Martin Henry, Contributor
We are on the verge of the nation's 50th anniversary of Independence. And just what have we done with Independence? Opinions are flying about, many - perhaps most - without any real basis for judgement other than gut feelings and selective recall.
The last surviving member of the Independence Constitution Committee, Mr Edward Seaga, is among those of the view that Jamaica has not progressed much in 50 years. Mr Seaga, the longest-serving member of parliament for 45 years, leader of one of the two major political parties for 30 years, opposition leader for a cumulative 23 years, and prime minister for eight, creator of more than 20 national institutions, told the Monday Exchange of the Observer newspaper that Jamaica has not progressed much as a nation after 50 years of self-governance.
We have, he said, "taken one step forward and taken one step backward". In other words, we have simply marked time. The country has done well in only four areas, in his view: music, athletics, tourism, and mining.
Independence might not be the big deal that national sentiment makes it out to be. Like Emancipation before it, Independence was more of a gift than a victory. And a very strong case can be made that Emancipation is the greater of the two.
The upheavals of 1938, out of which grew the two dominant political parties, the trade union movement and the march to self-government, are at least as important as 1962 when that march quietly culminated in full statehood, with the institutions and processes of a modern parliamentary democracy under the rule of law already firmly in place. The British handed us responsibilities for external affairs and defence on August 6, 1962.
How do we proceed to rationally assess the mixed bag of achievements and setbacks, successes and failures, development and decline over the first 50 years of our 'soft' Independence? Actually, we have tools at our disposal. I suggest two powerful ones: Examining the out-turns from the development plan for Independence, and assessing performance in the areas defined by ministries and departments of Government.
Interestingly, Edward Seaga, as minister of development and welfare in the Bustamante Independence Government, was responsible for crafting and tabling in Parliament a Five-Year Independence Plan, 1963-1968. I have on several occasions written about that long-forgotten plan. And John Maxwell, when he was able to, forcefully let me know that the Independence Development Plan was a product of the Norman Manley administration which had been replaced by Bustamante's in the April 10, 1962 general election.
The fact that Mr Seaga, who constantly speaks of his achievements, never mentions the plan tells you the degree to which it has been cast aside. I know there used to be a copy in the UWI Main Library and one in the JIS library. Nowadays, I work from Mr Seaga's speech made in presenting the Five-Year Independence Plan to Parliament on July 24, 1963. The speech appears in a collection of Mr Seaga's speeches compiled for the occasion, in 1992, of marking 30 years of his continuous service to Parliament.
In his preamble, Mr Seaga acknowledged that "when we took office ... we were well aware that the previous Government had announced that they were drafting a long-term Development Plan. And we were well aware, too, that at the time of the announcement, it was said that the plan was designed to be serviceable for whatever Government might take office after the election".
The Manley plan, Seaga complained, was deficient in suffi-ciently representing "the goals, concepts, policies and projects" of the Bustamante Government. But despite the rewrite, it was "fairly obvious", the minister of development said, "and certainly to people who can view with dispassion the political scene of this country, that both governments are welded in certain fundamental beliefs, certain fundamental ideas in the system of government, and have things in common in policies and programme". Not many people seem to have had that dispassionate vision and it certainly didn't last very long in the advancing tribal politics of the country.
The Five-Year Independence Plan was conceived as a first breakout of a longer development plan. "We have chosen to call this our Five-Year Independence Plan," the 33-year-old minister told Parliament, "because the plan puts forward proposals designed to orientate the Jamaican society towards the roles that are necessary consequences of Independence."
The plan took as its point of departure the historical injustices and constraints that Independence must seek to rectify. Sweeping through the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865 and the labour struggles of 1938, the plan noted that the Morant Bay Uprising in 1865 "is one of the turning points in the history of this country; for had the government at the time realised that it was a part of its responsibilities to assume responsibility for some of the welfare of its people, then the modern history of Jamaica - of social, political and economic reform - might have begun from that day in 1865, instead ... ." But "the Government ... turned its back on the people at that time and voted to dissolve itself."
