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Legacy of nation building: A high school student’s reflection on the life of Edward Seaga - Part 1

Published:Tuesday | June 4, 2019 | 12:20 AMAnthony Rhoden/Contributor

On May 28, 2019, the Most Honourable Edward Seaga, Jamaica’s fifth prime minister, passed away at the age of 89 after ailing for some time. He has left an indelible impact on the development of this nation, not only serving as prime minister, but also as the country’s longest-serving member of parliament.

While the achievements of Seaga are too expansive for this column, I will be expounding on some of his contributions to nation-building, with particular emphasis on his role as the architect of some of Jamaica’s prominent institutions.

When examining the legacy of Edward Seaga, it is impossible to ignore the raft of social and cultural institutions he has established that have directly advanced the development of the country’s youth. This commitment to bridging the gaps among the country’s lower strata was defined in his infamous 1961 ‘haves and have-not’ speech, indicating his drive to improve the nation’s social well-being.

The Learning for Earning Activity Programme, which teaches street children skills in order to acquire a livelihood, is one such example of Mr Seaga’s focus on social development. Nevertheless, the crown jewel in this legacy is the transformation of ‘Back o’ Wall,’ then the largest slum in Jamaica, into Tivoli Gardens, a modern housing estate for lower-income residents.

The blueprints for the physical infrastructure of this community continues to serve as a template for modern high-rise housing units across the island; a triumph of the enduring legacy of this form of social housing. In the words of the late Martin Henry, Edward Seaga has transformed one of the country’s worst slums into a “clean, decent, culturally diverse area”.

Providing opportunities

Additionally, Seaga’s belief in providing opportunities for marginalised youth is reflected in his involvement in the creation of the Human Employment and Resource Training Programme (HEART). Started in 1983, HEART provides skills training mainly for youth, including high-school dropouts who are interested in furthering their personal development. This programme showed his commitment to improving the economy’s productive capacity. As Theodore Schultz (1971) posits, investing in a country’s human capital is the best way to achieve an increase in the country’s development potential. As Jamaica approached the genesis of its independent life, Seaga served on the bipartisan committee convened by Norman Manley to oversee the formation of the country’s Constitution. While in Opposition, Seaga further initiated the process that heralded the creation of the current Charter for Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.

Additionally, he resisted the urge to establish a political hegemony in the aftermath of the People’s National Party’s boycott of the 1983 election. As a result of these efforts, the country continued to benefit from the inclusion of a robust Opposition throughout the rest of the decade.

Two of the lasting safeguards that have endured his time in office include the establishment of the Office of the Contractor General, which took place in the mid-1980s, as well as the reform of the Electoral Advisory Committee, which evolved into the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ).

However, one of the most successful aspects of Seaga’s legacy is the safeguarding of Jamaica’s cultural inheritance. While the protection of recognisable landmarks like Devon House is commendable, his support for culture is renowned to Jamaicans.

As minister of development and welfare, Seaga was instrumental in the creation of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, formerly the Festival Movement, in 1963.

This initiative encourages youth to display their talent and creativity on a national platform.

These examples reflect the immeasurable contribution Seaga has made to the development of the social and cultural landscape of Jamaica.