Jamaicans have failed Independence
This is the final instalment of Edward Seaga's contribution to the recent Prime Ministerial Reflections series.
While faith and justice are the pillars of stability, respect is the true dynamic that drives the need to succeed, to be 'somebody'.
Jamaican women 'man' half of the households of Jamaica. The burden of domestic pressures does not prevent many women from pursuing careers which often require further training or study. The core determination to achieve is part of the assertive coping strategies of the challenging and competitive upbringing which makes many women symbols of achievement in Jamaican society. Women are bastions of the Church, the backbone of political support, determined players in civic organisations, achievers in scholarship and a source of great reliance at any workplace. As such, they are more than women or mothers; they are a resource base of exceptional strength.
These strengths tame the flow of the consequential disasters of an inconsequential economy, a malfunctioning educational system and a turbulent cultural milieu. They buy time to repair the breach.
As one who fought from the inception of my career in public service for the betterment of the Jamaican people and for the birth of a Jamaican nation to foster stability, create prosperity and induce harmony, allaying the anxiety of the rich and quenching the anger of the poor, I am not moved by all the 'evidence' that in the colonial period, much of this hardship did not exist. Independence did not bring such hardships to our regional sister states; Independence has not failed Jamaica; it is Jamaicans who have failed Independence, and it is Jamaicans who must reset the course to return it to its auspicious start. A generational change is needed to return to the spirit of earlier pioneering years to start again to map a new course to avoid more distress.
After 50 years, Jamaica is today facing the future without a credible vision. It is well that much of the achievement of the post-Independence period, although they are few, still have the life to continue to contribute to nation building. But this perspective is mostly short-term.
The musical heritage, reggae, which propelled us to centre stage in the cultural world, having made an indelible imprint, gestated by young people rich in creativity, is one of the stunning successes of the past 50 years. But with signs of frailty setting in, the question must be asked, how much longer can the impetus endure without reinventing itself?
The wealth of talent in sports, particularly track and field, allowed us to stun the world with a triumphant display of athletic prowess at the Olympics and World Championships, which must rank as one of the great achievements of the post-Independence period, indeed, one of the great achievements of Olympic history. Long may this prowess of Jamaica live to continue to bring us future glory; but sports, in general, is a fickle area sustained by public popularity.
The world of industry and services has witnessed remarkable Jamaican achievements with foreign partners, in the development of a world-class tourism industry which has reliably become one of the cornerstones of the Jamaican economy. So, too, has there been, again starting from scratch, a grand industrial development of a bauxite-alumina industry. But the resource base of both of these landmark developments have limitations of exploitable new areas for expansion.
These major achievements of post-Independence are buttressed by remittance flows from abroad to families and for other purposes. The spectacular increases in remittance flows since 1990 moved it to the top position in the Jamaican economy for foreign-exchange inflows. But it, too, has some limitations which are beyond domestic control.
Based on the background of these achievers, which together still fall far short of closing the foreign-exchange gap, what other untapped resource bases exist to be exploited on a large scale? The nation has to cease dreaming and become visionaries of a future that can push the economy and its workforce to new and different heights.
For more than two decades, I have repeatedly voiced the mantra that, situated as we are virtually on the coastline of the world's richest economy, Jamaica has no reason to be poor. Our proximity to this great marketplace creates a centre of preference for Jamaica to exploit in developing or finishing products from the Far East (China, India), South America (Brazil) and even Europe, utilising the tax-relief benefit of the Caribbean Basin Initiative for export, duty-free, to the US market. For years, I have been promoting this idea, based on reclaiming land in Kingston Harbour at Fort Augusta. It was embraced by the present Government while in Opposition, but dropped after the Opposition became the Government.
The proposal, whether at Fort Augusta or Caymanas, makes sense in the same way that the development of a massive garment-industry complex was established in the 1980s for exporting goods manufactured by Hong Kong firms in Jamaica, creating more than 40,000 new jobs. It became a foreign-exchange earner for the economy.
Beyond this, the Jamaican Government must put aside its timidness and embrace the policy of the pegged exchange rate which would:
- Reduce inflation to minimal level;
- Lower the still high commercial loan rates of banks to business-friendly levels;
- Reduce expenditure in servicing external debt and making payments on interest, profit and dividends earned by overseas investment;
- Open the door for potential massive inflows of low-interest foreign exchange for mortgage financing and investment, since the risk of devaluation or depreciation of the rate of exchange would no longer exist.
The enormous potential which exists from these two proposals would, if properly investigated, contracted and executed, result in huge investment and jobs sufficient to make a dramatic impact on the needs of the struggling economy.
This is a future that could change the vision of the country from hopelessness to hopefulness as experienced in earlier generational periods of post-Independence Jamaica. It could greatly assist in winning the race between development and discontent.
Based on current perceptions, many feel that the Jamaican flag should be flown upside down as the accepted international signal of distress. But the design of this flag is unusual. It is the same pattern whether it is flown upside down or downside up. Maybe this is meant to convey that there will be no need to signal any lasting distress in Jamaica if new visions replace age-old failures with a new perspective of the future.
Edward Seaga is a former prime minister. He is now chancellor of the University of Technology and a distinguished Fellow at the University of the West Indies. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
CAPTION: Says Edward Seaga: "The wealth of talent in sports, particularly track and field, allowed us to stun the world with a triumphant display of athletic prowess at the Olympics and World Championships ... ." In this photo, sprint hero Usain Bolt (right) urges on compatriot Asafa Powell as Jamaica breaks the 4x100m relay world record at the Beijing Games in 2008. - File