Tue | Dec 6, 2016

NHT trampling on Michael's legacy

Published:Sunday | November 16, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Orville Taylor, Columnist

I want to introduce the People's National Party (PNP) to a man named Michael Manley, who, in 1972, led the party to a resounding victory. Not to be confused with his Fabian socialist father, Norman, or his sociologist brother, Douglas, this firebrand charismatic spoke with clarity and fluency but spewed a doctrine of people love.

Michael had wrested control of the party from the elite, bourgeois and upper-middle-class elements in 1969 when he pulled grass-roots supporters behind him and defeated Vivian Blake, the reported choice of even his own father.

The PNP that Michael inherited was not the party of the masses. After all, even though its founder, the heavily pigmented O.T. Fairclough, was only fair in name but not skin colour, it was the near-white Norman who was the party's first president. Between 1955 and 1962, the number of social and pro-poor legislation passed by the PNP was negligible. Later, in Opposition, when the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) introduced the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) in the mid-1960s, it was stridently opposed by Norman; not what one would expect from a socialist.

With Michael, there was a major paradigm shift. Unlike his father, who was bitterly antagonistic to the prophet, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, and his uncle and cousin Alexander Bustamante and Hugh Shearer, who gave Rastafari a hard time, Michael was Joshua, who 'free up' blackness. Under his administration, students with dreadlocks could attend school, including the bastion of the Pope of Rome, St George's College. He spoke the talk and walked the walk. Taking a page out of his father's book and discarding it, he introduced a slew of labour and social legislation.

Carrying forward JLP-initiated 1971 Industrial Relations and Termination of Employment bills, which had also been opposed by the PNP when it was the minority in Parliament, Manley oversaw a massive legal regimen for workers. This gave compulsory recognition to trade unions, redundancy payments for workers, vacation and sick leave, maternity leave for women, and a national minimum wage, among others. And Manley loved women - of all races, social classes and marital status. Therefore, the legislation for equal pay for equal work was a seminal statute, where he split the sexes right down the middle and inserted gender parity, which was still absent in the Constitution as recently as 2011.

Unlike the benighted Molly Huggins, wife of the governor, who from 1949 to 51 organised large numbers of mass weddings to make sinful natives abandon their concubinages for marriage, Michael introduced the Status of Children Act, which now relegates the term 'bastard' to the antagonists in martial-arts movies.

Consequently, all offspring, whether born inside the wedding ring or out of wedlock, have exactly the same status in law as regards inheritance, maintenance and all rights based on their parentage. Without that initiative, 80 per cent of Jamaicans would still be disenfranchised today. Indeed, it is rumoured that there have been politicians, who were born within wedlock but of an extraneous father, who quietly welcomed the initiative as they became sharers of their fathers' wealth and legacy.

Nonetheless, for all the social legislation, nothing makes a person feel like a complete adult like when he (or he) can 'shub him owna door and turn him owna key'. Home ownership, among a population that had left the plantation a mere 131 years earlier and was relegated to tenement yards, to the chagrin of dreadlocked Rastafarians like Jacob Miller, was largely a fleeting illusion. Therefore, any policy to take the citizen from squatter settlements and 'tenant' yards would not only make him a man, but it would be his apotheosis.

Nonetheless, what the socialist Michael understood was that the working class was the main engine of societal development and advancement. Neither keen on creating a welfare state of mendicants nor one which gave inordinate benefits and protection to capitalists, however connected they were, he created the National Housing Trust (NHT) via statute in 1979.

First, it incorporated the old African cooperative concept of the common people pooling their resources, like the 'pardner', which the working poor use to save and purchase goods and services. The formula was simple: Workers contributed to a compulsory scheme, and at a certain point, they qualified for housing benefits that would assist them in purchasing a dwelling, which, under other circumstances, only one out of many thousands, could.

Section 4 of the NHT Act defines the primary functions of the Trust as adding to and improving the existing supply of housing by promoting housing projects and making loans available. Furthermore, in protecting the funds of the Trust, improvements in construction methods and greater efficiency must be promoted. Subsection 2 (b) allows for its principals to "administer and invest the monies of the Trust;" and subsection 2 (d) empowers them to "receive and administer funds entrusted to the Trust in accordance with the provisions of this Act".

Therefore, in the event that the administrators of the Trust are desirous of investing the funds, they must be reasonably sure that it is a good risk. Nothing in its mandate says rescue failing businesses.

Nonetheless, if there is credible evidence that Government can go against imposing research data and history, miraculously turn a bleeding private-sector entity and make the blood clot, that would be a hell of a turnaround. Only then can it be said that the Outameni property purchase is wise.

Yet, what is disturbing is that the housing deficit in Jamaica is widening like the informational gap in the logistics hub/Goat Islands matter. When this fiscal year ends, the Government might still be short just under half a million housing units.

Worse, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller just announced that the number of recipients of the well-needed housing grant will be slashed by half. These deserving workers are those who have contributed for more than 10 years and earn $10,000 or less per week.

Michael's spirit cannot be happy. Ask his daughter. She knew her daddy.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.