Edward Seaga: a man for all seasons

Dennis
Chung

Friday, May 31, 2019

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I am privileged during my life to know, and have known, many of the political and business leaders of Jamaica. I respect most of them for the contribution and sacrifice they have made to Jamaica, because the truth is that we are all replaceable commodities in this cycle called life, and the thing that makes us more valuable is the contribution we make to country and others.

A giant among such men is Edward Seaga, who I had the distinct honour of having a close relationship with during his later years, and who I had many conversations with.

I first became aware of Seaga during the turbulent times of the 1970s, when Jamaica went through a state of emergency, food rations, frequent power cuts, and very divisive politics.

Seaga was then leader of the JLP and espoused an ideology in sharp contrast to the democratic socialism of the day. My father worked very closely with the JLP campaign and he would drag me to committee meetings with him and, in fact, on election day in 1980 I was with him and Ryan Peralto at Jacques Road on Mountain View helping with political organisation. He always told me about Seaga and how firm he was.

My next “absent” encounter with Seaga was when I was a second year student at UWI and he imposed a cess on UWI students of somewhere above $3,000 annually and as students we were livid. We shut down the university and marched on JBC at the time to demonstrate and the next day to the Ministry of Finance, when Seaga was prime minister and minister of finance. On the third day my father encouraged me to write to him with an alternative, which I did. I recommended that instead of imposing the cess he should think about increasing the education tax to cover the amount needed.

He responded in a letter, personally signed, thanking me for the suggestion. Subsequently, the education tax was increased and the cess was reduced to one third of the original amount. I don't know if my letter had any impact but at the time I felt I was listened to. I later regretted not being able to locate that letter. It was during this time that I wrote a letter to the press that was also published as my first print commentary.

I remember clearly also that after my first degree graduation ceremony, in 1987, from UWI, I didn't go out to celebrate with friends but rather went to a political meeting with my father at Kingsley Sangster's house, and it was during this period that I met and became familiar with the likes of Enid Bennett, Dwight Nelson, Ed Bartlett, Derrick Smith, and Ossie Harding.

My next encounter with the man was during the time Bruce Golding was getting ready to leave the JLP for the NDM and he hosted a cocktail party for a few youngsters inviting us to join the party. The group included Douglas Chambers and we were invited to express an interest in representational politics. Two of the group, including Douglas, chose to do so, and did some work in the constituencies. My position was that I would assist them from behind the scenes but that I had no interest in representational politics.

During that time we had two face-to-face meetings with Seaga and I was in awe at his firmness and the way he commanded respect in the meetings. I always said to everyone that this was indeed a man in charge.

In fact, I recall once going with Douglas to Tivoli and we were advised that Mr Seaga informed them that we were coming and the red carpet was rolled out, illustrating to me the respect that he had in the community.

One day, in around 2008, I received a call, and it was none other than Mr Seaga, who said that he wanted my perspective on something he was working on.

From that day we talked a lot and he expressed to me his desire to put his lifetime works in a series of books, and asked me about my own experience with writing my own book, Charting Jamaica's Economic and Social Development. He was someone who believed in research and getting varying perspectives when he was about to embark on a project, indicative of his respect for the views of others.

He produced three books, during that time (2009 to 2010). The first was on the Grenada Revolution, the second was called Revelations (a compilation of his speeches), and the third was My Life and Leadership (produced in two volumes).

Leading up to the production of the third, he said to me that there was so much he wanted to say that he could not put it all in one book and therefore had to put down his biography in two books. Such was the mind of the man, as this is the first I have ever heard of a two volume biography. It wasn't coincidental though, as he knew from the start that that was how it would be.

I treasure the fact that I have signed copies of all three with personal messages.

We spoke about many things, during my visits, or more realistically when he summoned, as he would just call sometimes and say that he needed to see me. Some of those subjects I wouldn't discuss here -- but two in particular were firstly, he expressed how disappointed and sad he was about the 2010 Tivoli Incursion, as he said the people of Tivoli had suffered too many times and they were his people and it hurt him to see them go through it. He was clearly emotional when he spoke to me about it, and you could see the love he had for the people of Tivoli.

The second was his lamenting the fact that Jamaica has not properly organised the recording of its history and accomplishments, and so one of his projects was organising a database of his own works and records over the years.

As chancellor of University of Technology Jamaica (UTech) he called me and told me he was going to appoint me as his nominee of council, and asked me to ensure that there was proper governance and financial management. I served on the UTech council between 2012 and 2015, and left as the Honourary Treasurer, when I was asked by Prime Minister Simpson Miller to be chairman at NSWMA, after the March 2015 fire.

At one time he sent me a paper he was doing on the pegged exchange rate, which he believed in, and he asked me to look at it and said that he knew that I didn't believe in a pegged rate (from my public commentary at the time), but he still wanted me to look at the paper. I expressed to him how well-written and convincing his arguments were, as he was someone who ensured that his papers were always well-researched.

The above shows that Mr Seaga was a man for all seasons. He was a committed politician, academic, author, mentor, and very importantly a friend of the people of Jamaica. He cared deeply about Jamaica's future and Jamaicans, especially the less fortunate.

I shake my head every time I see someone “mouthing off” on social media, in criticising Mr Seaga, who has no clue about his cultural and developmental influences, and could not even clean his shoes.

Mr Seaga was a giant among giants and Jamaica is better off for him having been with us, and unselfishly giving up his time, at much personal sacrifice, for Jamaica. In fact he shared with me once that his biggest regret in life was that he spent so much time in service that it affected his personal life.

Mr Seaga you have made a monumental impact on Jamaica, and me personally, and you will be missed.

You have put on more than enough runs on the board and have ensured that you will not just be another “human commodity” like most of us will be, as your name will stand tall in the annals of history.

Thank you.


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