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SEAGA: Summing up the decades (My thoughts on Socialism, Federation and leadership)

Published:Sunday | February 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Today, we conclude a special four-part series of excerpts from the autobiography of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga with the kind permission of Macmillan Publishers. Mr Seaga's autobiography will be officially launched on Wednesday, March 3, at the Mona Visitors' Lodge on the UWI campus, starting at 6 p.m.

Jamaica's development was based on the mantra of the day, which was expected to serve as an overarching umbrella framework to determine development policies. The shifting focus from one mantra to another, from decade to decade, was designed to lift development prospects to higher levels. As will be seen, beginning with the federation, it did not.

Cross-border brotherhood

The West Indies Federation expected the people of 10 territories to become one nation, inspired by a cross-border brotherhood of similar people that would kindle a flame of greater economic performance. It failed because of underlying contradictory political priorities which made it impossible for the leaders to agree with each other. Hence, there was little consensus in a process which required consensus, and only halting steps were made towards the ultimate objective. As a result of the lack of effective integration, the definitive position taken in the Jamaican referendum on 19 September 1961 caused the withdrawal of the largest territory, Jamaica, and the collapse of the federation, which was by then inevitable anyway.

Any reality check in the early years would have revealed that the grand design was politically unworkable because of the inevitable conflict of priorities among the member countries which, as poor countries, had to put self-interest first. The recognition that these conflicts would create insoluble problems would have saved a wasted decade of dreams.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the dominant economic mantra was the need for foreign investment to establish manufacturing and industrial projects and create jobs for the labour force. This investment had to be attracted through generous tax and non-tax incentives to encourage job creation. The facts, 20 years later, showed that relatively few jobs were created by these capital-intensive industries, although a substantial amount of revenue was forgone and foreign exchange spent for their operations. The cost was greater than the return. Another waste, this time of more than a decade.

In the 1970s, a new mantra was adopted. Shifting from economic to social priorities, socialism would attempt to distribute wealth by pulling down the rich. This would create an egalitarian society. It did not take long to learn from bitter experience that the poor cannot be elevated by pulling down the rich, but by pulling up the poor. Another decade was lost because reality was swamped by the overpowering euphoria of the message that "socialism is love".

A dramatic about-turn in the 1980s raised the need for competitiveness to the level of a new mantra by,
inter alia
, minimising the public sector as an agent of production and maximising the private sector as the agent of growth. To achieve competitiveness, macroeconomic stability had to be created. This stability, in the dictum of the IMF, had to be anchored by leveraging the exchange rate, adjusting it regularly to achieve competitiveness. The problem here was that each adjustment of the exchange rate created a new cycle of price increases, which reduced competitiveness. This was a vicious circle that forced me to intervene with a demand that the IMF discontinue this self-defeating policy. After a tense period, the IMF finally agreed. This significantly helped to transform the struggling economy to a restoration of growth after 15 years.

By the 1990s, a new generation of Caribbean leaders had emerged who had no experience with the federal failure. They reversed the process, rightfully so, creating a community of nations, CARICOM, from the bottom up. When the structure reached a level for specific programmes to be introduced, cracks began to open wide. It became apparent that CARICOM, an integrated organisation, would fail to produce a coherent integrated foreign policy on crucial issues. The Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), the CARICOM standard-bearer, had no agreed single currency. It was evident that differing productivity levels would increase exports in only a few member countries while showing a decrease in most others. A reality check in this case, where data was readily available, would have shown that the CSME was a grand design of conflicting self-interests.

Finally, in the current decade, the overarching mantra of globalisation, that would open the markets of the world by levelling the playing field for trade and investment, reached the stage of aggressively promoting participation in Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA). These negotiations, among unequals, would lead to another futile mantra that would fail to push the country forward and, indeed, would pull it backward by a one-way flow of benefits, widening the gap to the detriment of the weaker, poorer partner.

Why we failed

I have outlined this in some detail to enable a deeper understanding as to why we failed to progress, and I have done so with relevance to my autobiography since I contested the presumption of benefits in each case, exposing the fallacies on which these schemes were founded, knowing that in every case the economy lost ground.

In the course of completing this work, I have been asked some penetrating questions on my preferences. Which period did I feel most passionate about? Without a doubt, the 1970s was the most dynamic period, in that it provoked a furore by attacking the Establishment. In retaliation, the attackers attracted an onslaught of protective deterrents, creating much confrontation and conflict. But, most of all, it raised the consciousness of political thought, forcing everyone to appreciate the interplay of politics with the rest of society and to decide whether they would stand and fight, or flee in fright, or, indeed, embrace the new order. It was a period which forced a commitment, whether to self or country. In my own case, I was passionately committed to fighting for a cause - to tame the socialist juggernaut and to defeat it by strategising its frailties.

