of financial institution was created. A programme of Jamaicanisation, under which there was the transfer of businesses from full foreign ownership to majority Jamaican ownership, was carried out, affecting banks, insurance companies and utility companies. This must rank as his greatest accomplishment.

Born on May 28, 1930, he was the son of Philip Seaga, businessman and sportsman. His Jamaican parents happened to be in the United States of America at the time of his birth, which took place in the city of Boston, Massachusetts, in the New England area of the country.

His Jamaican nationality was never in doubt, but it was soon formally established; he was brought to the island as an infant seven months of age and was christened at the Kingston Parish Church in December 1930.

After early schooling in Montego Bay, where his father was engaged in business as a travel agent, Edward Seaga became a proper Kingstonian when he attended Wolmer’s Boys’ School. There he excelled not only in scholastic studies but also in sport, representing his school at cricket, tennis, hockey, swimming and rifle-shooting.

His educational development continued at the prestigious Harvard University in the United States, where he gained the Bachelor of Arts degree in social science in 1952, his principal areas of study being Sociology and Anthropology. There he also engaged in sporting activity, representing the university at rifle-shooting and soccer and captaining its cricket team.

On his return to Jamaica, he embarked on a remarkable career. Leaving the company of his family and friends, he set out on a journey of discovery, studying the lifestyle of the urban and rural poor of the island. This research, for which his Harvard training had prepared him, took him throughout the folkways of the country.

During the course of three and a half years of social study, he lived among the humble people Buxton Town in St Catherine, and Salt Lane in Kingston, learning about their culture and way of life.

Out of that experience came a deep knowledge of and empathy with the less fortunate and less privileged in the society, knowledge that was to come to full flower when he made his entry into the political life of Jamaica as a Nominated member of the ­legislature, and signalled that entry with a famous speech, ‘The haves and the haves-nots’ – his earliest and perhaps most significant contribution to political thinking at the time.

Entry into politics

Seaga’s appointment to the Legislative Council in 1959 was to be the beginning of a long and distinguished career as a legislator. His patent talent as a student of public affairs, made evident by many speeches and by letters to The Gleaner, was recognised by Sir Alexander Bustamante, then the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), who invited the aspiring politician to join the party and to serve the country in the realm of political representation.

At 29 years of age, Edward Seaga was then the youngest member of the legislature, but his youth was no deterrent to his political advancement. He quickly rose to prominence as a front-line legislative representative of the JLP, being voted the political ‘Man of the Year’ in his first year in the Legislative Council, following his dramatic ‘haves and have-nots’ speech.

When the time came for him to enter elected politics, he chose to follow in the footsteps of his mentor and to contest the seat for Western Kingston, which had previously been held by Sir Alexander. That was in 1962, the historic year in which Jamaica was to achieve independence; and his victory at the polls was the start of a stellar career as member of parliament that was to set a record for unbroken service in the highest forum of the land.

Through that long tenure of public service, he was minister of development and welfare (1962-67) and minister of finance and planning (1967-71). He rose to the pre-eminence of prime minister in October 1980, after he led the JLP to victory in the general election of 1979.

His political star was at its brightest. Having been elected leader of the JLP in 1974, in succession to another party stalwart, Hugh Shearer, he had the full authority to forge ahead with his progressive programme of social improvement, urban and rural development, and the establishment of a Jamaican cultural and national identity.

A workaholic, he drove himself and expected those around him, especially his fellow Cabinet ministers, to perform as he did: at peak.

But while he was an exemplary prime minister, it was his work as finance minister that made the greatest impact on Jamaica. Although having no formal ­training as an economist, he proved to be one of the ablest finance ministers of the country. One of the longest holders of that key Cabinet post, he was ­responsible for introducing and establishing many of the nation’s financial institutions.

These include Development Bank of Jamaica, the Jamaica Mortgage Bank, the Jamaica Unit Trust, the Jamaica Export-Import Bank, and the Jamaica Stock Exchange.

Decimalisation of the Jamaican currency, Jamaicanisation of financial institutions, taxation reform – all were carried out under him. As a social architect and engineer, he created and implemented the 100 Villages Community Development Programme. With a strong bias towards the young, he established youth centres in urban areas as a counterpart of the rural ­community programme.

Both of these community programmes collapsed in the creation of Tivoli Gardens, which became an outstanding model of total community development, and which stands today as a conflicted monument to his abiding dedication to the development of his constituency of Western Kingston as the prototype of a modern urban enclave replacing a former slum.

On a wider canvas, he ­created the Urban Development Corporation, which not only ­modernised the Kingston waterfront and the Montego Bay foreshore, but enhanced the ­tourism potential for Ocho Rios and Negril by the ­building of hotels and the provision of related amenities. Metropolitan Parks and markets was also his brainchild.

His appreciation of the value of tourism to the national economy was later to find expression in the establishment of Carinosa in Ocho Rios, a scenic garden of waterfalls, flowers and birds, which has since been transformed into the Enchanted Gardens, a hotel complex in a setting of natural beauty, reflecting his other special gift as a protector of the Jamaican environment.

No less impressive was his contribution in the area of art and culture. The Jamaica Festival, the National Gallery, the Cultural Training Centre for the Arts – all owe their genesis to his genius. Devon House, the Craft Development Agency, and Things Jamaican attest to his work for the development of native handicraft.

