Know when to 'pack your bags and go!'

Know when to 'pack your bags and go!'


Sunday, November 17, 2019

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If a bird stays on one tree for too long it invites a stone. — Akan Proverb, Ghana


“You've got to know when to hold 'em

Know when to fold 'em

Know when to walk away

And know when to run.”


These poignant lines from the song The Gambler by country and western legend Kenny Rogers has global application to politics, social and intimate relationships, business dealings, and, indeed, numerous spheres of human encounter. Too many of us, because of a multiplicity of reasons, including empty braggadocio, vaulting ambition, unenlightened self-interest, and/or an attraction/obsession with the macabre, ignore the gambler's advice.

Local, regional, and international representational politics is replete with examples of men and women who try to extend their 'sell-by date' without any reference to the uncompromising coach of time and the unrelenting and gristly stage driver that is called planned obsolescence.

Françoise Gilot, French author and critic, said: “No one is indispensable to anyone else.” I agree.

Remember the golden rule: Leave when the majority of the people are begging you to stay, or certainly long before your expiration date. This is a good rule to abide by in politics. Many of our political leaders have made the fatal error of trying to hold on to the seat of power long after the political fat lady has sung, even giving very long goodbyes.

Edward Seaga is our best prime minister to date. His achievements in institution-building, especially, have served to transform this country for the better. I have written numerous articles setting out these. Seaga saved Jamaica from the ravages of Michael Manley's brand of democratic socialism that brought our country to near ruins in the 1970s. I have presented incontrovertible evidence to support this fact in previous articles. However, like all humans, Seaga had flaws. In my view, he should have resigned as leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) after the JLP was defeated in 1993 by the People's National Party's (PNP) P J Patterson. Instead, he clung to the reins of power with vice-like-grip stubbornness.

Political atrophy and attrition, thereafter, took hold on many of the internal structures of Alexander Bustamante's party. Recall the explosive headlines about 'gang of five', 'gang of seven', 'gang eleven and fifteen', and the perennial images — subliminal and otherwise — of Seaga as the self-christened “One-Don”.

Several credible polls found the JLP did not stand a snowball's chance in hell of being elected to form the Administration so long as Seaga was its leader.

After 1993 Seaga went on to lose the 1997 and 2002 general elections. I anticipate that many will say it was Bruce Golding and the National Democratic Movement (NDM) that caused the JLP to lose in 1997. There is a lot of merit to that argument. Nonetheless, the fact is, the JLP did lose.

Some will doubtless say the systematic demonisation of “Papa Eddie” by sections of a complicit media, detractors at the time like Trevor Munroe, and some institutions of higher education — which I believe to date are mere heavens for pseudo intellectuals who are skilled only in abstract publications and distortions of especially our political history — caused Seaga to lose four general elections. The fact is, though, he did lose.

Seaga did manage, however, to claw back some electoral respect when he firmly trashed P J Patterson and the PNP in the parish council elections of 2003. He finally bowed out in January 2005.

This is how a Jamaica Information Service ( JIS) report captured one of the most momentous events in our history. The report said, among other things: “Members of the House of Representatives on January 18 paid tribute to Leader of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Edward Seaga, who has officially resigned as leader of the party and Member of Parliament for West Kingston after close to 50 years in the political arena. The atmosphere was a mixture of expectancy, sadness and admiration for the man reputed to be the only sitting parliamentarian with a career spanning both the colonial and Independence periods.

“Prime Minister P J Patterson, in his tribute, described the moment as a privilege of history. He said the occasion was one in which the usual discordance in opinions was silent and harmony apparent. The prime minister said Seaga could not be denied his true place in the archives of Jamaica's legislative history. Of Seaga's historic involvement in the drafting of the Independence constitution, his service as prime minister for nine consecutive years, his leadership of the JLP for 30 years, his over four decades of representation of West Kingston, and his unrivalled contribution to the construction of the social and economic fabric of the nation, Patterson said that 'quantitatively and qualitatively, his innings will not be replicated'.” ( JIS, January 19, 2005)

Seaga, a doyen of Jamaica's development and the man who rescued this country from the certain threat of communism, did not heed these wise words from Kenny Rogers' The Gambler:

“Every gambler knows

That the secret to survivin'

Is knowin' what to throw away

And knowin' what to keep

'Cause every hand's a winner

And every hand's a loser

And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”

The lessons here are conspicuous.


