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Gleaner 180 - Will our exiles return?

Published:Saturday | September 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Peter Espeut
  • Will our exiles return?

Published: December 19, 1980

John Hearne, Contributor

Pretty near the most competent economist in the public sector of Jamaica, who was driven out of the island by the insult, intrigue and threat of Manley's goons, was telling me what had happened to him.

We were having lunch at the World Bank in Washington. Across the street was the International Monetary Fund, in which one of our ex-ministers of finance does a highly paid, more or less clerical job.

The man with whom I was having lunch in the World Bank cafeteria influences policy. The other fellow carries out what policy is dictated to him.

These two Jamaicans earn about the same. There can be no doubt as to who now commands the most respect and attention in financial circles in North America.

The man with whom I had lunch at the World Bank, is a man of influence. The man from the IMF who arrived to see me as I was yawning through my second reading of the New York Times editorial page in his office was a functionary...

An important functionary, to be sure, but no more.

The first man pointed me in the direction of where I could find the second man. The second man — and ex-minister of finance - was happy that my editor's orders had taken me across the street to see him.

I, honestly, would have not bothered otherwise.

What does an ex-minister of finance from Jamaica like Mr Eric Bell have to say to me, or to his constituents, except that he is sorry; and that we must try to understand how difficult it was for 'moderates' like him to control the capture of the PNP by Communists like D. K. Duncan and Trevor Munroe and that he tried until there was nothing left to him but to run away into a cosy office in the International Monetary Fund and etc. etc.

By contrast, the tough, responsible and competent civil servant whom we have given to the World Bank Mr. Gladstone Bonnick was a very different horse: he was a stallion as opposed to a gelding — and he was rather splendidly conscious of being a stallion.

Two things must be undone, he told me, if the Bank of Jamaica is to function as a national bank and, register of our finances.

In the first place, the Bank of Jamaica must be given the authority to maintain the value of our currency.

There must be no new laws amending the right of Government to remove the link between foreign currency reserves and local currency.

That is simply a licence for Government — any Government — to print worthless paper.

This our past Government did ... Which is why men like my fellow Jamaican are now making America richer by their expertise.

The second law that must be enforced, he told me, was that no Government of Jamaica can borrow from the Bank of Jamaica above one-third of the Government's annual Budget, without being obliged to repay within three months.

Our past Government totally ignored this law ... As a result, a Government that commanded 40 per cent of the Gross National Production was constantly in debt to the tune of 10 per cent per year ... Multiply 10 per cent by 4, and match it against a Government in command of 40 per cent of Gross National Production, and you are into bankruptcy.

Had Manley's Government won our October 30, 1980 election, we would have not only been penniless, we would have been unable to meet the interest on any loan, public or private, and we would have not had a cent of new money coming our way, under any guise.

Ganja money

We would, as I write this, have been literally without a cent of foreign reserve, except for Coptic ganja money. Our minister of finance would have been trying to balance a worthless internal budget against a huge meaningless inflation of our currency in which ten dollars of Jamaican money would barely have bought ten cents of American goods.

The Manley Government — the PNP Government — now off our backs for, we can only hope, the next fifteen years would have produced a 'first', overnight, had it won.

It would have made our money of less value than the material it takes to create a dollar bill and it would have denied the Bank of Jamaica the power to say NO to such intentions... The plans were prepared... I have seen them... And, although I am no economist, even I can understand that what Manley, Trevor Munroe and the PNP Executive had in mind for us was money so valueless in international terms that nobody could have bought hard currency at even 10 dollars (Jamaican) to one dollar (American) if they had gone down on bended knees and licked the boots of those in possession of one American dollar.

The Manley Government, which we voted out peacefully six weeks ago, intended to lock us in, by paupery.

Nobody could have moved out of this island unless they passed the Pickersgill Accreditation Committee. The Manley attempt at a 'Third Term' intended to make every Jamaican who one dollar or one million dollars of foreign exchange a prisoner who had to report daily to some very highly paid 'consultants', on contract, sifted through the Pickersgill Accreditation Committee.

Will our bright exiles return? I doubt it.

They are so highly valued where they are in North America employers will let go now. They have already formed a 'consortium' skills, dedicated to serving years Jamaica's interests.

As one of them told me, he will give his services, free, during his leave, if our Government wants his advice and his help.

But they are now international civil servants whose talents are so highly regarded that their employees are not prepared to let them go for a small place called Jamaica.

Made a deal

When you ask for Mr.Brown or Mr. Bonnick or Mr. Bell on the telephone in half-a-dozen agencies in the financial world in the U.S. and give the name of this newspaper, you are put instantly.

