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Mr Seaga's autobiography enthralling

KEN CHAPLIN

Tuesday, November 23, 2010    

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FORMER Prime Minister Edward Seaga made a comment at the launch of his autobiography: "My Life and Leadership, Volume II: The Hard Road Ahead", which should have been said long ago. "Jamaica needs a single vision with a single mission. We have this awful history, when one government is in power, they put in place policies to say this is what we have done. Then the next government tears down as much as possible to get the benefit of the electorate".

It takes a great deal of courage by Seaga to make such a statement. I can write without fear of contradiction that in the 37 years I served in the public service, both governments, whether Jamaica Labour Party or People's National Party, have been guilty of the unfortunate practice of cancelling some of each other's work.

I can outline four instances. Seaga prepared and got financial support from an international financial institution for a master plan for the commercial development of an area near the Coronation Market in his constituency. There was a change of government and the matter was laid to rest.

The PNP government had a housing development project in Central Kingston, a strong PNP constituency. Most of the houses were partially completed when there was a change of government and work on the project was abandoned. It was resuscitated when the PNP returned to power.

In 1984, the JLP government established JAMPRESS, a state news agency, to disseminate information on government programmes to local and overseas media, local ministries, overseas Jamaican embassies and high commissions and diplomatic missions based here. In the 1980s JAMPRESS, along with state news agencies in the Caribbean, Central America and South America, set up a regional news agency, ASIN, to exchange information on educational, cultural and economic matters designed to improve relationship among the countries. Two years after a change of government in 1989, the PNP closed down JAMPRESS, which I thought was a wrong move, as the agency was providing a necessary and excellent service. Journalistic ethics require me to state that I set up JAMPRESS and became its first editor-in-chief and executive chairman, so I was rather disappointed with its closure although I was not there at the time. My own belief is that it was closed only because it was set up by Seaga.

In 1987, the JLP government introduced an exchange rate regime of J$5.50 to US$1.00. This pegged exchange rate, according to Seaga in his book, played the leading role in stimulating the economy alsthough there were other factors which provided growth.

However, when the exchange rate was liberalised by the succeeding PNP government, most people knew, as I do, that it crept up to the destabilised peak of more than $80 to US$1.00. In fact, as Seaga said, the exchange rate declined from $5.50 to US$1 to $20 to US$1 in two years under the PNP administration.

In a discussion on the book, Seaga argues strongly for the return of an exchange rate pegged to the US dollar. "Every country that does not have a pegged exchange rate in the Caribbean is struggling".

Having worked closely with Seaga as information officer when he was minister of development and welfare and minister of finance, and as press secretary when he was prime minister, tasked with writing his last press release, I find Seaga's autobiography spot on. His interpretation of what caused the JLP to lose the 1989 general elections to the PNP after two terms is hard to dismiss.

In his introduction to the autobiography, he says: With the pegged exchange rate and "the effective completion of the other prescribed reforms, the economy turned around to produce lower interest rates, low inflation, record job creation, reduced unemployment and robust growth. Economic growth, though still fragile, was successfully restored by 1987 after the most gruelling programme of adjustments ever undertaken by the country. But there was a price to be paid. Although health was restored, the bitter medicine was too strong for the body politic. Led by Michael Manley, the electorate was focused not on the benefits of the reforms that had restored economic strength after 15 years of incomparable hardships but on the loss of effective social services, which were the casualties of the last two decades."

Seaga explains three projects which he has fostered but was unable to complete:

* Restoration of Port Royal, one of the world's most treasured marine archaeological sites, largely by reclamation of 200 acres at Forth Augusta in Kingston Harbour, a project he has been associated with since the 1960s.

* Development of a giant freeport, featuring trade, finance and manufacturing as well as tourism, to transform downtown Kingston into a booming area with thousands of new jobs. This would involve 200 acres of reclaimed land from the seas in Kingston Harbour, near Fort Augusta.

* A mega reservoir on the outskirts of the city to capture the overflow of the Rio Cobre which flows to waste. This could irrigate 12,000 acres of land.

Together, these three projects could create many thousands of jobs for the economic benefit of the south coast of Jamaica, now the most congested area of unemployment.

He says that finally there are two national projects of critical importance which continue to absorb him: restoring the pegged exchange rate to put the economy back on its feet; and a national museum for Jamaica, to build awareness of the rich multicultural heritage and create a vital bridge between the two Jamaicas.

Already, I have gone well beyond a normal review. This is more like excepts from the book. I find "Edward Seaga My Life And Leadership Volume 11: Hard Road to Travel 1980-2008, "enthralling and compelling" and would recommend it to anyone who can read and understand.

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