Peter Phillips | Completing Norman Manley's mission
Despite the unprecedented economic growth of 6.7 per cent during his premiership from 1955-1962, Norman Washington Manley was keenly aware that too many Jamaicans had been left behind, and the wealth had been concentrated in too few hands. His deepest regret was the failure to develop rural Jamaica with a radical land reform programme as the basis of a modern agricultural sector.
What led Norman Manley to view land reform, the agricultural sector and rural development as the centrepiece of Jamaica's economy?
Born in 1893 in the parish of Manchester, he grew up in the period when the sugar industry had virtually collapsed, and it was the fruit industry, led by the small farmers of his own parish, and medium-sized farmers like his father that saved the Jamaican economy. On his return to Jamaica in 1922, he had devoted his legal expertise to the establishment of the Jamaica Banana Producers Association, a growers' cooperative in which thousands of small farmers had made Jamaica the world's leading producer of bananas which became Jamaica's major export crop.
In 1943, one year before the first general election under adult suffrage, he presented a Plan for Agriculture in a series of articles which were published in Public Opinion.
Long before the PNP formed the government, Norman Manley was clear in the view that the Jamaican people, given access to land, credit, technology and markets, could make agriculture the centerpiece of Jamaica's economic development.
Confident that the PNP would win the 1955 elections, he prepared a Master Plan to revolutionise agriculture which included:
- The establishment of a Ministry of Production with agricultural development as the main plank.
- The settlement of tenants permanently on the land they occupied.
- Acquisition of lands for farmers, using land bond issues.
- Provision of irrigation, soil surveys and electrification.
- The establishment of food forests.
- Making Jamaica self-sufficient in food.
- A Faculty of Agriculture at the University College.
- An enlarged Farm School.
- Short-term training schemes.
- Agricultural colleges.
- Expansion of the 4-H Clubs.
- An Agricultural Credit Cooperative.
The PNP was duly elected in 1955, and before the end of the year, Norman Manley took the Land Bonds Law to the House of Representatives to enable the government to acquire land for farmers with land bonds as the method of payment. Next came the Registration of Titles Law to give farmers access to credit by a radical overhaul of the land-titling process.
Despite his passion and pioneering spirit, for a variety of reasons, domestic agriculture only grew by 2.3 per cent. Rural-urban migration accelerated with the displacement of the rural population following the spread of the bauxite industry. The agricultural revolution was never completed.
Even with subsequent efforts, whether it be the quest for social rights and housing in the 1970s under Michael Manley, and the drive for modern infrastructure under P.J Patterson, today, 50 years after Norman Manley's retirement, his national project is in crisis.
- We are still leaving behind some 50 per cent of each school-leaving cohort without adequate certification. As a consequence, 70 per cent of our labour force has no certification.
- Some 20 per cent of the population subsists below the poverty line, with the rural populations reflecting the worst conditions.
- Approximately 700,000 Jamaicans are squatters in the land of their birth.
- Antisocial behaviour and crime are rampant, the murder rate among the highest in the world.
We should not be surprised then that so many are opting out of participation in the political process.
As the political heirs of N.W. Manley give up on his vision of nationhood. It means that we have to accept that changes to Jamaica's social and economic fundamentals are needed.
To be frank, we need a new radicalism, not one rooted in ideology, but in the necessary policy changes and political framework in order to generate a rebirth of the national project envisioned by N.W. Manley.
I have sought to lead the party to fulfil our founding leader's mandate for the generation that succeeded him by launching two critical commissions. They are The Land Ownership Commission and The Youth Employment, Innovation and New Economy Commission.
The Land Ownership Commission is mandated to recommend radical and effective strategies, systems, and mechanisms to:
- Significantly improve and facilitate legal ownership of land by Jamaicans.
- Increase the number of registered parcels of lands in Jamaica, through a simplified system of land registration, thereby facilitating easier commercial transactions and wealth-generation activities for Jamaicans.
- Reduce the time frame for the registration of land.
- Address longstanding land-tenure issues and regularise informal occupiers (squatters) of land throughout Jamaica.
The Youth Employment, Innovation, and New Economy Commission is mandated to develop the appropriate economic policy framework and New Economic Action Plan to modernise and transform globally competitive areas of the Jamaican economy in the short and medium term that would leverage the energy and talents of Jamaica's youth (18-35) and contribute to levels of sustained equitable economic growth.
This comprehensive approach will consciously seek to develop new modes of regional development throughout the inner countryside in contrast to the usual focus on the major coastal towns as that is urgently needed in our country.
While the framework will seek to enable innovation, creativity and sound business outcomes for young people across a range of sectors, there are some sectors of focus that the commission will examine closely to inform specific recommendations.
- Peter Phillips is president of the People's National Party. Email feedback to email@example.com.