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From chief ministers, premier to prime

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, August 10, 2014    

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Being prime minister is a lonely job... you cannot lead from the crowd. -- Margaret Thatcher

NINE Jamaican citizens have served as prime minister from 1962 to now. Sir Alexander Bustamante also served as chief minister, 1953-55. Bustamante took Jamaica into Independence as prime minister, serving April 29, 1962 until February 23, 1967. Norman Manley served as chief minister, 1955-59, and again as premier of Jamaica, 1959 to April 1962. Some of our country's pre-eminent political leaders, like P J Patterson, spent a comparative eternity on the prime ministerial perch; while others -- like Sir Donald Sangster, 23 February 1967 to April 11, 1967, and Andrew Holness, 23 October 2011 to January 5, 2012 -- only briefly tasted the much-coveted top prize of local party politics.

The contributions of all our top political party leaders are highly debatable, some more than others, and all well-thinking citizens have not only a responsibility but a duty to continue the debate. For that and other reasons their major achievements and failures should not be shielded from public recognition, rigorous appraisal, and critical comment.

Bustamante and Manley, two of our founding fathers, concretised the nuts and bolts for the granting of Independence from Britain. The tug of war between the two, as to whether Jamaica rightly belonged in the Federation, ended when Jamaicans voted against Federation on September 19, 1961, and decided that we needed to sail our own ship -- sink or swim. Since that referendum defeat, the PNP has been scared of the word referendum, which explains why the Portia Simpson Miller Government has not taken up the gauntlet thrown down by Opposition Leader Andrew Holness in this year's budget debates for there to be a plebiscite on ganja decriminalisation or legalisation, repeal of the Buggery Law, and other foundational legal and social issues. The PNP are adhering to the old Jamaican adage of "once bitten, twice shy".

Norman Manley's presentiment that Jamaica would reap the whirlwind from its decision on Federation in some respects has come back to haunt us. Jamaica is now one of the poorest countries, maybe except for Haiti, in Caricom -- a steep downgrade from the coveted "Pearl of the Caribbean" slogan that former prime minister, Edward Seaga termed "Johncrow bead" grade.

Bustamante, the consummate trade union leader and founder of the JLP, had a confidence in himself -- something woefully lacking in too many of us today -- which was matched only by his confidence in Jamaica's ability to paddle its own canoe. He had an uncanny ability to measure the pulse of the Jamaican people and spoke their precise feelings with razor-sharp precision.

Neither Norman Manley nor Sir Alexander Bustamante was a saint. They understood their duty to the cause of Jamaican nationhood through different lenses. Norman Manley, a scholar and gentleman, correctly noted that the task for his generation was political independence and ours would be economic independence.

In the 1960s, under the leadership of prime ministers Bustamante and later Hugh L Shearer, Jamaica began to see the beginning steps toward economic independence. On average, Jamaica was achieving 6 per cent growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The figures from the Planning Institute of Jamaica provide evidence that we were moving on up like the 'Jeffersons'. We experienced significant highs of 7.8 per cent (1964); 10 per cent (1965); and 11.9 per cent (1970).

I wrote in this space a couple of months ago (Sunday Observer, March 30, 2014), among other things, that: "Jamaica, between 1962 and 1972 -- that is before the borrowing relationship with the IMF -- was experiencing six per cent growth in GDP on average. So admirable was our performance that Lee Kuan Yew, the father of modern Singapore, wanted to discover what made the Jamaican economy so impressive. He would have found that the economy was at the time grounded in a rapidly expanding bauxite industry, giant manufacturing base, along with meteoric tourism and agricultural growth. The Jamaican economy in the 60s was like a "stepping razor" to borrow a phrase from one of Peter Tosh's songs.

There was, however, a missing link. Social benefits of the rapidly expanding economy were not being felt by the majority dispossessed black population. This is similar to what is happening now with the 'no growth, jobless recovery' of the Simpson Miller Government. This engendered deep-seated institutional resentment, and ultimately created the platform for the arrival of Michael Manley and Democratic Socialism.

Manley decided to socially and economically turn Jamaica upside down, inside out, and then shake it all about -- and that he did. His far-reaching pieces of social legislation transformed the human landscape of this country mostly for good. Under the younger Manley's leadership the oppressed and downtrodden majority black population, for the most part, came to believe that they had a space, a relevance, and a usefulness. This was almost revolutionary.

Alas, the economy was plunged into shambles because of "run wid it" spending, two oil crises, the raiding/squandering of the country's piggy bank, the bauxite levy, and ideological demagoguery -- the latter at the expense of economic common sense.

