Delano Seiveright, Contributor
As we think on Jamaica 50, Ian Boyne, one of my favourite columnists, went on a stomach-churning Michael Manley hero worship escapade last Sunday. It was perhaps an attempt to rescue the image of a prime minister who presided over the most devastating economic and social decline in Jamaica's post-independence history.
After all, under his leadership between 1972 and 1980, the economy lost 17.5 per cent of its GDP; the national debt increased tenfold from J$300 million to J$3,000 million; inflation ballooned by 250 per cent; revenues remained constant while expenditure galloped by 66 per cent; the budget deficit sprinted from 3.9 per cent to 17.5 per cent of GDP, probably the highest for any country not at war; investment buckled by 40 per cent of GDP; foreign-exchange reserves were eviscerated, collapsing from US$239 million to -US$549 million and unemployment increased by more than 43 per cent, moving from 182,000 to 271,000!
Former prime minister Edward Seaga noted that the then World Bank president labelled Jamaica the second-worst economy in the world. The country was set on a course of disaster. Yet, I read in suspended animation as Mr Boyne said: "...
I know Mr Boyne to be a widely read man who probably purchases a 400-page non-fiction best-seller each week on Amazon and has weekly and monthly subscriptions for a broad range of intellectually stimulating current-affairs journals and magazines. I doubt then that he missed The Economist's recent piece titled 'On your marks, get set ... oh' succinctly putting on paper Jamaica's horrid economic circumstances after 50 years of Independence.
The article stated, in part, that "... on current forecasts, it (Jamaica) will finish the year with the slowest average growth rate since 2000 in the Americas - behind even earthquake-stricken Haiti". Mr Boyne, oh, just slightly redeemed himself by pointing out close to the end of his contribution that "from a consequentialist point of view, Manley was a failure".
Well, Mr Boyne, even former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, one of the world's best and most dynamic leaders, couldn't help but highlight Manley's failure in his seminal work tracking Singapore's awe-inspiring development, From Third World to First, pointing to an experience he had while attending a 1975 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kingston.
He said, in part: "... Prime Minister Michael Manley ... presided with panache and spoke with great eloquence. But I found his views quixotic [definition: exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical]. His country, a well-endowed island ... with several mountains in the centre, where coffee and other subtropical crops are grown. They had beautiful holiday resorts built by Americans as winter homes ... . Chinese, Indians and even black Jamaican professionals felt there was no future under the left-wing socialist government of Michael Manley. The policies of the government were ruinous ... . Thereafter, I read the news of Jamaica with greater understanding."
I, by virtue being born in the mid-1980s, never experienced the tumultuous 1970s. But like a number of Jamaican children who travel each and every summer to visit with family overseas, it dawned on me at times as to why almost all of my family, many apolitical, live outside Jamaica. The answer is simple: Jamaica doesn't hold much hope, and as such they left looking for better and many of them found it.
Now more Jamaicans live outside Jamaica than in Jamaica, and more and more in Jamaica are gung-ho on acquiring dual nationality. One of my aunts recounted her decision to leave Jamaica at the tail end of Michael Manley's disastrous time in office during the 1970s, reconfirming the wipe-out of significant chunks of Jamaica's middle class and the problems that have manifested today.
Left up to me, judging by the inherent bias of the organised members of the intelligentsia and the broader Establishment in Jamaica in favour of Michael Manley and the People's National Party (PNP), Edward Seaga's rich work embodied in his books My Life and Leadership Volumes 1 and 2 would be compulsory reading in our universities.
Of our 50 years of Independence, no matter how you spin it, the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) contribution to development far outpaces that of the PNP. Despite this, from 1972 onwards, barring 1983, the party only managed to win two general elections in 40 years! Mr Seaga and other elder leaders of the JLP must bear responsibility for the poor electoral performance.
1962 TO 1972
Between 1962 and 1972, Jamaica seemed destined to become a First World country. JLP administrations then were recording success after success with economic growth rates averaging six per cent per year and surpassing 10 per cent in its latter years, ranking Jamaica among the fastest-growing economies in the world. Economic, social and cultural development was expertly progressing under the leadership and comprehensive vision of Alexander Bustamante, Donald Sangster, Hugh Shearer, Edward Seaga, Edwin Allen and the many other leaders of the time.
The Urban Development Corporation was established in this decade and started the development of the Kingston and Montego Bay waterfronts, Ocho Rios, and Negril. Roads across Jamaica were asphalted and Port Bustamante, the Jamaica Stock Exchange, the Jamaica Development Bank, Air Jamaica and the Jamaica Mortgage Bank were all formed.
Empowering and developing the Jamaican people educationally and culturally was paramount. Fifty-nine secondary and 126 primary schools were developed, with secondary-school attendance rising by more than 100 per cent. Teachers' colleges and tertiary institutions were also expanded and upgraded. Added to this was the establishment of the School Feeding Programme, the National Insurance Scheme, the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, the National Craft Development Agency, Devon House, Jamaica Festival, the National Heroes Park, the Arawak and Port Royal museums, and the development of the National Arena.National pride was also engendered through the 100 Village programme launched to upgrade communities and promote the use of community centres as bridgeheads for the literacy campaign, for training in the arts, crafts and dressmaking, and other similar activities to create employment opportunities and the Jamaicanisation programme aimed at promoting domestic ownership of enterprise.
A programme of national volunteers was organised to get young people to help the aged and indigent and golden-age homes were established. And not to be left out, the Cornwall Regional, Savanna-la-Mar, May Pen and Bustamante hospitals were all built.
The 1962 to 1972 era represented our golden years and cemented Jamaica as the pearl of the Caribbean. That comprehensive vision that led to comprehensive practical success.
1980 AND BEYOND
The 1980 election victory by Edward Seaga marked a turning point. The commendable social reforms instituted by Manley were, by net effect, lessened by gross economic mismanagement. On the bright side, after years of reconstruction following Manley's disastrous escapade, Jamaica returned to healthy growth rates and approximately 100,000 new jobs were created between 1986 and 1989 alone, a record.
Beyond that, governance, economic and social development programmes continued in earnest with the establishment of the Office of the Contractor General, National Development Bank, the Agricultural Credit Bank, HEART, the food stamp programme, among many others. That, again, shows comprehensive vision that saved Jamaica.
September 2007 to December 2011 can be summed up as a tragic time of success amid tremendous difficulties. Despite a slew of successes on the economic and social fronts, the horrid state of affairs inherited from more than 18 consecutive years of PNP rule, the global food, oil and economic crises, the Manatt-Dudus saga, cavernous political errors, selfishness and the consequent internal malaise damaged the JLP and brought a visionless but cunning PNP into power on the evening of December 29, 2011.
More strident efforts must be made to tap into that vast segment of our electorate, many of whom are of my generation, and have lost faith in our political system and have thus opted out of voting. In general elections in May in France and the Bahamas, voter turnout was 80 per cent and 90 per cent, respectively. Jamaica's voter turnout barely edged past 50 per cent last December.
Something is fundamentally wrong. If not addressed, our country will continue on the its social and economic decline.
Delano Seiveright is an aide to the Office
of the Leader of the Opposition and immediate past president of G2K.
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