P J overstayed too

P J Patterson served as our prime minister for 14 years, our longest-serving. I have said before that I believe he is to date our worst. I have not recoiled from that view. In previous articles, I presented voluminous evidence from credible local, regional, and international sources to support this perspective.

Former Prime Minister P J Patterson, like his predecessor Michael Manley, pursued similarly disastrous policies. The PNP's 18 1/2 years in power, between 1989 and 2007, left Jamaicans poorer. We must never go down that road again.

These growth statistics speak volumes: 1989 (7.0 per cent); 1990 (6.3 per cent); 1991 (0.5 per cent); 1992 (2.7 per cent); 1993 (2.2 per cent); 1994 (1.9 per cent); 1995 (2.5 per cent); 1996 (-0.2 per cent); 1997 (-1.6 per cent); 1998 (-1.0 per cent); 1999 (1.0 per cent); 2000 (0.9 per cent); 2001 (1.3 per cent); 2002 (1.0 per cent); 2003 (3.5 per cent); 2004 (1.4 per cent); 2005 (1.1 per cent); 2006 (3.0 per cent); 2007 (1.4 per cent). (NB: 1990 was momentum the year of the JLP Administration of Edward Seaga.)

Our black entrepreneurial class was almost decimated in the 90s by the scorched-earth high interest rate policies of the Patterson Administration and Dr Omar Davies, who I believe has gone down in our political history as our worst finance minister to date.

Just imagine where our country would be today if even a quarter of the 45,000 small- and medium-sized businesses that went under during the 1990s were allowed to bloom, bring forth fruit, and flourish?

Just imagine if these companies that were destroyed by 'wild-west' capitalism and ruinous monetary policies were allowed to breathe oxygen. Carbon monoxide was poured into their veins, instead.

All these companies — and this is an abbreviated list — capsized while the PNP held office in the 90s: Mutual Life, a company that operated locally for over 100 years; Goodyear tyre company; West Indies Glass; Homelectrix; Workers' Bank; Raymar's Furniture; Charley's Windsor House; Thermo Plastics; Berec Batteries; Century National Bank; Crown Eagle Insurance; Crown Eagle Insurance Commercial Bank; Island Life Insurance Company; American Life Insurance Company; Eagle Merchant Bank; Ecotrends; Times Store, another company that operated in Jamaica for just over 100 years; and Things Jamaican, which had its location turned into a detention centre by the PNP.

We must never forget this tragic period of preventable underdevelopment in our history. The PNP blames what they called external forces for the economic cataclysms of the 70s. What is the excuse for the 90s?

I recall Professor Wolfgang Grassl, who did a teaching stint at The University of the West Indies, Mona, saying on the now-defunct news magazine radio programme Breakfast Club many years ago that the 90s was a period of boom in the world economy. He noted that economies in the Caribbean grew on average three per cent to five per cent during the 90s. Ours floundered!

Patterson, like all our previous prime ministers, did do some good. He brought back decency to public transportation in the Kingston Metropolitan Area, pioneered many pieces of utilitarian legislation, and started the Highway 2000 project. His almost sedate style of leadership did help to take a lot of heat and venom out of local politics.

For those who don't believe the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) is a mighty big improvement compared to the franchise bus system, or whatever it was, that existed in the 80s, please board your time machine and go back to when some 'ductas' would refuse to carry 'schoolers' and women would be rubbed up against by perverted men who use the opportunity of buses packed like sardines to act out their sordid fantasies. The trauma of the mini-bus system served as a constant reminder of the transatlantic middle passage experience, and numerous uncomplimentary songs, by both local and foreign artistes, were sung about this doleful period in our post-independent history.