The explosion of the late 1930s "found Jamaica and Jamaican society little transformed from ... the 1860s. It found that there was a small ruling class backed by social power and economic and political power ... that, socially, there was largely a stratified society with class boundaries, with little opportunity for mobility, and largely based on social norms which largely involved social status of race and wealth."
Twenty-five years of peaceful change had delivered political Independence. The purpose of Independence was to transform the society for greater equity, justice and opportunity. "There exist cultural, social and economic problems to which this country must address itself as problems of immediacy and urgency. The accumulation of problems arising out of centuries of neglect has been thrust upon the politically enfranchised people who have been told, now you have your own means of controlling your advance; you can do what you want about your own problems."
The Five-Year Independence Plan comprehensively diagnosed the problems of the country and its people in the demographic, economic, social and cultural spheres, with the statistical support for which Mr Seaga later acquired considerable reputation, and it laid out policy solutions. The Government was going to tackle the old problem of ownership with a land-reform programme, a housing programme to satisfy an estimated need of 165,000 low-income units over 10 years, although the Government was projecting to build only 3,000 units per annum, and by encouraging savings and investments.
'GOING FOR GROWTH'
The Government was going for growth with increased employment and greater equity in all the major economic sectors: agriculture, manufacturing, bauxite, tourism, construction, services, pushing for increasing economic diversification and for increasing development and reducing discontent. There would be a major push for increasing exports. Utilities and infrastructure would be improved, while the fertility rate would be driven down and population growth which would jeopardise development goals controlled.
Education and training were to be greatly expanded for increased productivity. Culture, arts, sports, and community development were high on the agenda for social transformation. An Independence Festival was to be established. Several museums were to be established.
Both natural science and social science research would be supported to help drive development. Several new organisations would be launched to support the development plan, including a productivity centre, a standards organisation, a national volunteers service, a national airline, particularly in support of tourism, a 100-village community-development programme - and a national lottery.
Portentously, the first development plan for independent Jamaica projected two-thirds loan financing!
The statistics cited by the plan indicated an unemployment level of 14 per cent of the labour force and an illiteracy rate of 17 per cent. A large-scale literacy programme was to be launched.
Malnutrition was recognised as a serious problem, accounting for 20 per cent of deaths in the one-to-four age group, "eight times higher than in the highly developed countries". The drive to eradicate infectious diseases would continue, the number of hospital beds expanded, health centres were to be built, and more doctors and dentists trained. A Youth Development Programme was outlined. There was to be a prisons and Probation Programme, under which training would be provided to prisoners for reintegration back into society.
NATION AT A CROSSROADS
The most recent iteration of development planning, Vision 2030, sets out four basic national goals: 1) Jamaicans are empowered to achieve their fullest potential; 2) the Jamaican society is secure, cohesive and just; 3) Jamaica's economy is prosperous; 4) Jamaica has a healthy natural environment.
But then this latest and longest plan laments: "[These many] years after Independence, we stand at a crossroads in our development, with disappointing economic growth, a lack of national consensus on critical issues, and high incidence of violent crimes that threaten our country's stability ... .
"Other challenges we continue to face," Vision 2030 says, "include: high public debt, low productivity ... fiscal imbalance, anaemic export performance, weak infrastructure, poor educational performance, [high] unemployment among youth, weak institutions, inadequate transparency and accountability in governance, and a high perception of corruption permeating public and private sectors."
We have not done as well with Independence as the Five-Year Independence Plan had projected and hoped. We have done many things badly, failed at some things. But, clearly, sitting in the middle of the UNDP's Human Development Index Ranking, year after year, Jamaica is not exactly a disaster case, even if not a brilliant success.
A frank, fair and balanced assessment of our achievements and setbacks, successes and failures, development and decline is needed for Jamaica 50. And that Five-Year Independence Plan is not a bad tool for the job.
Martin Henry is a communication specialist. Email feedback to