Why harsh critique of Manley?

Letters to the Editor

Why harsh critique of Manley?

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

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Dear Editor,

Recently Jamaicans have been reading numerous articles highlighting the pros and cons of Michael Manley, the popular People's National Party (PNP) leader back in the turbulent years of the 70s and 80s. He served as prime minister from 1972 to 1980 and again from 1989 to 1992. His legacy is a mixture of condemnation and admiration.

His critics blame him for the economic disaster resulting from his socialist doctrine and his close ties with Cuba and Russia. They also blame him entirely for the flight of people and capital during his Administration. There is no question that his rhetoric panicked many Jamaicans who really thought the island would end up as a communist State. I will submit that most of that panic was self-induced. There was no legislation or government decree that indicated a move toward communism. In fact, many new policies were progressive. I will list some:

• National Housing Trust

• free education to tertiary level

• increase in national minimum wage

• land reform that redistributed idle bauxite land to small farmers

• abolishment of the Masters and Servant Act and replacing it with Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act, which provided workers and their unions with better rights

• equal pay for women and maternity leave were introduced

• JAMAL to advance adult literacy

• increase the bauxite levy and use the increased revenue to build schools and improve health care

What Manley's detractors should bear in mind was the huge disparity between the rich and the poor that existed back then — and still does. The record will show that 80 per cent of the country's wealth was owned by 20 per cent or less of the population. Edward Seaga highlighted that condition in his famous speech in the 60s about the “haves and the have-nots”.

The debate on whether the island could afford all those reforms will go on forever, but the social upheaval that could have ensued without them would have been a disaster. There were many Jamaicans, including business people, who did not flee the country, but stayed and prospered. Some will even attest that it was the Manley era and influence that vaulted them to their present favourable positions. It is also remarkable that some Jamaicans who would blame Manley solely for their departure, and who migrated to the US, are not leaving because of Donald Trump. Americans don't abandon their country because of a bad leader, but too many of us are all too willing to heap blame and condemnation on our political leaders while ignoring the fact that they were elected by popular vote.

Michael Manley loved his countrymen and was undoubtedly misguided in his regrettable utterances, but if Jamaicans were more patriotic the country would have fared much better.

He valued education for the people and tried valiantly to provide it, and even for that alone his critics should be less harsh.

Keith Mills

mortyman76@gmail.com


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