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Jamaica 50 on track until ...

Published:Tuesday | June 26, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Olivia Grange, Guest Columnist

By Olivia Grange, Guest Columnist

I have read your editorial of June 21, 2012, headlined 'Disrespecting Jamaica', with interest, and I welcome the opportunity to respond to your references, including that I "didn't do a good job". Seeking out the facts might have led you to a different conclusion.

I was appointed minister with responsibility for culture in 2007, and among my many deliverables was the rekindling of the feeling of national pride by revitalising the annual Festival and Independence celebrations and leading the charge in the development of our cultural and creative industries.

We reintroduced the Float Parade and Grand Gala; we restructured and improved the Jamaica Festival competitions and productions, including the Festival Song. We repositioned and rebranded the JCDC, and initiated the establishment of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association, as well as the inauguration of Reggae Month, among other things.

During this period, I looked ahead to the Jamaica 50 celebrations.

We established a national committee to lead the planning for Jamaica 50. The membership of the committee and the focus were announced on October 8, 2010.

Then Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller graciously accepted an invitation to appoint a representative to the national committee. Julian Robinson was her pick. He attended meetings and contributed to the drafting and ratification of the programme, as did the many other eminent Jamaicans from the various sectors who contributed time, talent and skills to the development of a programme that was in place up to December 2011.

So the plans for Jamaica 50 up to December 2011 were not developed in a partisan way, but through consultation with a wide cross section of society.

EXTENSIVE LEGACY PROJECTS

The national committee agreed that the celebrations would run from January 1 to December 31, 2012, with the highlight being the period of the Independence Festival from late July to August 6. We also agreed that funding for Jamaica 50 would be a combination of government and private-sector resources.

We produced a comprehensive list of core events and legacy projects for Jamaica 50, a list of which was presented to journalists at the media launch in October 2011 at Jamaica House.

The legacy projects included: Rings of Life Monument at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital (already installed); National Shelter for Abused Women (property already secured); National Immunisation Project (towards 100 per cent coverage); proclamation of Marcus Garvey Day, August 17; Restoration of Garvey's childhood home in St Ann (ground was broken); reintroduction of civics in schools (implementation confirmed by current minister of education); souvenir coins and commemorative notes from the Bank of Jamaica (recently issued); Athletes Wellness Centre; the Sports Museum; and the Jamaica Music Museum. There would be many public-private collaborative projects.

The secretariat had commissioned Find the Flag, produced and written by Michael Bennett, et al, as the Jamaica 50 song and had been working on a music video. Absolutely no funds were spent by the Government to produce this song.

In December, journalists were updated on the full programme of activities in Jamaica, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and South Africa. We also established a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter handle to maintain two-way communication about the developments. The JIS also dedicated an entire section of its website to Jamaica 50 activities.

The new administration, including Culture Minister Lisa Hanna, has continued with some elements of the programme, tweaked others, and eliminated some.

BEGINNINGS OF CONTROVERSY

The programme became controversial when Minister Hanna gave a false statement which suggested that the limited funds already allocated for the event were used up carelessly, and that we had irresponsibly created an unviable, expensive programme.

The project director and administrative director were both fired with immediate effect, and the members of the national planning committee and sector committees were asked to resign.

A false impression was that the previous administration had proposed to spend in excess of $2 billion of taxpayers' money to put on street parades and parties. The minister and the secretariat decided to throw out a theme song, which was donated free of charge, and then paid close to $2 million for a new song, which did not have the spirit and flavour of the first.

The situation was very badly handled by Ms Hanna from the very beginning.

Some five months after taking office, the minister invited me to meet with her on May 29. A joint draft statement was prepared and sent to me for approval. I suggested changes and sent it back. To date, there has been no further communication with me. The joint statement has not been officially released.

I make a special appeal to all Jamaicans, at home and abroad, let us unite during this critical milestone in our history. Let's put aside everything that threatens to divide us.

Olivia 'Babsy' Grange is opposition spokesperson on culture and entertainment. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.