We must preserve our rights


Thursday, May 12, 2011    

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Seymour Mullings turns 80 today. This Jamaica College old boy, who was appointed deputy prime minister while PJ Patterson was prime minister, rose to prominence as a result of a by-election in Southeast St Ann on March 17, 1969 and the circumstances surrounding it. The attempts made to have a result, preferred by the government of the day for the local government election which took place the day after that by-election, were less than savoury. This is one of two matters out of many that I mention today which need to be addressed in terms of preserving our rights for which our heroes fought.

Dr Ivan Lloyd (deceased, 1993) was one of four original People's National party members of the House of Representatives who were elected in 1944. A PNP vice president for many years and a former cabinet minister, Lloyd was even de facto Opposition leader between 1944 and 1949 when Norman Manley was not in the House because he lost his bid in 1944.

When Michael Manley was elected PNP president and appointed Opposition leader in 1969, Lloyd resigned from both the PNP and as an MP. Lloyd's son Garland ran for the Jamaica Labour Party with the elder Lloyd's support while the PNP chose Seymour Mullings who was popular in the constituency. The JLP government, led by Hugh Shearer as prime minister, called the by-election for March 17 and the local government election for March 18.

Obviously, the JLP's hope was that Ivan Lloyd's popularity would extend to the son and win them the by-election which would influence the result of the St Ann Parish Council election the following day. The late Florizel Glasspole (then an Opposition PNP MP, later governor general) asked in Parliament how could the voters in Southeast St Ann dip their fingers in voter's ink after voting one day and show up with clean fingers the following day.

The JLP got around it by withdrawing their six local government candidates for the local government divisions in Southeast St Ann, giving the PNP the six seats unopposed. What would have happened had other candidates been nominated and refused to withdraw is anyone's guess. Seymour Mullings won the by-election for the PNP and the PNP won a slight majority in the St Ann Parish Council the following day, although the PNP lost overall to the JLP in the local government election that year.

It is still possible to have day-apart elections because the law has not been changed, although 42 years have passed since that time. But the law needs to be changed because if people are prevented from voting it would erode the democratic process for which so many bravely fought in the years leading up to 1944.

And now to the second matter. There was an article in the Sunday Gleaner of May 8 pertaining to credit unions and the new regulations that the Bank of Jamaica would like to enforce. Why do they want to regulate credit unions in this way when credit unions have done better than the banks in terms of managing money? We have had credit unions in Jamaica for 70 years and the movement has grown by leaps and bounds. How many banks have been around that long?

Perhaps our banks might be better off if credit unions supervised them. At least one governor of the Bank of Jamaica, the late G Arthur Brown, was initially trained by the credit union movement. He was one of the original 14 members of the Holy Trinity (Roman Catholic) Cathedral Young Men's Sodality Credit Union Study Club in 1941. They were concerned that black people could not get loans from banks and had to rely on loan sharks who wanted 75 per cent interest. Sodality operated as a sort of "common-law" credit union for at least a year before it was registered. Kingston Clerks' Credit Union was registered in December 1941 and Sodality Credit Union in 1942.

Do political parties solicit commercial bank owners for campaign money? Are credit unions being pressured into oblivion to preserve the banks for campaign funding? Jamaican-born Dr Una Clarke, a former US congresswoman, said that credit union regulations are just a way of putting poor people out of business. She was guest speaker at the closing function of the 65th annual general meeting of the Jamaica Co-operative Credit Union League in 2007 which was on a cruise boat between Miami and Mexico.

So the Bank of Jamaica's drastic proposals are in keeping with the World Council of Credit Unions' guidelines. But that is no excuse. Jamaican credit union members have different needs from people elsewhere. And the fact that Jamaica's credit union movement is a founding member of WCCU is no excuse either. The Roman Catholic position on social justice is rooted in the doctrine of the mystical body of Christ that as baptised people of God we are all one body. I call on Roman Catholics in Jamaica to lead the fight to preserve all our rights, notwithstanding the new bill of rights that will be a part of Jamaica's constitution.




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