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Jamaican treasure hanging on the wall

Published:Friday | July 27, 2012 | 12:00 AM
A section of Ministry Paper number 23 with the first printed representation of the Jamaican flag. It was signed by Alexander Bustamante in 1962 when the design was approved in Parliament. - Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer

Hanging on a wall of business mogul John Issa's New Kingston office is one of his most treasured possessions; and in Jamaica's 50th year of Independence, its significance is magnified.

Issa has a copy of Ministry Paper number 23 tabled in Parliament in 1962 which had the first printed representation of what would become the national flag. What makes it even more exceptional is that on the night the design was approved in Parliament, Issa got the Ministry Paper signed by then Premier Alexander Bustamante.

Issa was in the visitors' gallery on the night the debate on the design was raging in the House.

"It was dragging on and on," he recalled.

"Bob Lightbourne (minister of trade and industry) wanted the coat of arms in the middle. Felix Toyloy (member of parliament for South Trelawny) didn't like the black in the flag, etc."

Flag debate

Issa remembered the debate going around in circles for quite a while before Bustamante finally stood up and said, "It doesn't matter what it looks like, it's what it represents. Let's vote on it!"

That was the end of the debate.

"I wanted to get a copy (of the Ministry Paper) to take home with me and I asked Clem Tavares if he would let me have his. (He was) walking down the stairs at Gordon House at the same time as I was. He kindly gave it to me," said Issa.

Then, in a moment he will never forget, Issa stepped outside Gordon House and on to Duke Street where he saw Bustamante about to get into his car. Issa approached the premier and asked him to sign the paper and he happily obliged. He signed it on the roof of his Buick.

It's not clear if there are any other copies of the Ministry Paper still around, but this is the only one signed by Bustamante on the night it was passed. That, for Issa, makes it so much more special.