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McKenzie: Make Seaga a national hero

Published:Thursday | June 20, 2019 | 12:16 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

Edward Seaga’s list of accomplishments in over four decades of service to his adopted homeland is enough for him to be enshrined as Jamaica’s eighth national hero, Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie has suggested.

The suggestion came yesterday as current and former members of the Jamaican legislature used a joint sitting to salute Seaga, Jamaica’s fifth prime minister, as a patriot, visionary, social engineer, nation-builder, statesman, and cultural icon.

Even before an extensive list of institutions created by Seaga across several sectors was read out, McKenzie sought to make the case that his mentor deserved more than a three-hour tribute in the House of Representatives or to have “a couple of buildings and streets named in his honour”.

“The people of west Kingston believe that Edward Seaga fits the bill, based on his performance in this country, to be considered Jamaica’s eighth national hero,” said McKenzie, making reference to Seaga’s former constituency, which he now represents.

“We need to step up to the plate and take decisions to recognise the work of this man, this great, outstanding Jamaican,” he added.

Seaga, the last of the original framers of the Jamaican Constitution, died in hospital in the state of Florida, in the United States (US) on May 28 on his 89th birthday. His more than five decades in public life include 46 years as member of parliament for West Kingston – the longest-serving lawmaker in Jamaica and the English-speaking Caribbean – and 31 years as leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who led a list of current and former parliamentarians in tribute to Seaga during a nearly four-hour sitting at Gordon House, said that there were very few areas of national life that Seaga did not “either initiate, shape, or advance in some way”.

“We who have benefitted from the knowledge of his existence and facts of his deeds can say without contradiction that were it not for the strength of character and courage of his conviction, Jamaica would have proceeded along a path which we now understand today to be undesirable,” he said.

often misunderstood

Yet, for all “these very strong qualities”, Holness said that Seaga was often misunderstood and misrepresented. “Our tributes … offer a great opportunity to put Mr Seaga in true context,” he said.

Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson acknowledged that some of his first encounters with Seaga were “adversarial” but said that that later morphed into “respectful rivalry”.

“In a vibrant plural democracy such as ours, there were often conflicts of substance and heated exchanges, but never once was there reason to doubt his passionate commitment to Jamaica and that he always placed our Jamaican people first,” Patterson said.

“Over a period of 13 years, we effected a gradual shift from the politics of confrontation to a process of dialogue and consultation, which allowed us to resolve many differences or avert partisan divisions that would have otherwise triggered bitter disputes and acrimonious quarrels,” he said.

President of the Senate Tom Tavares-Finson, however, used to occasion to revisit the controversial state of emergency that was imposed in 1976 by the then government and which saw the detention of over 600 persons, including several JLP politicians.

“Today is not the day to highlight the abuses of the state of emergency, which lasted until June 1977. Suffice it to say that that declaration of a state of emergency and the state of emergency is accepted by many as being a stain on the national fabric of this country,” Tavares-Finson said.

“Those who sing Mr Seaga’s resilient spirit, his commitment to democracy … should apologise to the people of Jamaica for the injustice wrought on them in 1976 state of emergency,” he added, singling our House Speaker Pearnel Charles Sr and Minister of Culture, Gender Affairs, Entertainment and Sports Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange among persons who should get an apology.