Folk music had in him one of its most ardent students; he produced an album of ethnic Jamaican music, which has become a classic of its kind; and was responsible for promoting of the ska as a typical Jamaican music and dance form, out of which grew reggae, now accepted internationally as the truly indigenous music of Jamaica.

His heightened sense of history and national identity led him to create the Jamaican Honours, headed by the Order of National Hero, which was first conferred on Marcus Garvey, whose body he brought back to Jamaica for honoured recognition and burial.

Plans for the development of Seville, Port Royal and Spanish Town as focal points of the country’s rich and diverse historical heritage were initiated by him. National Heritage Week, a salute to Jamaica’s part, was his creation.

But while having his feet firmly on the ground of his native Jamaica, Edward Seaga was also an internationalist. He organised and was the first chairman of the Caribbean Democratic Union, a regional political grouping; and, on the wide world stage, he played an active role in the United Nations and its affiliated agencies.

His proposal for the setting up of a world culture bank was adopted by UNESCO, which he had also helped to establish. UNDP adopted his proposal for the creation of a manpower bank. His international reach saw him serving as governor of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Caribbean Development Bank, and making valuable contributions to them all.

His advocacy led to the formation of the Caribbean Basin Initiative by the United States and of Caribbean by Canada, two economic assistance entities that have been of great benefit to Jamaica and to the Caribbean.

As Jamaica’s principal representative on the IMF, he was able to secure special concessions for the country by way of economic assistance, opening the door for similar benefit to other Third-World countries.

His term of duty as prime minister ended in 1989, when the JLP lost the general election. He then reverted to the position of leader of the Opposition, which he had held previously (1974-79). He also continued a successful career as a financial consultant and adviser, both locally and internationally, having set up his own financial company in 1972.

But he remained true to his public responsibility, vigilant in safeguarding the national interest at all times, and constantly putting forward proposals for the improvement of the economy and of the society as a whole.

Twice married, his first wife was the former Marie Elizabeth (Mitsy) Constantine, who was Miss Jamaica 1964. After a divorce, he married Carla Vendryes. He was the father of three children – two sons and a daughter. An Anglican, he was also a clubman and sportsman, a lover of music and a supporter of the arts.

As a person, he gave the public impression of being cold and aloof, but those who were close to him knew him to be warm and friendly. No greater orator, he was nevertheless the master of the telling phrase which, combined with a dry wit and slightly sardonic and humour, made him a formidable opponent in parliamentary debate.

As JLP leader, he was troubled more than once by turbulence within the party. Some members complained of his leadership style, which they saw as autocratic. They also held him accountable for the party’s defeat in the general election which followed the 1989 defeat.

There was a rift in the ranks when five leading members, all former Cabinet colleagues, who came to be known as The Gang of Five, left the JLP in protest against his perceived dictatorial style. After a period of acrimony, the breach was healed and four of the five ‘rebels’ returned to the fold.

A more serious revolt came later when a group of party members in western Jamaica also rebelled, demanding his resignation as leader. That breakway proved more permanent, resulting in the dissidents forming a new political party, ironically, headed by his right-hand man and putative heir apparent, Bruce Golding, who had been deputy leader of the JLP.

Edward Seaga survived both colleagues, retaining his position as party leader and taking a new lease on life (and a new wife) in the process.

Awards received

Grand Cross of the Order of Merit, by the Federal Republic of Germany; the Grand Collar de Libertador, by the Republic of Venezuela; the Golden Mercury Award, by the Republic of Korea; the Golden Key, by the Avenue of the Americas, New York.

Other awards that he received included the Dr. Martin Luther King Award, by the Jamaican-American Society and the United States Information; the Pan-American Development Foundation Inter-American ‘Man of the Year’ Development Award; and The Gleaner Honour Award for Outstanding Individual of the Year (twice, 1980 and 1981).

Four US universities conferred the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) on him: University of Miami, University of South Carolina, Boston University, and Tampa University.

Family life

Twice married, his first wife was the former Marie Elizabeth (Mitsy) Constantine, who was Miss Jamaica 1964. After a divorce, he married Carla Vendryes. He was the father of three children – two sons and a daughter. An Anglican, he was also a clubman and sportsman, a lover of music and a supporter of the arts.

As a person, he gave the public impression of being cold and aloof, but those who were close to him knew him to be warm and friendly. No greater orator, he was nevertheless the master of the telling phrase which, combined with a dry wit and slightly sardonic humour, made him a formidable opponent in parliamentary debate.

Did you know?

* He was the youngest person ever appointed to the Senate at the age of 29. His appointment was in 1959, after he was nominated by Sir Alexander Bustamante.

* Seaga was the longest-serving Member of Parliament (MP), having served as MP for West Kingston for 40 years. Every other MP served only five years.

* He has been the nation’s leading pioneer of ideas and institutions to promote Jamaican culture nationally and internationally. In fact, he was a record producer before he entered politics.

* Seaga has a passion for gardening. His love for plants and flowers is evident in the beautiful Enchanted Garden Resort he created, which has become a unique attraction in Jamaica.

* He was instrumental in establishing and promoting several institutions, including:

– The Jamaica Stock Exchange (1969)

– Jamaica Unit Trust (1970)

– Jamaica Mortgage Bank (1973)

– National Development Bank (1981)

– The Agricultural Credit Bank (1981)

– The Ex-Im Bank (1986)

– The Students’ Loan Bureau, Jamaica Trade and Invest (formerly JAMPRO), the Human Employment and Resource Training Programme (HEART), which began in 1983, and Jamaica Festival.