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Pay-up time has come

MICHAEL BURKE

Thursday, February 21, 2013    

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TODAY is 46 years since the Jamaica Labour Party won the 1967 general election, gaining a second consecutive term. Sir Donald Sangster succeeded Alexander Bustamante as prime minister. Bustamante held the office from 1962. From 1962 to 1967, Sangster was finance minister and acting prime minister for at least two years before becoming prime minister. He retained the finance ministry while being prime minister himself.

Sir Donald Sangster, who was knighted on his deathbed in a hospital In Montreal, Canada, died after serving only 48 days as prime minister and was succeed by Hugh Shearer. Sangster and Shearer were members of the negotiating teams for loans and grants in the first five years of political independence and in the case of Shearer, for the first 10. After 51 years of political independence, pay-up time has come.

The JLP's slogan in the 1967 election campaign was "The JLP has done more for you since nineteen hundred and sixty-two". The opposition People's National Party, led by national hero Norman Washington Manley, countered the slogan by asking (sic) "Since 1962, the JLP has done more for who?" One full-page PNP advertisement revealed: "Since 1962 the JLP government had borrowed 60 million pounds".

Today Jamaica owes hundreds of billions of dollars to international lending institutions. More asphalted roads, increased electricity, clean piped water and telephones are just some of the things that the money has been spent on.

In his presentation to the budget debate on May 2, 1973, then prime minister Michael Manley announced: "Starting September of this year (1973), the government will be embarking upon a system of free education in Jamaica". This was a major extension of the common entrance examinations introduced in 1957 by his father Norman Washington Manley while he served as chief minister.

In December 1973, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) gigantically hiked the price of oil. How would Jamaica find sufficient foreign exchange for oil to provide constant electricity and how would the motor vehicles be fuelled, plus continue the many social programmes with free education added?

The Jamaican government decided to take a higher percentage of oil from Trinidad & Tobago. But Trinidad & Tobago wanted US dollars for their oil, so that put a further strain on the foreign reserves. Plans for a smelter plant for Jamaican and Guyanese bauxite in Trinidad fell through when then Trinidad & Tobago prime minister Eric Williams backed out of the deal.

Plans to set up a similar plan with Mexico to smelt bauxite into aluminum in Venezuela also fell through. Michael Manley announced in the following year (1974) that a bauxite levy would be imposed, which was committed to free education.

With our hard-earned foreign exchange form tourism and agricultural exports being used up mainly to buy oil, importation of new cars was restricted, and by the late 1970s there were very few new cars on the roads. Fortunately, the Michael Manley government developed ties with the then socialist bloc in Europe. As a result the Scandinavian countries in Europe gave grants for the social programmes.

The National Housing Trust was set up in the mid-1970s to provide housing for the poor. Fortunately, the capital that was needed to build the houses mainly came from the developers.

Jamaica went to the International Monetary Fund in 1977. By 1979, a barter agreement was made between Jamaica and the Soviet Union: raw bauxite dirt from Jamaica in exchange for the Russian Lada cars. But with the end of communism in Russia in 1992 and the former socialist bloc falling in line with Russia for purposes of trade and international politics, such grants are less available today.

The IMF would insist on stringent measures for loans, so Jamaica broke with the IMF in 1980 (before the election when there was a change of government). In 1981, Jamaica led by Edward Seaga as prime minister, returned to the IMF. Jamaica terminated our arrangement in the 1990s when PJ Patterson was prime minister.

By the 1980s, the then prime minister, Edward Seaga, announced a cess for university students. In the 1990s, the then PNP administration introduced cost sharing for high school students. While the Bruce Golding-led administration made attempts to re-introduce totally free education, under his leadership Jamaica returned to the IMF with reassurances that the IMF had 'changed its spots' unlike the proverbial 'leopard'.

When Andrew Holness was sworn in as prime minister on Sunday October 23, 2011, he said that Jamaica could not go on borrowing as a way of running the economy. About five weeks later, Holness told the gathering of JLP supporters in Mandeville prior to announcing December 29, 2011 as the date for the general election, that tough times were ahead.

The current PNP government could well make political capital of those statements by Holness. But the attitude of the PNP seems to be that winning elections has more to do with organisation than issues, so why bother?

In 1977, the Michael Manley-led PNP government decided to cut the salaries of the prime minister and ministers of government. The Bruce Golding administration did the same a few years ago. If issues were the primary consideration for the election of a government in Jamaica, then the PNP government would make capital out of the originality of that idea.

Andrew Holness now demands that the prime minister and Cabinet take a pay cut, as the previous JLP administration did, but says nothing about Michael Manley's example. But why should the PNP respond? After all, Michael Manley took a pay cut and still lost the 1980 election. Bruce Golding took a pay cut and his party, led by Andrew Holness, still lost the 2011 election.

But times are changing and the issues might well play a greater role in elections of the future. In the meantime pay-up time has come for all the benefits that we take for granted today. To his credit, Andrew Holness warned us when he was prime minister.

ekrubm765@yahoo.com

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