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EDITORIAL - Disrespecting Jamaica

Published:Thursday | June 21, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Half a century ago, Theodore Sealy, the legendary former editor of this newspaper, chaired the committee that planned the celebrations to mark Jamaica's Independence from Britain.

Those could not have been the easiest of times. The year before, Jamaica had been through a wrenching referendum in which we voted to secede from the West Indies Federation, placing this country on a path to a separate Independence.

Having lost the federation vote, Norman Manley, the premier and leader of the People's National Party (PNP), called an early general election to test his mandate. He lost. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), under Alexander Bustamante, led this country into Independence.

Yet, the Independence celebrations went off with little or no acrimony, and the events were almost flawless. There was genuine bipartisanship in the process and the sense that Independence belonged to all Jamaicans. At the end, Mr Sealy's already iconic status was further enhanced.

Mishandled planning

Almost anyone would, in the circumstances, understand our feeling of let-down and betrayal of the legacy of Theodore Sealy and, more critically, insult to the Jamaican people, over the mishandling of the planning of the celebrations to mark Jamaica's 50th anniversary of Independence on August 6.

This process began nearly a year ago under the former JLP administration. Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, the former culture minister, who initially had responsibility for organising the celebrations, didn't do a good job.

If there was a broad national, non-partisan group putting together the affair, few people knew about it. Information dribbled out until, towards the end of the JLP's tenure, Ms Grange tabled in the legislature a document purporting to be the Independence celebration events, but was little more than the hard copy of a PowerPoint presentation.

Ms Grange's successor, the PNP's Lisa Hanna, when she got the job this January, claimed to have found little that was concrete about the celebrations; the announced events represented a mishmash for which there was no affordable budget. She set about recasting the plans, including firing the leadership of the planning secretariat that Ms Grange had established and replacing them with new appointees.

Sadly, this newspaper cannot say we are sanguine that the Independence celebrations will be worthy of a nation marking half a century of sovereignty, and that the programme will be as inclusive as demanded of such an occasion, particularly for a country whose political process has endured severe stress.

Knee-jerk response

Frankly, most Jamaicans know little about what the programme is; and what will take place where or when - even amid the publication on Tuesday of a list of events, apparently in knee-jerk response to a wave of criticism about widespread ignorance of the Jamaica 50 schedule.

Our concern is compounded by the case of, if not indefensible pettifogging politics, incompetence and bungling over the waffle from Ms Hanna's crowd, which would have the public believe there was no intention of having an 'official' song for Jamaica 50.

A song commissioned by Ms Grange's outfit was produced by long-time impresario Mikey Bennett. It fell into abeyance when her party lost the government. A new song commissioned by Ms Hanna's group was recorded. It has been promoted by its producer, Orville 'Shaggy' Burrell, as the official song of the celebrations.

Seemingly caught in prevarication over the semantics of 'theme song' vs 'official song', Ms Hanna's secretariat now twists and turns. Maybe that's the official dance of the celebrations. Jamaicans, though, deserve better.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.