Who am I? My life and leadership

By Edward Seaga

Sunday, March 11, 2018

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Part 1: Overview

My decision to do a three-part series on my life and leadership of my political career is to clear doubts, ignorance, or provide information of interest to persons who, whether critics or friends, would like to be more informed.

The presentation will cover the period 1958-2005.

Part 1 – overview;

Part 2 – achievements;

Part 3 –critique of the highlights

In writing my autobiography I recognised that I was carrying a unique and historic responsibility. I was the only remaining person who had been involved in various positions of leadership at high levels in the development of the country from before Independence, 1958-2005: prime minister, leader of the Opposition, member of the Legislative Council (now the Senate), Member of Parliament (45 years) and party leader (30 years).

I participated, in one capacity or another, in the major political initiatives which the country pursued and in those events which were historical turning points in Jamaican history during that period. As a consequence, it has fallen to me to do what cannot be done by anyone else from an intimate perspective — to write a biography which falls as close to a presentation of the history of the period as possible.

Aware of that heavy responsibility, I have tried to adhere to an objective, unbiased presentation. I am sure that the passion of certain events overtook me at times and that, on other occasions, some bias filtered in as the story unfolded, but there were times when the brutal truth demanded raw presentation because history demands an accurate record. As Harry Truman said: “I never gave anybody hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.”

Some have suggested that, because of the predominance of historical accounts, there was not enough of my personal life, or sidebars on relationships, or activities of a non-political nature to match the usual format of biographies. But I had little of those things in my life because of my involvement, 24/7, as they say, in national affairs.

Another observation concerns the detailed focus on the evolution of the West Indies Federation, which seemed to be an overemphasis in terms of the lack of direct impact involving my career. But, as the biography will show, Jamaica's development was based on the mantra of the day — which was expected to serve as an overarching umbrella framework to determine development policies. The shifting focus from one mantra to another, from decade to decade, was designed to lift development prospects and policies to higher levels. As will be seen, beginning with the federation, it did not.

The West Indies Federation expected the people of 10 territories to become one nation, inspired by a cross-border brotherhood of similar people that would kindle a flame of greater economic performance. It failed because of underlying contradictory priorities that made it impossible for leaders to agree with each other. Hence, there was little consensus in a process which required consensus, and only halting steps were made towards the ultimate objective. As a result of the lack of effective integration, the definitive position taken in the Jamaican Referendum on 19 September, 1961 to withdraw from the federation caused the removal of the largest territory, Jamaica, and the collapse of the federation, which was, by then, inevitable anyway.

Any reality check in the early years would have revealed that the grand design was done from the top down without consultation with the people. The member states, as poor countries, had to put self-interest first. Recognising the importance of consulting the people and dealing with internal conflicts would have saved a wasted decade of dreams.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the dominant economic mantra was the need for foreign investment to establish manufacturing and industrial projects and create jobs for the labour force. This investment had to be attracted through generous tax and non-tax incentives to encourage job creation. The facts, revealed 20 years later, showed that relatively few jobs were created by these capital-intensive industries, a substantial amount of revenue was foregone, and foreign exchange from local financial sources provided for their operations. The cost was greater than the return. Another waste, this time of more than a decade.

In the 1970s, a new mantra was adopted. Shifting from economic to social priorities, socialism would attempt to distribute wealth by pulling down the rich. This was expected to create an egalitarian, classless society. It did not take long to learn from bitter experience that the poor cannot be elevated by pulling down the rich, but by pulling up the poor. Another decade was lost because reality was swamped by the overpowering euphoria of the message that “socialism is love”. With a robust economy in the 1960s Jamaica was the star performer of the developing world until the economy plunged in a series of negative growth periods over eight years in the 1970s to the second-worst performance in the world, according to the World Bank. Migration of skilled persons was massive.

A dramatic turn in the 1980s raised competitiveness to the level of a new mantra by, inter alia, minimising the public sector as an agent of production and maximising the private sector as the agent of growth. To achieve competitiveness, macroeconomic stability had to be created. This stability, in the dictum of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), had to be anchored by leveraging the exchange rate, adjusting it regularly to achieve and maintain competitiveness. The problem here was that each adjustment of the exchange rate created a new cycle of price increases and additional debt which, as in many countries, failed to increase foreign exchange earnings and competitiveness. This was a vicious circle that forced me to intervene with a demand that the IMF discontinue this self-defeating policy. After a tense period, the IMF finally agreed to allow the exchange rate to be pegged. This significantly helped to transform the struggling Jamaican economy to achieve a restoration of growth, after 15 years.

By the 1990s, a new generation of Caribbean leaders, who had no experience with the federal failure, emerged. They reversed the process, creating a community of nations, Caricom, from the bottom up. When the structure reached a level for specific programmes to be introduced, cracks began to open wide. It became apparent that Caricom, an integrated organisation, would fail to produce a coherent, integrated foreign policy on crucial issues.

The Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), the Caricom standard-bearer, had no agreed single currency. It was evident that differing productivity levels would increase exports only in few member countries while showing decrease in most others — a couple would be the producers, most would be consumers. Jamaica would not be a factory but a supermarket. A reality check, in this case, where data was readily available would show that the CSME was an unworkable grand design of conflicting self-interests, with the same imports and exports among all members.

Finally, in the current decade, the overarching mantra of globalisation, that would open the markets of the world by levelling the playing field for trade and investment, was used as a stage for promoting participation in Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA), which were loaded with one-way benefits. These negotiations, between unequals, would lead to another futile mantra that would fail to push the country forward and, indeed, would pull it backward by a one-way flow of benefits, widening the gap to the detriment of the weaker, poorer partner.

