Jamaica's economy may be sliding, but the atmosphere at the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica's (PSOJ) annual members' Christmas luncheon appeared to have none of the tension that existed during its stormy birth back in the politically divisive period of the 1970s.
The organisation honoured its founders on Wednesday and looked back at its early days.
Both Dennis Lalor, chairman of the Insurance Company of the West Indies and R. Danny Williams, chairman of Sagicor Life Jamaica - the successor to the company he founded as Life of Jamaica in 1970 - reminisced about the rocky start of the organisation in 1976 during the period of democratic socialism under a People's National Party (PNP) administration.
Lalor, a former PSOJ president, quoted from a Gleaner article of the time headlined 'Launch Ceremony for the PSOJ Ends Abruptly', saying that during a slide-show presentation at its launch, some members from the audience of 200 people, cheered images of the governing PNP, and later jeered commentary on how the economy was struggling.
The meeting was brought to a quick end to cries of 'Down with capitalism' from some "mainly young" attendees, Lalor said.
Williams, who later became a minister of commerce in 1977 during the PNP administration, also remembered the difficulties in the early days of the PSOJ, during the period of democratic socialism.
"There was a lot of insecurity; the business community was quite nervous," Williams said. "A lot of business people felt threatened," he said. "Quite a bit of migration had started".
Fast-forward 37 years and the PSOJ was honouring 14 of its founders, some of whom have passed away.
There was a special citation for Douglas Vaz, former minister of industry and commerce in the Jamaica Labour Party administration of the 1980s, whom current PSOJ president Christopher Zacca said "represents the epitome of a patriot who has served Jamaica".
During his speech, Lalor had some advice for the PSOJ on how it could play a direct role in helping the Jamaican economy.
The PSOJ needs to "encourage" the private sector to pay taxes and on time, to help fill the government coffers, and "publicly discourage corrupt activities," he said. Jamaica has a "largely illiterate workforce" and it is "incumbent on us to do everything possible" to create employment for that workforce, he said.
And the private sector should assist with crime fighting by, for example, funding closed-circuit TV.
"The lives we save might very well be ours," he said. "The Government and police force can't do it alone."
Lalor also called for the PSOJ to continue its support of the Youth Upliftment Through Employment programme (YUTE). The programme, chaired by former PSOJ President Joseph M. Matalon, was designed and coordinated by the PSOJ following the incursion in Tivoli Gardens, West Kingston, in May 2010.
Both Lalor and Williams gave high acclaim to C.D. Alexander who was the first president of the PSOJ. Lalor hailed Alexander for his attempt to "by advocacy, change the Government's position."
Williams added: "I don't think there is a businessman of my lifetime who I respect more than Carlton Alexander."
Remembering how Alexander used to advise him on trade and investment when he was minister, and on one occasion he recommended that government not authorise an increase in the price of cheese, Williams said, "I will remain indebted to him as long as I live."
Persons honoured at the luncheon included Dr Keith Amiel, Oliver Clarke, Anthony Gambrill, Ambassador Anthony Johnson, Geoffrey Messado, Gordon Sharp, Douglas Vaz, and Danny Williams, as well as late founders Carlton Alexander, Maurice Facey, Aaron Matalon, Sam Mahfood, Vayden McMorris and Ronald Sasso.
Dr Keith Amiel
Ambassador Anthony Johnson
R. Danny Williams