Martin Henry, Contributor
It's been nine months on. What will Mama P deliver to party faithful, the beloved poor, and the rest of the country at today's public session of the first annual conference of the People's National Party (PNP) after winning the December 2011 general election?
This is the 74th annual conference since the founding of the PNP in September 1938, just as the dust from the labour unrests of that historic year had begun to settle. Founding President Norman Manley demitted office 31 years later in 1969, declaring, "Mission accomplished." By "mission" he meant "winning self-government".
In that famous farewell address, Manley told the 1969 conference of the party, "the greatest in size and one of the most important in purpose", "I say the mission of my generation was to win self-government for Jamaica. To win political power, which is the final power for the black masses of my country. ... I am proud to stand here today and say ... with gladness and pride, 'Mission accomplished for my generation.'"
N.W. then asked, "And what is the mission of this generation, the generation that succeeds me ... ? It is to be made up by the use of your political power of tackling the job of reconstructing the social and economic society and life of Jamaica."
Mr Manley, in Opposition, was sharply critical of the state of the country in 1969. Clearly barbing the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) government led by Hugh Shearer, he told conference, "We have seen how, since Independence Day, the masses of Jamaica have found little or no change in their social and economic way of life. More and more, Jamaica becomes a classic example of a two-level economy. There is an expanding and fast-growing upper section where life and its luxuries and opportunities expand ... .
"There is a depressed and poverty-stricken lower sector burdened with terrible levels of unemployment, where the small farmer does not have enough land to make a living, where housing is deplorably bad, where home life is destructive of progress, where education is inadequate, where conditions are hard and frustrating, and where, worst of all, opportunities for young people, girls and boys, are, for the most part, non-existent."
The situation, he said, was "a breeding ground for extremism and violence and has led significant numbers, some to repudiate their own country, some to reject the past and its achievements, and all to demand improvement and betterment and social and economic reconstruction".
This is 1969, seven years into Independence, and I have quoted N.W. Manley at length to facilitate fair comparison to now.
Three years later, the people overwhelmingly elected the PNP, now led by N.W.'s son, Michael, in the general election of 1972, to do better and to deliver on the demands for "improvement and betterment and social and economic reconstruction". In the Jamaica 50 assessments, Michael Manley's stewardship of the Government of Jamaica has again come up for turbulent review, largely conducted along politically tribal lines.
Michael Manley's domestic reputation rests largely on his social reforms. While these are difficult to weigh and assess, the economic numbers can hardly be disputed. Egerton Chang, in one of his columns 'GDP musings, and GSAT reviews' (March 18, 2012), presented an elegant data table on Jamaica's GDP per capita growth between 1967 and 2010, derived from World Bank and OECD national accounts files.
With 1966 as base 100, the GDP per capita growth index number rose to 142.65 in 1972, its highest in the 50 years of Independence. By 1980, that number had crashed to 98.49. Whether it is 'IMF' (Is Manley Fault), or otherwise, that's what these economic data show. We've never got back to the 142.65 of '72.
Where is Norman Manley's vision now for the generation following, now some 43 years on? His party, led by Portia Simpson Miller, towards the end of its last term in office initiated Vision 2030.What does the Vision project? "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."
By 2030, the country should have achieved: "A healthy and stable population, world-class education and training, effective social protection, authentic and transformational culture, security and safety, effective governance, a stable macroeconomy, strong economic infrastructure, energy security and efficiency, a technology-enabled society, internationally competitive industries, sustainable management and use of natural resources, hazard risk reduction and adaptation to climate change, sustainable rural and urban development."
As per usual, the party in political competition promised the moon on a silver platter in its manifesto for the 2011 general election. Manifesto promises should be treated much like promises made by a man under 'im liquor. And much depends on the known character of the man when he is not intoxicated. The real policy directions of the party forming the government are to be found in the Budget presentations of the Government and in its legislative agenda. Often, finance ministers are the de facto head of Government, especially when prime ministers go silent on the critical issues.
At a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum with the minister of finance and planning, I switched from the usual economic analysis to the planning side of the ministry and specifically asked about progress on Vision 2030. Minister Peter Phillips' grim response was that debt management was now the focus of Vision 2030 since achieving the other goals is dependent on debt reduction.
Outlining a number of achievements in 50 years of Independence during his opening Budget presentation in May, Dr Phillips said, "Yet, for all these achievements, there are deficits on our national balance sheet. One major deficit is our failure to achieve sustained economic growth. Average income per person today remains the same as it was in 1973. Average annual growth rates have been 0.8 per cent over the past 40 years. In other words, Jamaica has not fulfilled the economic mission envisaged by the founding fathers.
"To compensate for the weak growth performance over the years, we have witnessed a build-up of an unsustainable public debt stock which now stands at J$1.7 trillion, which constitutes an increasing burden on the backs of the Jamaican people, and impedes our advancement as a developing country."
The national vision is the debt. But suppose the debt is just a mountain blocking a clear view of a pathway to a better Jamaica? The PNP president and prime minister says she is the purveyor of hope. What hope will she offer party faithful, the beloved poor, and the rest of the country today?
Portia is not only a champion of the poor and of women, but is a master of the pathos-laden story. Evicted Duke Street squatter and champion reproducer, 40-year-old Novia Beckford, pregnant with her eighth child, with missing-after-action babyfathers, has become a powerful symbol of what a government needs to do to build hope beyond the debt. She deserves Portia's attention as an icon of much of what is wrong with Jamaica.
Beyond the debt, the Government of Jamaica must, with urgency, undertake the landownership and housing revolution which has been pending since Emancipation. A third of the Jamaican population are squatters. The Crown is the largest landowner in the country, and the National Housing Trust is sitting on a mountain of money which 80 per cent of contributors do not qualify to access. Most parcels of privately owned land are untitled and cannot be leveraged as capital. A titling revolution will pay for itself through the fees, not cost new money, and titled owners will be land taxpayers.
Far more important than any battle for greater presence of women in Parliament and political leadership or business boardrooms is a revolutionary campaign to help poor sisters take charge of their own lives, cut down on reproduction, acquire job and business skills and getting opportunities to use these, and train their children to be upright citizens.
Parents of all school beneficiaries on PATH should be given mandatory training as a condition for benefits. The money comes from the HEART Trust set up for training and sitting on accumulated billions of dollars. Nothing can beat the strategic upliftment of the bottom 25 per cent or so of Jamaican women. And nobody could lead this better than Portia.
Let the deaths of three pregnant women - Kay-Ann Lamont at the hands of a policeman in Yallahs, and Shantel Davis and Ash-Marie Plummer at the hands of gunmen in St James - and their unborn children become a rallying point for public safety, law and order, and human rights.
Portia presides over South West St Andrew, one of the poorest and most run-down constituencies, a symbol of the "social and economic reconstruction" N.W. Manley called for back in 1969. Debt or no debt, time for urban renewal and its counterpart rural development which can uplift people's lives and their communities, create jobs and stimulate the economy.
Time will tell if Portia was wise and right not to engage the economic issues more fully publicly. But having presented herself as champion, she can have no excuse for dodging the issues of balancing people's lives, notwithstanding the debt burden, the focus on which now constitutes the national lack of vision. Like N.W., she is on her final lap in leadership. What is the mission that will be accomplished?
Martin Henry is a communication
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