Seaga's day

Packed gallery as Parliament pays tribute to former prime minister

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, June 20, 2019

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A packed gallery, but not so full chamber, at Gordon House yesterday look on as members of a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament sung the praises of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga four days before his body will be laid to rest at National Heroes' Park in Kingston.

The event offered a mixture of tributes to Seaga, who served as leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) between 1974 and 2005 – the longest serving leader of a major political party in Jamaica – and as Jamaica's fifth prime minister between 1980 and 1989, when he was defeated by the Michael Manley-led People's National Party (PNP) following the disruptive Hurricane Gilbert of 1988.

Approximately half of the Opposition's Members of Parliament (MPs) and six of its eight senators did not attend the event. Seaga sat in the House of Representatives for 43 years and remains the longest serving member in history.

The tributes started with Prime Minister Andrew Holness, a protégé of Seaga, who recalled him as a kind man, who took him under his wings and continued to guide and support him through his years as leader of the JLP and, eventually, as prime minister on two occasions.

“He dearly loved his party, and he truly believed that the political organisation that he led, and which I now lead, can end poverty in Jamaica and lead this country to prosperity,” Holness said.

“He would often say that this country has too much going for it, too many resources available to it, to be a poor country, and that I also believe dearly myself,” the prime minister said.

After Holness, former Prime Minister P J Patterson, who has the distinction of defeating Seaga in three consecutive elections between 1993 and 2002, was extremely kind and courteous in recalling his experiences with him over those and previous years.

However, he created a ripple of laughter when he noted that the left side of the speaker, from which he spoke yesterday, was not the side of the House of Representatives that he had been accustomed while challenging the Seaga-led Opposition.

Patterson said that determining what place Seaga deserves in the annals of Jamaica's parliamentary history, would involve the need to remind ourselves that:

“ (1) Each and every institution, corporation, commission or public company he created – whether as minister of development and welfare, or as minister of finance and planning, or during his subsequent tenure as prime minister, with the myriad portfolio responsibilities he held, required legislative action, parliamentary passage, and specific approval.

“I would be surprised if a thorough examination of all our existing Bills, Acts, rules and enabling regulations failed to disclose that Edward Seaga has introduced, numerically, and passed more statutory legislation than any other single minister in our history,” Patterson stated.

“He will remain legendary, not simply because of the quantity, but even moreso, by virtue of the synergistic quality which his superb legislative engagement unleashed.

“In order to compile that impressive record, he mastered the art of parliamentary debate and procedure. When he spoke, it was with authority and conviction, always thoroughly researched, lucid and convincing. You interrupted him at your peril; his repartee was devastating. His questions were incisive and interventions impressive and enriched the quality of legislative deliberations.

“(2) He fully understood and accepted the supreme value of Parliament and its transformative power. So, when the ideological conflicts were most intense, it was through parliamentary discourse and action we were able, as a House, to chart the path to maintain our democratic fabric through the creation of the Electoral Advisory Committee,” Patterson noted.

He added that when the electorate decided to vote him out in 1989, Seaga continued to discharge his range of critical and onerous parliamentary duties as leader of the Opposition “with single-minded determination”.

Former JLP leader and Prime Minister Bruce Golding said that Seaga has left an enormous legacy on which all Jamaicans, from whatever calling and from either side of the House, must continue to build.

“Today we honour him with our words, but beyond that we owe it to the people of Jamaica to strive, as he strove…to work as hard as he worked, to be as selfless as he was to achieve the greatness that was his lifelong dream and inspiration for us,” he added.

In his contribution, Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips admitted that in 1983, when the PNP decided against contesting the general election, he was among those in the party who feared that Seaga would abuse the political power offered by a one-party Parliament.

“We were, however, to be pleasantly surprised that Edward Seaga had become not one committed to overreach, but had become a guardian of the parliamentary democracy which he himself had laboured to construct,” Dr Phillips said.

Speaker of the House Pearnel Charles recalled Seaga as a social engineer, who had work to create many of the institutions which have become the foundation for national development.

“A remarkable man consumed with one mission; the development of Jamaica for the well-being of its people,” Charles added.

Among the inveited guests to the joint sitting were Seaga's widow, Carla and his children.

Seaga represented Kingston Western from 1962 to 2005 when he retired.

He died on May 28, on his 89th birthday.

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