While some maintain that Michael Manley was a total failure, I believe that many pieces of his social legislation were absolutely necessary and saved Jamaica from a kind of institutional class-based apartheid. His foresight in the development of the National Housing Trust, National Youth Service, and National Insurance Scheme has undoubtedly worked to produce benefits for the majority of people in this country. Manley's greatest error, in my view, was that he governed from the crowd.

Seaga was the political antithesis of Manley. His prime ministerial sojourn showed that he was an innate capitalist with a passion for the development of systems and institutions. After wresting power from the charismatic Manley -- who mistakenly thought the people loved him so much they would continually ignore or submerge their physiological needs in exchange for ideological bliss; evidenced in his utterance at Sam Sharp Square in 1980 that 150,000 strong cannot be wrong -- Seaga got to work rebuilding the shattered economy of Jamaica. He said the economy, under Manley's leadership, was characterised by "shortages, stoppages and outages".

Guided by his mantra of privatisation and liberalisation, he uprooted much of the socialist roots planted by Manley. Seaga returned food to supermarket shelves, gas at the pumps, and growth in the economy. My view is that he went too far when he privatised services that are public goods. Public transportation was a case in point. The results of this were disastrous and produced a Middle Passage-like public bus system in Jamaica that lasted for over 30 years. I have already said in this space that "the 'Jolly Bus' should have been restructured, retooled and rebranded, not retired. This was one of the three major mistakes made by Seaga during his terms

as prime minister. Notwithstanding, Seaga is the most astute prime minister seen in the Caribbean over the last 50 years." (Sunday Observer, May 18, 2014). His other two great errors were his tendency not to

delegate enough, his micromanagement, and his failure to situate a succession plan in the JLP.

He will forever be credited for the establishment of HEART/NTA, the Office of

the Contractor General, Jamaica Development Bank, Redevelopment of the Kingston Waterfront, JAMPRO, Digiport, first satellite telecommunications data processing operations, Montego Bay, Jamaica Conference Centre and

the headquarters of

the International Seabed Authority, along with numerous other institutions that continue to operate to the benefit the majority of the population.

Percival James Patterson, who served three-and-a-half terms, 14 years at the wicket, is Jamaica longest-serving prime minister. He succeeded in making the PNP the political party of seeming natural choice, a well-oiled winning machine, although some would argue that this was against an Opposition that was well past its best and was involved in a process of almost deliberate self-destruction.

Patterson did the least for Jamaica of all the prime ministers we have had compared to his length of time at the crease. His policies saw to the destruction of nearly 40,000 businesses, almost no growth in a context where most of the other Caribbean and Latin American countries were achieving, on average, 5 per cent growth. FINSAC will forever be a point of controversy, even after the enquiry report is ultimately released.

History will, however, remember Patterson as the prime minister who brought back decency to public transportation, pioneered dozens of utilitarian pieces of legislation, and implemented the Highway 2000 toll road project. His non-confrontational style of leadership took a lot of the heat and venom out of local politics.

Bruce Golding squandered a golden opportunity, like Michael Manley, to make this country great. People, including me, believed that he was coming with a new type of politics like he espoused when he was leader of the National Democratic Movement. While his Government did return minuscule economic growth and spearhead some precedent-setting legislation -- leading to the creation of INDECOM, for example -- he cancelled out most, if not all the great expectations of him and the few good things that he achieved in four years.

While he is the only prime minister thus far to have the decency to take responsibility consistent with Westminster traditions, the controversy of the Dudus scandal will cause history to remember his otherwise useful contributions in a hazy light.

Portia Simpson Miller, who took the reins from Patterson, was seen as the PNP's only hope of retaining State power. Less charismatic -- compared to Manley -- she has continued the policies and programmes of Patterson in a template-like manner. I am yet to fully grasp her unique contribution as a prime minister even now; nearly three years after what some might call her second bite of the political cherry.

Her confessed love for the poor and vulnerable is yet to be demonstrated in concrete terms. She seems more concerned with allowing her super-populated Cabinet to lead while she follows. Strangely, she has not used her charisma to connect with the people by going out into the highways and byways and, for example, explaining the present IMF agreement and what will be the endgame for Jamaica. She has been given to periods of long hibernation. If as Himmilicious says, "silence is golden", we have a 24-carat prime minister. Whenever she wakes, we hear the now familiar excuse, "I have been working, working, working". She does possess warmth that will invariably endear her to Jamaicans who have shed themselves of classism's devils.

"Your personality as the prime minister feeds through to what you emphasise, and what you don't, how you'll handle a situation, whether you've got the combination of intelligence or instincts to adapt and to make good decisions." -- John Key

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Comments to higgins160@yahoo.com

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