Of Seaga's scandals, Higgins, Phillips and the PNPSunday, April 28, 2019
Men and women write their history only once and are best remembered at the high noon of their lives.
Our generation has been fortunate to live in the time of Robert Nesta Marley, a Garveyian warrior whose prophetic admonitions and transformative vision inspired his broken country and pushed a reluctant world towards the upliftment of the human condition.
Usain St Leo Bolt will be remembered too, for transcendent athletic achievements beyond the known realm of human capacity, which definitively confirms Garvey's unheeded pronouncements on the innate greatness of the Negro race.
More pertinent to this discussion, Percival Noel James Patterson affirmatively answered our ancestral cry for land to his people, modernised Jamaica's infrastructural landscape and ushered in a telecommunications revolution to meet the demand of the new century.
Having left the stage to the judgement of unvarnished history, he now relishes his role as a elder statesman, providing wise counsel above the partisan divide. These three men in their varied roles will be satisfied with history's verdict on their single life.
Then there is Edward Seaga, another elder statesman, who unlike Patterson, Marley and Bolt, now yearns a second coming. In his first offering he is remembered as a co-equal protagonist in the violent 1962 battle for West Kingston, a harbringer of the destructive tribal milieu that has spawned the creation of political garrisons islandwide. It was Norman Manley, who after listening to another of Dudley Thompson's upbeat campaign briefings to the party's executive, gave his own logical assessment of Seaga's redoubtable capacity: “Dudley, you are being outmanoeuvred and outgunned.”
Beyond that regrettable period of his first coming, Seaga elevated his national contribution to be recognised as an authentic cultural pioneer. In perhaps his greatest achievement, he led in the atonement of his nation's ill-treatment of Marcus Garvey, by naming him our first National Hero and presided over the return of his body from England, for honourable re-internment in the National Heroes Park.
More personally, in an address to a joint sitting of Parliament, I paid tribute to him as a nation-builder who … 'stands above all others in the creation of some of the most significant financial institutions in Jamaica's socio-economic firmament: the UDC, Jamaica Stock Exchange, Jamaica Mortgage Bank, the National Development Bank, the Agricultural Credit Bank, the EXIM Bank, JAMPRO, and HEART among others…'
At the end of his parliamentary career, he sought to complete his journey of redemption as an elder statesman, returning to academia and providing scholarly thought-provoking insights on the major socio-economic issues of the day.
It is embarrassingly sad therefore, that Seaga in his April 7, 2019 Sunday Observer article, 'Shame & Scandal Part 2', has sought to stain his mixed legacy by enjoining Garfield Higgins, the JLP's paid propagandist, in a sordid campaign of distortions to nullify the PNP's charges on the Holness Administration's plunder of the public purse, with not even charities being spared.
Moreover, his piece is fraught with inaccuracies and misinformation not worthy of one I referred to in my book 'Jones Town Trench Town', as a 'misunderstood architect.'
More pointedly, as an elder statesman, would it not have been more nationalistic to forsake his salivating need to delve into his list of rehashed and unproven scandals? Was the bar of elevated discourse set so high that he could not have risen to provide incisive commentary on Phillip Paulwell's unarguable path-breaking initiatives: on energy and energy diversification, particularly LNG and renewables: solar, wind and biomass, instead of reducing the value of his intellectual coinage on the vicissitudes of NETSERV et al? For certain, despite current misgivings, history will be kind to Paulwell for his towering role in setting an irreversible benchmark price of US$0.12.89 per kwh for electricity to meet the peoples' test of affordability; the nurturing of Wigton Farm and its divestment to small investors; the invaluable support of the Petro Caribe facility and the dismantling of the telecommunications monopoly to ensure broad access to his people.
Let me turn to another of his pet 'scandals' – Operation Pride. As a former minister of finance, he should have known that the so-called 'scandals' were mere allegations encapsuled by the auditor general, and subject to examination at the PAC hearings of 1997. A cursory research on the PAC findings would have revealed that the gravamen of the allegations were without foundation or merit.
The painfully unworthy political misinformation in which Seaga is engaged, can be acridly exposed by the finality of Hansard, which will show that there were 45 provident societies registered, not eight as he claimed, rebutting the central charge of illegal entities undertaking public work.
More critically, the PAC was advised that the programme spoke to incremental development, hence signed contracts reflected the provident societies confirmed deposits, plus 'sweat equity', with expenditure over and above to be formalised by variation orders issued by reputable quantity surveyors.
The excess would be eventually paid out by further beneficiary deposits and NHT mortgages. Hence expenditure on 60 per cent of major projects like Melrose, Karachi, Norwich, Bel Aire, Luana etc have been fully paid out with over $3 billion of the $6 billion expended, recovered by 2006.
Even more glaring is the charge that Pride applied site clearance rates that were more applicable to hilly sites on flat land, reflecting excesses from $6,000 per acre to $53,000. The charges based on allegations made by an aggrieved employee, dismissed for impropriety, caused great embarrassment to the Auditor General's Department, as the site identified was Bushy Park, St Catherine, a flat site which was not a Pride site. In fact, the higher rates related to Bushy Park, Clarendon, the de facto Pride project, a sloping to hilly site and as such justified the expenditure.
Summarily, some of the same charges were again laid before the Angus Commission in 2002, which, after detailed forensic audits, concluded that they were “sensational and inaccurate, reflecting a clear misunderstanding of Operation Pride and could add no value to the work of the commission.”
