Holness disparages a legacy from which his Administration benefits

Holness disparages a legacy from which his Administration benefits


Sunday, July 26, 2020

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He who sows the seeds is not always he who reaps the harvest. In 1962 the Alexander Bustamante-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) inherited an economy that, on the average, produced about seven per cent gross domestic product (GDP) growth annually between 1955-1962. That level of economic growth was spearheaded by the Norman Manley-led People's National Party (PNP). Manley sowed the corn but never reaped the full harvest — because he called the 1961 referendum, followed by the 1962 election, both of which the PNP lost.

Luckily, Andrew Holness inherited a good playing ground from the PNP in 2016, solid enough for him to build on. Fortunately, the stars have been in perfect alignment since and he remains largely untested, COVID-19 notwithstanding. His 2011 “bitter medicine” caveat, in my judgement, was a slick metaphor for his Gethsemane, “Let this cup pass from me…” moment. He “successfully lost” that election. The cup fell to Portia Simpson Miller and the PNP, and, boy, they managed that cup of bitter medicine competently. As destiny ordained, Andrew returned four years later, but after the storm passed, only to inherit a more stable political, social, and economic environment then he left in 2011.

As such, Mr Prime Minister, “Yuh cyaan siddung pan cow back and cuss cow 'kin.” That aphoristic guidance does not impel anyone to deify the cow. Quite the contrary, it serves to instil in all of us an intrinsic principle that should compel us to exercise good social conscience — an integrity sculpted from the kaolin clay of truth, reasonableness, gratitude, graciousness, respect, and ethical altruism. In many ways, but principally through its sheer simplicity, the aphorism imposes on us the responsibility to eschew churlishness, pomposity, and ungratefulness for any direct or indirect assistance we receive.

Still yet, Holness must not “mek duppy fool him”. Things can change in ways that also disrupt the otherwise smooth trajectory of his leadership.

Lest political twits think otherwise, I have no desire for misfortune to befall him, or the Jamaican experiment. He has acquitted himself well. He has not departed much, if any, from the template bequeathed him. He is just more active, well-liked, and youthful in managing the abundant fruits. Nevertheless, and as best possible, he should remain measured in his utterances, resolute, and fair in his convictions, but equally sincere in his deeds. He ought not to squander his enormous political goodwill; neither should he take it for granted, because there will be times when principles will have to trump political positions.

Yet, completely unprovoked, in furtherance of his disregard for historical completeness, Holness launched a broadside against what he suggested was a Michael Manley-led PNP “…misadventure of the 1970s, which diverted us from the path of economic growth, selling the people of Jamaica false hope and unrealistic dreams…”

Holness proffered no context. His over-endowment of snootiness knew no bounds. He continued, “[W]ith all the social problems that needed to be addressed, had we stayed the economic course and ensured that our economy was aligned to the opportunities that were created by the industrial transformations that were taking place, Jamaica would be a better place today…”

How could Holness downplay the terrible social issues that introduced the 1970s and not pause to explain how social disintegration and inequality of opportunity can stymie realisation of economic prosperity, as was the case in the 1960s?

In his efforts to achieve popularity among the very impressionable cadre of young Labourites, and to receive veneration from the recipients of several JLP-funded scholarships, Holness showed the other side of his face. Yes, the political side that makes it easy for him to engage intellectual dishonesty, manifest ungratefulness and opportunism, but without the awareness of the inherent political malpractice that can ensue. His attack on Michael Manley was an act of political malpractice, in the sense that, by belittling Manley's legacy, he single-handedly reinvigorated Comrades who, hitherto his bombast, were in an advanced state of political rigor mortis. For, even in death, there is no other political figure in the Caribbean who was — and still is — as treasured, revered, well-known, and loved as Michael Manley.

Ever since Holness's delivery of another of his narrow-minded political razzmatazz, I have been hearing from quite a few Labourites, as well as from diehard Comrades, all questioning his temerity and arrogance. Among the torrent of e-mail and telephone calls was an e-mail from a very well-known scholar. He wrote, “Burns, axiomatically, Andrew is politically obtuse…” He asked the rhetorical question: “How could he forget the fact that it was through Michael Manley's progressivism of the 1970s, [in spite of Edward Seaga's poisonous politics and anti-Cuba crusade which targeted Manley] that made it possible, some 40-odd years later, for Christopher Tufton, the minister of health and wellness, to greet gleefully a batch of 140 Cuban medical professionals who arrived on the island, in March 2020, to help the country fight COVID-19?” I replied, sarcastically, “I guess that is one of the many by-products of Manley's misadventures of the 1970s.”

There were so many gaps in the Holness's oral history they could easily fill the Mona Reservoir with leftovers to convert the Rio Cobre into hydroelectric power plant. Andrew's incomplete representation of post-independent Jamaica mid-1960s to 1980 is not only offensive and overly simplistic, but it remains laxly ironic. The 1960s is really a good place to start the discussion about happenings in the 1970s through 1989. There is no better way to introduce social and economic life in Jamaica in the 1960s than to start off with Orlando Patterson's The Children of Sisyphus.

In Greek folklore Sisyphus was a king of Ephyra (Corinth) “whose punishment for self-aggrandising craftiness and deceitfulness mandated that he roll a massive stone up a hill, only to watch it roll back down”. Suffice it to say, Sisyphus had no choice than to repeat that never-ending mission impossible (talk about crime and punishment). Struggling Jamaicans call it “the system”. Although fictionalised, Patterson's 1964 work tells a painful story of the terrible realities of poverty, escapism, and how the lack of opportunity descended upon the poorer class, but also how marginalisation can cause destitution and alienation. It is no wonder, between 1960 and 1970, a staggering 265,000 Jamaicans emigrated. All that while there was high economic growth.

