Ken Jones, GUEST COLUMNIST
Sunday columnist Orville Taylor is quite fond of playing with puns and popular phrases. Well and good; entertainment has its place. However, when this game begins to include fiddling with facts and figures that often end up at variance with veracity, it is time for serious intervention. After all, history should not be tailor-made nor cut on the bias.
Not long ago (September 7), he described the celebrated poet and social anthropologist M.G. Smith as "a founding father of the PNP". He had to be advised that Smith was no politico; and was, in fact, no more than 17 when the PNP was launched in 1938. Two weeks later, he told your readers that Michael Manley's regime was responsible for creating the Office of the Contractor General "sometime after 1989". In truth, that position was established by the JLP in 1986.
A mere week after that OCG faux pas, Mr Taylor returned with his version of 'Seventy years of JLP'. Examining the 10 years following Independence, he concludes and reports that "... apart from the National Insurance Scheme, there is little else of which the JLP Government could boast".
If this assessment be true, it is difficult to understand why all discerning observers have marked this particular period as the most productive in independent Jamaica.
The factual list of major accomplishments is so easy to acquire, the deeds so obvious to a researcher that it would take the tailors of the King's New Clothes to be blinded to the naked truth. Here are a few:
The Urban Development Corporation that redeveloped Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and the Kingston waterfront. These transformed the face of these places, with private housing, shopping complexes, hotels.
Construction of 50 new secondary schools, and enrolment moved from 17,000 to 85,000.
Cornwall Regional Hospital, which began the move towards greater health care, particularly in rural Jamaica.
Bustamante Hospital for Children, the first such in the Caribbean.
Students' Loan Bureau.
The Jamaica Unit Trust, the Jamaica Mortgage Bank and the Jamaicanisation of business. Think of Life of Jamaica, Island Life, Jamaica Mutual, etc. Of course many of these have since been destroyed by you know what.
The Festival Commission, still a springboard for cultural expression.
Things Jamaica, which to this day encourages the development of the handicraft industry, particularly among families of the working class; and speaking of work, think of the 200 new factories that brought Jamaica blazing into the industrial age.
Mr Taylor's sins of omission are matched by his commission of such historical missteps as he makes in reference to the activities of National Hero Alexander Bustamante. He tries to make out that Busta simply rode to recognition on the backs of people like St William Grant, A.G.S. Coombs and other trade unionists of the 1930s. In truth, it was Grant who, cognisant of his own limitations, called on Bustamante to take up the cause of the disgruntled workers. The same thing applied to Coombs and his relatively obscure organisation.
To further his stab at the workers' acclaimed labour leader, Mr Taylor blames Bustamante for "divisiveness" in splitting with other unions and by later forming the JLP. As evidence, he submits the fact that The Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) was registered in 1939. But of course! No union in Jamaica was registered before 1939, because the new trade union law was not in force before that time. The BITU was formed in 1938 and preceded both the PNP and the Trades Union Advisory Council, which later became the PNP's union wing.
Another point in Mr Taylor's article concerned the contests between aspirants for JLP leadership down the years. Here he makes reference to Seaga's takeover after Hugh Shearer, and tells readers that "... there was no democratic transition via the JLP electorate, and Shearer was booted".
The truth is that Mr Shearer stepped aside after his election defeat in 1972 and declared that he would not be seeking re-election. He was never involved in any controversy, was not "booted", and eventually served happily as Seaga's deputy prime minister.
This reminds me that another accomplishment of the 1960s was Hugh Shearer's move resulting in the United Nations declaration of 1968 as International Human Rights Year.
To quote Kevin O'Brien Chang: "It's almost criminal that a man who contributed so much to building his country should be belittled today because of sheer ignorance. Which, itself is partly, if not largely, a product of the virtual elimination of history as a separate subject in our schools." But then again, even university lecturers are prone to misleading us.
Ken Jones is a communication consultant. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.