For sure, the PNP's confirmed failure to respond to this relentless distortion of its record of governance, runs the grave risk of making lies and unproven allegations part of its settled history. Let me repeat, Garfield Higgins, the separated former principal of Tarrant High School, one of the few men in history to celebrate a partial court victory over teachers, now bolstered by Seaga's offerings in his unholy enterprise, should not be allowed to further denigrate unchallenged, the work and worth of Dr Peter Phillips and the PNP. It is a destructive elitist mistake to cite Higgins' blasphemies as inconsequential. He and his fellow conspirators speak daily through the various media outlets to the JLP base and some independents, a significant component of the voting populace, which partly accounts for the low poll numbers of Dr Phillips and the PNP.
But more needs to be done, much more. The PNP and Dr Phillips' numbers will not rise or his leadership solidified if he finds comfort in the recent acclamation of NEC delegates at the UWI, many of whom are pledged to aspirants engaged in the 'Game of Thrones' swirling around his 'Iron Throne.'
Not a single one of them, leaders or otherwise, has risen in public defence of his stewardship.
Peter's salvation will only come with purposeful work on the merciless ground, searing with hopelessness, ingratitude and hard-won redemption. There are no short cuts and no artificial props. He cannot rely on the fleeting promise of support offered by 'concerned' Comrades, many of whom will not be easily found, if a leadership challenge should arise. His political journey is at a crossroads; how he responds and the path he travels will determine his lot.
Time is not on his side and the 'ground' is not homogenous. It is multi-faceted. It applies not to physical space but on policies that seek to better their circumstances. It speaks to a genuine concern and care for the less fortunate. This is why his first move should involve the replacement of his noble but unnecessary call die 'a country that works for all'. His party's mission must be firmly fixed on the upliftment of the poor and the working class. With the NCB Group reaping net profits of over $26 billion annually and other financial institutions a little less in a sea of poverty, pray tell what more can Jamaica offer to the upper class.
Moreover, Peter's central purpose should also include the removal of the stifling tentacles of inequity in our land.
With corporate mergers transcending to harmful monopolies, the National Growth Council Chairman off-loading his JMMB shares for a $3 billion gain without attracting a cent in non-existent capital gains tax and the much heralded “5 in 4” nowhere in sight, a clear message is sent of unbridled margin-gathering still predominating the capital market — the exclusive playing field of the wealthy few. This then offers Peter a game-changing role, in not only separating the PNP from its JLP look-alike but more profoundly to lead a major assault on the financial bastions of inequality. This will see him championing legislation to enact a capital gains tax long promised by the joint consensus of Norman Manley and Sir Harold Allan.
Even more impactful in his search for social justice, is the glaring need to further introduce a Community Reinvestment Act with all the elements of its US counterpart. This includes a mandated loans or investments of 2 1/2 per cent of the net profits of financial institutions, directed to depressed areas from which they accept deposits but now red-lined by offending entities. With these dramatic steps, the decisive Peter Phillips that courageously coordinated an impregnable base of macro economic stability and fiscal consolidation will reemerge, a necessary prelude to the public perception of his undoubted substance.
Of course, this must be underpinned by a proper communications strategy with attractively packaged messaging. There is nothing more important to a family than shelter, but the party's message has been woefully ineffective. In Eastern St Andrew for example, Fayval Williams, confidently struts around with very negligeable achievements under her watch. Yet the PNP's towering socio-economic intervention in that constituency remains unappreciated and unknown.
Instead of condemning Krystal Tomlinson's YO team, challenge them to do the research and craft a powerful message of the PNP's unequalled achievements, its PNP's role in the building of houses at: Mona Heights (Two pounds); Blue Castle ($16,000); Barbican Terrace ($14,000); Mona Commons ($19,000); Pines of Karachi housing ($2.6 million), Karachi lots ($526,000 to $1.2 million); Wellington Glades ($32,000); Wellington Heights ($1.2 million); Long Mountain Country Club ($4 to $7 million); African Gardens ($140,000); and Goldsmith Villas ($100,000 to $200,000).
For too long the PNP has distanced itself from these far-reaching accomplishments. Peter Phillips should now correct that ill-advised anomaly.
I close with one of the inexplicable ironies and grave injustices of our time. Fair-minded Jamaicans must be baffled at Dr Fenton Ferguson's treatment by both the PNP and the JLP.
How could it ever be accepted that this man of rare decency and welcomed civility, a chemistry major and doctor of dentistry, who gave his country yeoman service as dental surgeon for St Thomas and later presided over monumental changes in the health sector was hounded out as health minister by the JLP with Daryl Vaz leading the pack over the unfortunate deaths of 19 neonates. At the same time the current minister has presided over no recognisable advances and over 1,000 dead neonates with at least one eaten by dogs thus far. In addition, the Cornwall Regional Hospital debacle and the dengue miseries, have led to numerous fatalities among children and the elderly.
Despite all this, questionable polls have listed Dr Tufton as the best performing minister.
More detrimentally, as with its land reform achievements the PNP has failed to package Dr Ferguson's unprecedented achievements to its peril, among them 120 primary health care centres upgraded or built, including four centres of excellence; the internationally lauded anti-smoking legislation; the establishment of PROMAC to reduce infant mortality; the planning of the modern cancer care facility at St Joseph's and Cornwall Regional Hospital and the Marvin Goodman/Chinese designed Children's Hospital initiative in St James.
In the end, we come to the unfathomable narrative that elements in the PNP found common cause with Daryl Vaz in the contrived defeat of a giant who has won six consecutive victories in a JLP stronghold.
Clearly, in Dr Phillips's momentous climb, there is also need for internal repair.
I am done.
Wolmerian Paul L Buchanan is a former Member of Parliament (PNP). A land economist by profession, he also represented Jamaica at cricket.
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