It was rewarding to see my strategies succeed and to realise that this seemingly indomitable, global political regime had feet of clay. The socialist system could not sustain itself without the corruption of power to maintain power, or holding elections which an Opposition could never win. The system operates on a delusory democracy rationalised as 'power to the people', which is really power to those who want to hold self-perpetuating power. This invites violent overthrow, which cannot succeed if the state controls the administration and the enforcement of law and order.

Police terrorism

Those who did not understand the dynamics of this model failed to realise how close we came to its incorporation as the system of governance of Jamaica. Chapter 18, 'The Strategy and Anguish of the State of Emergency 1976', reveals the devious inner-workings of a design which unleashed police terrorism, presided over a justice system that cowered under pressure, operated an administration which politicised public officers, and used the Treasury in a wild spending spree to buy support. In all this, a wimpish, conciliatory, unhappy private sector pulled a pillow over its head, hoping its fears would go away, and the Established Church became the PNP at prayer.

It is said, by those who cannot imagine that their overpowering imported ideology could have been defeated without imported help, that the CIA was at work. If it was, it was well hidden. Those who I saw, who stood with me, were a valiant crew of JLP leaders and supporters who were determined that our freedoms would never be hijacked; the intrepid
Daily Gleaner
, which courageously refused to bow; the incessant Christian protests of the fundamentalist evangelical churches speaking to and for the folk people of Jamaica; and the courageous inner-city people, many of whom gave their lives to stop the lethal stampede of socialist forces in the streets. The masses and the classes cut across all borders: able-bodied, lame and blind electors found their way to the polls in an amazing record turnout of 87 per cent in 1980; the private sector, finally aroused, gave powerful, respected guidance. This was the coalition of interests that became a crusade to protect our Holy Grail of freedom.

Alongside the passion to protect our country was our determined drive to rebuild it in the 1980s. In a decade tainted with the sorrows of a struggle against imponderable global forces, our challenge was to reverse the legacy of a collapsed state, overcome the ravages of the worst global recession in 50 years, rebuild and restore a battered country from the devastation of the worst-ever hurricane, while creating an economy which was renewed, revitalised, reformed and recovered. We met this challenge, all in one decade.

There are many lessons to learn from this autobiography about surviving snares and pitfalls by devising our own strategies that work rather than accepting, whether willingly or under pressure, the imported schemes which others think must be made to work. The same brainwashed mentality that proclaimed everything from the Great House to be good and better dictated that imported investment, imported socialism, imported federalism, imported IMF diktats and imported globalisation are all 'good and better'. They are, but only in part. We must determine what is good and reject vehemently what is not, or we will become modern-day slaves to new masters in a new colonial regime, and true independence would be a fiction.

I contested all these systems of imposition from federalism to globalism. Their shoes did not fit our feet. The last half of the 1980s, free of IMF tentacles on the exchange rate, free of the mantra that all foreign investment is good and should be incentivised, free of the rigidities of liberalism that the public sector must not own any means of production, including energy and mining, we crafted our own labour-intensive, macro-economic model of a mixed economy, which restored growth, increased employment and lowered inflation. And we did so by energising the people-based sectors with expanded investment in wage earners.

The rule of law is the most fundamental of all foundations of governance in civilised society. A sweeping programme of constitutional reforms began in 1992. In 1994, I introduced the need for special treatment of the human-rights section of the Constitution to provide for a Charter of Rights and Fundamental Freedoms to close the loopholes of injustice and broaden the rights of the people. Particularly for the poor, this would greatly assist in closing the gap between the two Jamaicas. Many, many years have passed while the charter continues to flounder as a work in progress, seemingly because approval of the charter would penalise the opportunity of the government in power to continue the governmental abuse of human rights.

Penalties for the poor

The society continues to blatantly allow privileges for the rich and penalties for the poor, even though fundamental principles of justice are the pillars on which all systems of belief and structures of organisation must rest. Jamaica's misfortune is that policymakers have no agreed set of policies or principles on which to devise sustainable strategies that can allow the baton to be passed successfully from one runner to the next. Hence, the end result is a non-productive path of batons that are fumbled and dropped and runners who take two steps forward and two steps backward. Time now to stop following and fumbling: time to lead the way!

I trust this autobiography will serve as a reference to the past and a guide to the future to ensure that the present will always be founded on reasoned steps, even though it is a vision that ultimately charts our journey in the race between development and discontent.

Edward Seaga, then minister of development and welfare, holds a child in his arms during a meeting at South Parade in 1965.