So, how comes so many Jamaicans left our shores during the period of great economic prosperity? The Children of Sisyphus gives the clearest answers as to what existed then for the majority of Jamaicans in Jamaica during the “good old days” of the 1960s. Is that where the prime minister wants to take us?

We must not allow our young prime minister to pull wool over our eyes in pursuit of his political agenda. As citizens of this country we must never forget from whence we came. We must not allow political snake oil salesmen, or three-card trickery to drag us back to that darker place; a place where, in spite of the over-abundance of milk and honey, very little — if any at all — trickled down to quench the scorched lips of those who toiled to create the wealth, but only received a contemptuous pittance in exchange for their labour.

Though an enigma of sorts, by way of strict chronology, for many who came of age in Jamaica between 1950 and 1972, Charles Dickens' epic novel A tale of two cities, which preceded the 1960s by almost 100 years, best summarises that period of the Jamaican experience. For many, it was indeed, “…the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”. Poverty, corruption, illiteracy, and unemployment were rampant throughout the country. Jamaica's housing stock was either undeveloped, underdeveloped, or virtually non-existent for poor Jamaicans. Access to high school education was largely restricted. There was limited access to potable water and electricity, especially in rural Jamaica. The infant mortality rate was near 62 per 1,000 in 1960. No matter how much we slice and dice history, it is very difficult to go around what people experienced. Yet the JLP, purposefully restricts its arguments to the 1960s — the period of Jamaica's unprecedented decade of economic prosperity.

Then there are the adherents of the late Wilmot “Motty” Perkins' fatalistic crusade, who cannot help themselves from engaging in useless comparison between Jamaica and Singapore. They prefer to talk about the 1960s without speaking frankly or completely about the alarming conditions that existed in Jamaica despite the strong economic performance. Any useful analysis of Jamaica's pre- and immediate post-Independence economic performance cannot occur in a vacuum. It must, as a matter of reason, also include the power of happenstance, because the extensive period of post-war growth was growth driven almost exclusively by the high demand for bauxite for reconstruction purposes through eastern Europe. It was the European rebuilding that helped to push Jamaica's thrust to becoming an industrial society.

Lest we forget, it was under the 1948 Marshall Plan — a four-year plan — to reconstruct cities, industries, and infrastructure that were heavily damaged during World War II that some US$15 billion was provided to finance the rebuilding efforts. And so, Jamaica's economic locomotion began in earnest and accelerated with the export of bauxite beginning in the 1950s. With that shift, however, the economic structure started to shift from a dependence on agriculture, which accounted for 30.8 per cent of GDP in 1950, to 12.9 per cent in 1960, and 6.7 per cent in 1970. During the same period, the contribution to GDP of mining increased from less than one per cent in 1950 to 9.3 per cent in 1960 and 12.6 per cent in 1970. Manufacturing expanded from 11.3 per cent in 1950 to 12.8 in 1960 and 15.7 in 1970.

Undoubtedly, the quality of Jamaica's GDP growth in the mid-1950s through late 1960s was supported by improvements in productivity led by the bauxite, light manufacturing, and tourism industries. Despite the booming economy of the 1950s and 1960s, many Jamaicans lived in hovels and went about barefooted. In the rural areas, little children were encumbered with the perennial load of hardship and despair as they hauled buckets of water on their heads. Many Jamaicans were suffering. They could not send their children to school and to produce their own subsistence, many were taken out of schools to work the difficult land. Most rural folks who had to chop wood to make fire for forenoon and evening meals also slept in shacks. Many rested on kaya mattresses, where chink played hopscotch on their bodies.

Uncertainties and disillusionment kept them up at night as they stared into partially opened ceilings while “peenie wallies” enhanced lighting from the flickering kerosene oil “Home Sweet Home” lamps — the very lamps on which children depended to finish up their homework, due to the absence of rural electricity. By the time most of them who walked several miles to get to school arrived, they were already tired and mentally drained; thus, putting them at a disadvantage and farther from getting the full benefits of an education. All this while the Jamaican economy prospered, while almost all the profits from the natural resources flowed back into the hands of foreign owners of the capital employed.

Classism and its benign form of racism were still rampant throughout the society in the 1950s and 1960s. The best arable lands — the flatlands — were either owned by plutocrats or reserved for members of the plantocracy, while small peasant farmers were relegated and condemned to farm on rocky hillsides. The top five to 10 families, mostly of European or Middle Eastern lineage, along with foreign-owned companies, controlled more than 80 per cent of the wealth — much of which was eventually repatriated abroad because foreign direct investments required such. Very few, if any, Jamaicans with dark hue were employed as tellers in the banks, or as front desk receptionists in major hotels, and for well into the 1970s, most of Air Jamaica's hostesses looked alike.

It was within the context of the Jamaican version of Marie Antoinette's “Let them eat cake” that the 1972 PNP developed and successfully campaigned on the 'Better must come' slogan. I am from the same post-Independence generation as the prime minister; however, I know that the PNP has always represented a political movement that aims to advance and uplift the interests of ordinary people and has sought to achieve its mandate through political, social, and economic changes.

I will discuss the period 1972 -1989 in the next instalment; stay well and safe.

Christopher Burns is chief finance officer and vice-president of finance for a multinational. Send your comments to the Jamaica Observer or burnscg@aol.com.

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