A highly placed source in our Government connected tells me that he has made a deal with the people, who now employ the brilliant men who our Communist fool fools drove out of office, that they can return to us free of charge, with their wages paid from abroad without a cent cost to the Jamaican tax-payer

I'll believe that when I see it.

As of this moment, the men who we allowed to be exiled under threat are staying where they are, planning how they can help us from where they are, and have not the faintest intention of returning to us.

If Mr. Seaga can get one of them to come back then he is a more persuasive prime minister than I had imagined.

Mr. & Mrs. Arthur Brown, for example were two years in New York with the United Nations, and never received a single social and private invitation to a gathering by the representatives of our past buried Government.

Two days after October 30, 1980, their telephone began to smoke with cosy calls from those who had ignored them for two years.

Mr. Seaga and his Cabinet will have to take an injunction out against this columnist if he begins to sound a little more bitter than he should be.

I have seen too many decent men and women humiliated and misused over the past four years, because they did not pass the Accreditation Committee of fat, rich Bobby Pickersgill.

  • Response: No, they likely won't return

Published: September 13, 2014

Peter Espeut, Columnist

The 1970s will be, forever, a defining period in Jamaica's history. There had been significant economic growth during the first decade of our Independence, largely based on expansion of the bauxite sector, and import-substitution industrialisation backed by protectionism.

But there was a lot wrong with the Jamaica of the 1960s. Most egregious was open racism and classism. The life chances of poor, black young people were severely constrained by substandard education and a very limited franchise; brutality by agents of the state made life below the clock a risky business. The mood of the country was ripe for change.

In 1972, the People's National Party (PNP) government of Michael Manley was swept into power by a landslide, and for a while they could do no wrong. Being largely a party driven by intellectuals, they analysed Jamaica's problems using the popular paradigms of the day: the plantation theory of underdevelopment (George Beckford, Norman Girvan, et al), the broader centre-periphery dependency theory of Andre Gunder Frank (the development of underdevelopment, or the underdevelopment of development), world systems theory (Immanuel Wallerstein), and of course the critique of capitalism by political economist Karl Marx. Armchair academics became political bureaucrats, and Jamaica entered a period of ideological extravagance where the PNP flirted with the idea of democratic socialism and began to tinker with Jamaica's oppressive colour-class system finely woven into the fabric of Jamaican society and economy.

There was no national consensus about this tinkering, and many of the white and brown elite (they and their ancestors benefited from the system over the centuries) fled the country in droves (many on one of the five flights a day to Miami), taking most of their wealth with them. When it is all added up, the loss of human capital - the 'brain drain' of management and professional expertise - might have exceeded the financial drain; several firms closed down, and many jobs were lost.

The economy quickly unravelled, aided by active economic destabilisation by the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) backed by foreign elements; there were widespread food shortages, and other hardships, and more migrations. Life under the PNP became unbearable, and change was inevitable: On 30 October 1980, the JLP was swept back to power in a landslide electoral victory.

Six weeks later, on December 19, 1980, Gleaner columnist John Hearne wrote a piece entitled: "Will our exiles return?" His concern was that for Jamaica to grow and develop economically, many of these elite political exiles would have to return to rebuild the country. The brain drain had to be reversed.

And several did return. Interestingly, two of the three persons Hearne mentions by name in his article did eventually return to Jamaica: G. Arthur Brown as Governor of the Bank of Jamaica (1989-1992), and Gladstone Bonnick as Chairman & CEO of the Financial Sector Adjustment Company, FinSac (1997-1998).

Several exiles had a hard time adjusting to life overseas, and returned to familiar country to earn their living. Jamaican racism was more to their taste.

Hearne was concerned about the 'brain drain' - the departure of elite political exiles; but Jamaica's history is replete with waves of migration by the working class; we might call it 'the brawn drain'. Not since Emancipation has the Jamaican economy kept the Jamaican population fully employed, and because of the lack of local employment opportunities, Jamaicans have been forced to find work overseas: cutting cane in Cuba, weeding bananas in Costa Rica, building the Panama Canal, picking peaches in Georgia or apples in Canada. These were economic exiles, migrating to find better paying work - like Haitians do today.

The vast majority of exiled political elites did not return; many burnt their bridges. And neither have many of the working class economic exiles. They worked hard and have strengthened economies elsewhere; should they return to class-colour prejudiced Jamaica, they will find themselves at the bottom of the social ladder. Also, their children will have to face the same substandard education system as before; and brutality by agents of the state.

Meanwhile, others have come - notably migrants from China - and have started new businesses in Jamaica. Exiles from elsewhere. Will our exiles return? Not many, not likely!

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a development scientist.