Long before Seaga departed the political scene in 2005, Patterson had lost his political salt. Recall the islandwide gas riots of 1999? It was the mother of all gas demonstrations.

These are snippets of how some mainstream media, among other things, represented that miserable event:

“Violent protests, looting, and shootings triggered by a hike in fuel prices brought Jamaica to a standstill yesterday. Foreign airlines cancelled flights into Kingston after disturbances that left one woman dead and at least six other people wounded.

“The woman was shot by a private security guard fending off looters.

“A police officer shot in the face on Monday was in critical condition.

“Air Jamaica cancelled flights to Miami and London yesterday and British Airways cancelled flights to Jamaica on the advice of the British high commissioner on the island, who is monitoring the situation.

“Cruise ship passengers were told to stay out of the northern resort town of Ocho Rios and some hotels in Montego Bay reported tourists were unable to reach the airport.

“[Prime Minister P J] Patterson had said the tax would help to restore the lost money of some two million depositors in failed banks, 500,000 policyholders in insurance companies, and 55,000 pensioners. But leading figures in the economy warned that alternatives should be found.

“But the finance minister, Omar Davies, vowed not to alter the new fuel tax, arguing that the funds were required to improve the country's roads and public transit system.” ( The Independent, April 21, 1999)

The Gleaner of April 28, 2009 reflected on the 1999 gas riots this way:

“There was widespread rioting in April 1999 when Prime Minister P J Patterson announced that a 31 per cent gas tax would be imposed:

“From Morant Point to Negril Point tyres went up in flames and businesses were forced to close as Jamaicans joined in the infamous 1999 gas riot.

“Public transportation and the education system were virtually crippled, while the police force, the military, and the fire brigade worked overtime to contain the protests.

“Many commuters were forced to walk long distances as bus drivers and taxi operators abandoned their routes and parked their vehicles.

“The security forces, which were largely outnumbered by demonstrators, struggled to contain the situation and sometimes stood quietly by while the protesters had their way.

“During the mayhem, at least three members of the security forces were shot and injured and another four injured otherwise during demonstrations.

“A pregnant woman was also shot and killed.

“Several private and public vehicles were set on fire and some firemen were stoned while trying to put out the blaze.

“The demonstrations led to more than 100 arrests in the Corporate Area, St Elizabeth, St Thomas, Clarendon, St Catherine, and St James.”

The Chicago Tribune of April 22, 1999 reported this:

“ 'Omar (Finance Minister Davies) have blood in him eye, and I have blood in mine for him too,' a woman shouted as she hauled a piece of wood to reinforce a burning barricade.

“At least 140 people had been arrested during the protests. Britain issued a travel advisory.”

The Associated Press, April 22, 1999 said: “In Kingston, overnight, demonstrators set four shops on fire and looters smashed other businesses, ignoring a curfew. Some parts of the island suffered blackouts and telephone problems.”

Shortly before P J Patterson departed the political scene he said Portia Simpson Miller was the only hope of the PNP retaining State power. I believe he knew long before that utterance that the sun had set on his political stocks. Like Rogers' The Gambler, Patterson found an ace in 2002. After that, his political card pack crumpled.


Lessons, near and far

Trying to extend ones political sell-by date is not unique to Jamaica. Politicians love power. In recent weeks, for example, we have seen the dangerous results of an obsession with political power play out in Bolivia, Lebanon, and other countries. Former Bolivian President Evo Morales presided over many social and economic improvements, but tried to overstay his welcome. He started to adopt dictatorial tendencies. People said no, and he was forced out. Last week he had to flee to Mexico.

Amid nationwide anti-Government protests Lebanon's embattled Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in October.

In Jamaica, we have numerous political leaders, on both sides of the House, who have long passed their sell-by date. They need to:

“Know when to fold 'em

Know when to walk away

And know when to run.”


Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Observer or

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