Wed | Jun 26, 2019

Orville Brown | Edward Seaga: The People Programmes – Part 2

Published:Sunday | May 26, 2019 | 12:25 AM
FILE In this Gleaner file photograph, an employee of Things Jamaican demonstrates the working of a straw-weaving machine while Senator Hugh Shearer (left) and Edward Seaga, minister of development and welfare, watch. They were attending the presentatioin of Christmas designs by the Craft Development Agency at Things Jamaican, 114 King Street, on November 28, 1966.

Edward Seaga is remembered most for his successes in economic management, for charting the course to development in the Independence decade, and for managing the difficult task of economic recovery in the deliverance era of the 1980s.

What he is not usually remembered for is the social programmes that empowered the working class in two Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administrations, and what’s worse, some of the programmes he developed were not even credited to him, but to his rival Michael Manley. In the 1970s, for instance, Manley spoke so much about the School Feeding Programme that many people came to believe that he had been the author and the whole raft of social programmes that he used to promote the drive to socialism after 1974 had been in fact the work of Edward Seaga.

The JLP leader was not given credit because throughout his career, he never felt the need to blow his own trumpet. Others came along, saw the need blow theirs, and succeeded in taking for themselves the credit that was due to him.

The famous people programmes were mentioned for the first time in the Throne Speech to the Budget in May 1969 when Seaga was finance minister. His anthropological study of working-class life, done in the early 1950s, had given him a unique awareness of the people’s needs and aspirations, so once the power was placed in his hands, he moved with the assurance of a man on a mission:

In that 1969 Throne Speech, all the programmes were laid out – adult literacy, equal pay for women who did equal work with men, family courts, national Youth Service, the abolition of the concept of bastardy from the laws of Jamaica, the minimum wage.

All the structures were set in place to launch these programmes, and Ryan Peralto was placed in charge of the committee to introduce the Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Adult Literacy (JAMAL). The loss of the election by the JLP in February 1972 allowed the incoming PNP Government to claim the programmes as their own although they had neither conceived nor prepared them and they never gave a shred of credit to the man out of whose vision they had arisen.

FEEDING P

The first focus of any programme of social development has to be the children, the men and women of tomorrow, and this is where Edward Seaga focused a great deal of attention in two administrations. Those of us who went to school in the 1950s will remember the occasional child fainting from hunger at morning assembly because the child had come to school without breakfast.

The report of the Moyne Commission in 1938 found that malnourishment had held back the mental development of many schoolchildren and many were four years behind in their physical development for the same reason. It was this awareness that caused Edward Seaga to introduce the School Feeding Programme in 1971 to remove this blight from the experience of Jamaican children. In a polity where succeeding administrations like to abandon the programmes of their predecessors, this one has been continued through the years since 1971.

Another really creative programme came in 1985; the School Textbook Programme. This gave each child each year a free set of texts in English and mathematics to advance their learning capability. By 1987, a total of 2.7 million texts in English and mathematics had been distributed.

SCHOOL EXPANSION

In the colonial days, secondary education was out of reach of the working-class population and just one scholarship was offered in each parish. Access to secondary education was significantly increased by the Norman Manley Administration after 1955 through the Common Entrance Exam, which opened the doors to large numbers of children from a class previously denied.

In the independence administration, 33,000 new high school places were created by the construction of new secondary schools that addressed the needs of students in the rural areas whose access had been limited by the concentration of these schools in the capital cities and the Corporate Area. The new programme, dear to Seaga, put advanced education within the reach of students across the island from Green Island in Hanover, to Yallahs in St Thomas.

Older Jamaicans will remember Mr Shearer’s recitation of this achievement in the campaign meetings of the 1980 elections: “St Elizabeth Technical, built by Labour. Green Island Secondary, built by Labour. Hanover Secondary, built by Labour … .”

Beyond secondary education, there was one more hill for working-class children to climb – the cost of university education if one was not fortunate enough to win a scholarship. For this, Edward Seaga established in 1971 the Students Revolving Loand Fund, which allowed deserving students who could not pay university fees to borrow money at generous rates to pay for their education and have a year’s moratorium on repayment after graduation.

PRACTICAL AND VOCATIONAL TRAINING

In the older age cohort were the young women in rural areas who graduated from primary school without vocational skills and without good career prospects. The 100 community centres constructed across the island as part of the 100 Village Development Programme became training centres for young women in dressmaking and the manufacture of craft items. In 1965 was introduced the Assistance to Female Heads of Households Programme to offer micro loans to female heads of households to purchase tools or stock that would allow them to earn an income. Women who had sewing skills were able to purchase machines and sew garments, others bought food items and started small shops, yet others bought fresh food and went into business as higglers.

Altogether 7,250 women benefited from the programme that seemed to hold much potential for the future but was not continued after the JLP lost the 1972 election. Young men were trained in vocational skills at more than 100 training centres or were apprenticed in various industrial undertakings.

WORKERS AND FARMERS

Any progressive government must seek the best interests of two constituencies that build the wealth of the nation; the farmers and the workers. Under an accelerated programme of land reform the Ministry of Agriculture and then the Ministry of Rural Land Development distributed 10,000 acres of land each year to small farmers and assisted them with the loans and fertilisers required to maximise production.

New jobs were created for men in the public sector through housing construction and infrastructural work. In the private sector, with 18 new factories opening each year and commercial businesses booming, it became easy for unemployed men to be drawn into the labour force. The rate of job creation in those years was 30,000 per year. A National Insurance Scheme was established in 1964 to provide for workers an income to sustain them in the years of their retirement. The social services such as healthcare, electricity, roads, and water supplies saw considerable improvement in the period 1962 to1972.

- Orville Brown is a former JLP local government representative, and is now a teacher and writer living in New York and editor of a collection of speeches by Edward Seaga titled ‘The Service of My Love’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and thewriter.brown@gmail.com.