Speech delivered at the naming of the building which HEART Trust/NTA occupies The HEART Trust/NTA - Edward Seaga Building
I am here today to accept a tribute from Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller on behalf of the people of Jamaica. It is customary to offer such tributes to retired or departed prime ministers.
In expectation of this day, I reviewed my own life over the 45 years of service I gave to the country. I consulted a little notebook I have to refresh my memory on things I had done over that period and I found that the total number of policies, plans, projects and programmes which I had been instrumental in initiating or creating numbered 91 between 1962 and 2005.
Since I took up my appointment at the University of the West Indies in 2005 as Distinguished Fellow for Life, I have completed my two-volume autobiography and written three books and booklets to bring the total to 95. Determined as I am to go further and not to stop working, I have five research projects at the university now being carried out which, when completed, will take me to the accomplishment of 100 completions of a century of lifelong performance.
But there was a bigger task ahead of me. Which of these should qualify as the top achievement? If this function was a gathering of politicians and diplomats, I would have to say that stabilising Jamaica in the 1980s would have been the most pleasing to me.
If it was because I insisted in the latter parts of the 1960s that the financial system of Jamaica could not remain fully owned by foreigners, and transfers should be made so that Jamaicans should own some of their own financial resources, I would have been pleased. But I should have known better.
This tribute is coming from someone who, as prime minister, has demonstrated again and again her deep commitment to matters of the heart, and she would want to extend her heartfelt pleasure of benefits to young people by selecting my human resource project, HEART, as a tribute to me. I accept with gratitude the naming of the building in which HEART is located as the Edward Seaga Building.
YOUTH JOB CRISIS
The youth of Jamaica are our most underutilised resource, but until we can rescue the 70 per cent who have no career but live by hustling and juggling token jobs or illegal activities, the remaining 30 per cent must carry the burden of Jamaica.
Successive ministers have done their best. That must be fully acknowledged. But there must be an aberration in the minds of young people which attracts them to the social life of schools but not the academics. We need to know what it is: illiteracy, waywardness, or lack of focus? We must find out.
No other country in the Caribbean, except Haiti, has as much poverty as Jamaica. Why? Because we have so many youths who waste their time in school and leave to swell the ranks of poverty.
It is perfectly correct to say that Jamaica is a poverty-stricken island where national income is depressed and the people distressed. It will continue to be so until we fix this problem of wasted years.
HEART plays a valiant role in this mix, helping to reshape the society. It has trained the considerable number of some 655,000 students since its inception 30 years ago, or an average of 28,000 per annum, a huge success story.
To move beyond training, no one knows how many vacancies exist for skills in: construction, garment manufacturing, tourism, food and drink, industrial work, farming, handicraft, health aids, teaching aids, commercial activities, and so on, because no manpower survey has been done. So undersupply and oversupply of skills are the order of the day.
There must be a study of vacancies which young people can fill. Follow this with a study of types of projects which require skills.
Agriculture is the richest area. Start with honeybees; the bees will do the work! There is a wide range of organic farming begging for production because huge markets exist abroad. Ebony Park, the HEART agricultural academy, is producing branded projects that need to move to the supermarket shelves.
Where are the Jamaican fresh fruits, instead of canned foreign varieties? The roadsides of Mount Diablo and the Junction road are well supplied, as is Coronation Market. Why not uptown, in Kingston and other capital cities of Jamaica where the strongest purchasing power is willing and waiting for Jamaican sugar loaf pines, starapples, naseberries, sweetsops, otaheiti apples, ortaniques and beloved mangoes?
ROADSIDE ECONOMY UNVIABLE
We apparently believe that an economy can be built on roadside sales. That is why when the argument arose on a radio programme some years ago criticising the heavy expenditure on the Cricket World Cup tournament, a well-known engineer connected to the project tried to justify the expenditure by asking the caller if she knew how much jerk pork was going to sell!
For every jerk pork roadside sale, there is a bigger, better, booming, brand which can be developed. That is how jerk sauce got to the supermarkets abroad.
HEART is playing a vital role in saving youth from uselessness, changing them to usefulness. It could be established in every underskilled country in the Caribbean. It is an exportable institution. HEART could arrange to teach, promote and produce results for a management fee. But the institution is little known in the Caribbean. Why keep it a secret? Develop the concept and bank the fees to do more development of this unique project at home.
I have many wonderful memories of HEART. I recall the great pleasure I had in giving it birth after I carried the idea for 30 years. To those who were present then, I offer a thousand congratulations. No one deserves this more than the late great Dr Joyce Robinson, OJ. She was responsible for HEART in its formative years to bring it to maturity. We got along well even when I pushed her too hard.
The academies are fulfilling their missions. I remember when:
The HEART Portmore Building Construction Academy lost many student in the 1960s to contractors and builders who were short of skilled carpenters and masons;
The same thing happened to the HEART Runaway Bay Hotel Training Academy.
It is appropriate to ask what is being done to prepare for any surge of employment that may flow from the upcoming Chinese projects. When a number of Spanish hotels were under construction a few years ago, some skilled overseas labour had to be given permits to work because of the shortfall of skills. Let us prepare now for this new project to get the maximum results from it.
To all those who continue to serve in the development of HEART, my commendations and congratulations to you all.
Edward Seaga is a former prime minister. He is now chancellor of UTech and a distinguished fellow at the UWI. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.