No St Elizabeth rep in executive for first time in almost 50 years

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large

Sunday, January 15, 2012

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IT is regarded as Jamaica's leading producer of agricultural crops, and up to a few years ago a top mining destination. But St Elizabeth now finds itself without a presence at the level of Jamaica's political executive for the first time in almost 50 years.

The south-west Jamaica parish, known as the 'breadbasket' for its high volume of production, particularly in domestic crops, is not represented at the level of the new Cabinet of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, nor does it have any lower rank officials like ministers of state or parliamentary secretaries in the executive.

Up to three years ago, St Elizabeth was also Jamaica's leading producer of alumina, through Alumina Partners (Alpart) at Nain in the south-east of the parish.

Alpart had a capacity to produce 1.75 million tonnes of alumina annually. However, flat prices on the world market forced a cut in production, followed by a shutdown of the plant.

The parish saw the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) swinging the political pendulum its way in the 2007 general election when it swept three of four seats, but the People's National Party (PNP) struck back in the last election to secure a similar 3-1 win in the December 29, 2011 poll that left some observers wide-eyed and 'O-mouthed'.

The big shocker of the election was the victory by Hugh Buchanan, son of the former Cabinet minister and MP for the same South West St Elizabeth, Donald Buchanan, who stunned Dr Christopher Tufton, winning by 13 votes.

Tufton, the former agriculture minister, who was later transferred to the ministry of industry, investment and commerce as its policy head, was seen by pollsters as a shoo-in for the seat that ironically had been dominated by Donald Buchanan, who won it continuously, albeit by slim margins, from 1989 to 2002.

The younger Buchanan, 30, who started at Kingston College on the same day as Jamaica and West Indies cricketer Marlon Samuels, and who is almost 20 years younger than his opponent, also secured the highest number of votes by the PNP in the constituency -- 9,453 -- although only 18,893 of the 27,710 voters exercised their franchise. Tufton got 9,440 votes.

Buchanan's constituency and the adjoining South East St Elizabeth, now represented by fellow first-timer Richard Parchment, are the two most productive areas of the parish.

Flourishing cultivation of vegetables, fruits, ground provisions, seasoning and other crops have been the hallmark of both constituencies.

Parchment, who remains the councillor for the Myersville division in the St Elizabeth Parish Council until he is sworn in by Parliament, defeated the JLP's Franklyn Witter comfortably, polling 9,907 votes to Witter's 8,927 out of an electorate of 27,617.

North East St Elizabeth, the seat that has been won every time by the PNP in the modern era, except for 1980 and 1983, went as expected to Raymond Pryce, another first-time parliamentarian, who was chosen a mere two weeks before the announcement of the election, to contest the seat.

Pryce demolished the JLP's Corris Samuels, polling 9,566 votes to the loser's 5,498.

The only seat that the JLP retained was North West St Elizabeth where habitual winner William JC Hutchinson, a former outstanding forward for Knox College and later Munro College in the daCosta Cup football competition, triumphed again.

Hutchinson (5,689 votes), a Cornell University (Canada) graduate in agriculture and local farmer and landowner, had to struggle this time, by his standards, to turn back the challenge of the PNP's Richard Rowe (4,823).

In the last JLP administration, the parish was represented at the executive level by Dr Tufton, while Hutchinson served as a minister of state for agriculture, first when Tufton headed the ministry and later when Robert Montague succeeded Tufton. This, analysts said, confirmed that the administrations led by Bruce Golding and later Andrew Holness believed in the farmers of St Elizabeth having a voice at the level of the executive.

PNP stalwart KD Knight, who was born in St Elizabeth, believes that there is no great significance in the parish's lack of representation at the level of the executive.

Knight, a senior lawyer who was in charge of the PNP's campaign in the parish, said that the young candidates must earn their stripes first before they can be considered for executive positions.

"No significance at all. These are all young first-time candidates. They will need some grooming before they can get into the executive," he told the Sunday Observer.

"They are all very capable persons who no doubt will become executive members in due course. In the meantime, they are going to take the opportunity to cement their place in the constituency," Knight added.

Outgoing MP for South West St Elizabeth Dr Tufton declined a comment on the issue.

The parish had before been represented at the level of the Cabinet and executive by other political stalwarts, which include former Prime Minister Sir Donald Sangster, Neville Cleveland 'Cleve' Lewis and his son Neville Lewis, and Charles Wright of the JLP, as well as Sydney Pagon, Donald Buchanan, and Roger Clarke of the PNP.

Trade unionist Derrick Rochester, who won for the PNP in 1972, 1976, 1989, 1993 and 1997, never got a Cabinet appointment, which officials felt was due mainly to his work in the National Workers' Union.

Burnett Birthwright (BB) Coke, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, and after whom a high school is named at Junction in the south-east, also served the parish as an MP.

Running as a JLP candidate in Jamaica's first election after Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944, Coke defeated Sangster, who first ran as an Independent, and Hendricks Malcolm in the then St Elizabeth South seat.

By 1949 however, Sangster turned the tables on Coke, who had switched to an Independent.

However, Coke consistently won the seat after that for the PNP, doing so in 1955, 1959, 1962 and 1967. The seat changed to St Elizabeth South East in 1959.

It was Coke who forced Sangster, a native of St Elizabeth, to relocate to Clarendon after he defeated him in 1955. Sangster won the Clarendon North East seat in a by-election of 1955, won again in the same seat in 1959 and 1962, and 1967 in the newly created Clarendon North Central seat held now by Pearnel Charles. It was the last election for Sangster, who died on April 11, 1967 in Montreal, Canada after he fell ill.

Jamaica was governed by the Central Executive from 1944 up to 1953 when the Cabinet came into effect.

The first Cabinet minister appointed from St Elizabeth was 'Cleve' Lewis in 1964, when he replaced the late Ken Jones as minister of communications and works.

The senior Lewis, who won a seat in 1944, lost in 1949 and went to prison that same year for selling farm work tickets, contested elections in 1955 and 1959 as an Independent after Sir Alexander Bustamante refused to allow him to run on the JLP ticket.

Lewis came back into the JLP fold in 1962 however.

Before that, Sangster held the job of minister of social security in the Bustamante-led Central Executive of 1949, the first St Elizabeth MP to sit on an executive.

This came after the first six-man Cabinet of Bustamante, Harold Allan, Frank Pixley, ERD Evans, Jehoida McPherson and Felix Veitch was announced, with Clement Aitcheson as the House Speaker, in 1944.


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