I have outlined these in some detail to enable a deeper understanding as to why we failed to progress, and I have done so with relevance to my biography since I contested the presumption of benefits in each case, exposing the fallacies on which these schemes were founded, knowing that in every case the economy would lose ground.

In the course of completing this work, I have been asked some penetrating questions on my preferences. Which period did I feel most passionate about?

Without a doubt, the 1970s was the most dynamic period, in that it provoked a furore by attacking the establishment. In retaliation, the attackers attracted an onslaught of protective deterrents from those attacked, creating flight of capital and dwindling investment, confrontation and conflict. But most of all, it raised the consciousness of political thought, forcing everyone to appreciate the interplay of politics with the rest of the society and economy, and to decide whether they would stand and fight, or flee in fright, or indeed, embrace the new order.

It was a period which forced a commitment, whether to self or country. In my own case, I was passionately committed to fighting for a cause, to tame the socialist juggernaut and to defeat it by strategising its frailties. It was rewarding to see the strategies succeed and to realise that this seemingly indomitable, global, political ideological regime had feet of clay.

Socialist systems cannot maintain themselves without the corruption of power to maintain power, or holding elections which an opposition could never win. The system operates on a delusory democracy rationalised as “power to the people”, which is really power to those who want to hold self-perpetuating power. This invites violent overthrow, which cannot succeed if the State controls the administration and a corrupt political security force overpowering law and order.

Those who did not understand the dynamics of this model failed to realise how close we came to its incorporation as the system of governance of Jamaica. The Strategy and Anguish of the State of Emergency 1976, in Chapter 18, reveals the devious inner workings of a design which unleashed police terrorism, presided over by a justice system that cowered under the pressure of pre-signed blank detention orders to be filled out against innocent political foes; politicised public officers; and use of the treasury in a wild spending spree to buy support. In all this, a wimpish, conciliatory, unhappy private sector pulled a pillow over its head, hoping its fears would go away, and the established Church became the People's National Party (PNP) at prayer.

It is said, by those who cannot imagine that this overpowering, imported ideology could have been defeated without imported help, that the Central Intelligence Agency was at work. If it was, it was well hidden. Those who were at work, who stood with me, were a valiant crew of Jamaica Labour Party leaders and supporters who were determined that our freedoms would never be hijacked; the intrepid Daily Gleaner, which courageously refused to bow; the incessant Christian protests of the fundamentalist evangelical churches speaking to and for the folk people of Jamaica; and the courageous inner-city people, many of whom gave their lives to stop the lethal stampede of socialist forces in the streets. The masses and the classes cut across all borders; able-bodied, lame and blind electors found their way to the polls in an amazing record turnout of 87 per cent in 1980; the private sector, finally aroused, gave powerful, respected guidance. This was the coalition of interests that to protect our Holy Grail of freedom.

Alongside the passion to protect our country, was our determined drive to rebuild it in the 1980s. In a decade tainted with a struggle against imponderable global forces, our challenge was to reverse the legacy of the collapsed state of the 1970s; overcome the ravages of the worst global recession in 50 years; rebuild and restore a battered country from the devastation of the worst-ever hurricane; while creating an economy which was renewed, revitalised, reformed and recovered. We met this challenge in one decade.

There are many lessons to learn from this autobiography about surviving snares and pitfalls by devising our own strategies that work rather than accepting, whether willingly or under pressure, imported ideologies which it is thought must be made to work. The same brainwashed mentality that proclaimed everything from the Great House to be good and better is the same that dictated that only imported investment, imported socialism, imported federalism, imported IMF diktats and imported globalisation are all “good and better”. They are, but only in part. We must determine what is good and reject vehemently what is not, or we will become modern day slaves to new masters in a new colonial regime, and true independence would be a fiction.

I contested all these systems of imposition — from federalism to the misuse of globalisation. Their shoes did not fit our feet. In the last half of the 1980s — free of IMF tentacles on the exchange rate, free of the investment mantra that all foreign investment is good and should be incentivised, free of the rigidities of liberalism that the public sector must not own any means of production, including energy and mining — we crafted our own labour-intensive, macroeconomic model of a mixed economy which restored growth, substantially increased employment, and lowered rampant inflation. And we did so by energising the people-based sectors with expanded investment for wage earners.

The rule of law is the most fundamental of all foundations of governance in civilised society. A sweeping programme of constitutional reforms began in 1992. In 1994, I introduced the need for special treatment of the human rights section of the Constitution to provide for a Charter of Rights and Fundamental Freedoms that would close the loopholes of injustice and broaden the rights of the people. Particularly for the poor, this would greatly assist in closing the gap between the two Jamaicas.

Many years passed while the Charter continued to flounder as a work in progress, seemingly because approval of the Charter would penalise the opportunity of the government in power to continue the governmental abuse of human rights. The society continues to blatantly allow privileges for the rich and penalties for the poor, even though fundamental principles of justice are the pillars on which all systems of belief and law must rest.

Jamaica's misfortune is that policymakers have no agreed set of polices or principles on which to devise sustainable strategies that can allow the baton to be passed successfully from one runner to the next. Hence, the end result is a non-productive path of batons that are fumbled and dropped, and runners who take two steps forward and two steps backward. It is time now to stop following and fumbling; it is time to lead the way!

I trust this biography will serve as a reference to the past and a guide to the future, to ensure that the present will always be founded on reasoned steps so that it is a vision that ultimately charts our journey in the race between development and discontent.

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