PJ Patterson — a giant in our midstSunday, July 25, 2021
CONVERSING with our former prime minister and People's National Party Leader P J Patterson in the context of his party's 2020 election rout and the disgraceful instances of disunity and vitriol in the public space, he sadly remarked:
“Paul, when, finally, I cross the Jordan River and see Michael, he will ask with some choice words what happened to our party. However, he will eventually cool off. But even more dread is in meeting Norman who will definitely ask, 'P J, what did you do?' What can I tell him? If we spent as much time in focusing on the JLP's actions as we do in attacking each other, the party would not be in this position.”
It was the pained dilemma of a leader who understood the historic mission bequeathed to him by the party's founding fathers, having completed it with irrefutable distinction, left the stage undefeated but now is seemingly powerless to help his party return to the glory it once knew.
Let us be clear, however, PJ's self-dignity and gravitas deny even a mere hint of self-promotion or recognition of party slight. His elevated achievements acridly identify him above and beyond such grievous anomalies. He not only remains a celebrated voice in the councils of Caricom, the ACP countries, Latin America and other nations of the South, but more pointedly here at home, a font of political acumen, strategy and conflict resolution – treasured assets in seasons such as these. His work, through largely unrecognised and unappreciated cleansing history, will in its unsullied pages proclaim him the undisputed architect of the modern Jamaican State.
His transformational rite of passage is indelibly marked by his coordinating role as the principal proponent of the socio–economic revolutions in technology and telecommunications, infrastructural development, education and land allocation.
There can be no debate that it was P J Patterson's vision to lift Jamaica's backward production base, by transforming our information and telecommunications sector, to improve efficiencies in the search for economic growth and modernity. Critically also, the tone and tenor of his revolutions were underpinned by a historical determinism which espoused quality, access and equity for the marginalised masses.
In a development continuum from Norman Manley's foresight in establishing the Scientific Research Council in 1960, P J, having recognised the need for a new, comprehensive, research-oriented policy framework, enlisted the services of two leaders in the scientific community, Professor Gerald Lalor and Dr Arnaldo Ventura. A key recommendation of the 1990 policy review was the creation of a National Commission on Science and Technology in 1993.
Phillip Paulwell confirms that Prime Minster Patterson signalled his determinism to the necessary liberalisation of the telecommunications sector by providing his full support and backing in the watershed negotiations to dismantle the monopoly of Cable and Wireless, then chaired by the powerful Mayer Matalon.
Paulwell further reminds that with his bags packed for the negotiations at CW headquarters in London, as demanded by Matalon, it was P J's unambiguous decision that the meeting should take place in Jamaica, allowing for home turf advantage. The resulting successful negotiations led to the 1999 agreement between the Government and Cable and Wireless and the subsequent Telecommunications Act of 2000. It is one of the unfortunate realities of our political journey that Patterson's role in facilitating choices and lower prices among the millions of cellphone users remains largely unknown. In his memoir, My Political Journey, he confirms with obvious satisfaction:
“By 2006 our information and communications technology sector was quite advanced. The Administration had invested some US$700 million in infrastructure, including over US$100 million in submarine fibre-optics links, ranking Jamaica among the top five countries in the Western Hemisphere.”
But Patterson had further miles to go. It was within this new and exciting liberalised environment of technology advancement that the overarching purpose of Patterson's decision was consolidated with the formation of the Universal Service Fund announced by Minister Phillip Paulwell in 2005.
It's central objective was to provide ordinary Jamaicans with connectivity to a device and broadband access to the information super highway. Ultimately, this would offer a modern technological platform for our educational base to facilitate initiatives such as the Tablets in School programme, through tertiary pursuits to economic viability and growth. Indeed, Patterson's commitment and work on our scientific and technological uplift have come full circle. He demands the respect and admiration of a decent nation.
In the final two parts of the article we will explore the other phenomenal achievements of his labour in infrastructure, education reform and land allocation. And yes, we should now begin to ponder the vastness of his accomplishments.
Perhaps we are too near his greatness to recognise it but a later generation certainly will. On the political front, we will speak to his many sacrifices, his humility, his organisational genius, the brilliance of his leadership and his legendary sense of forgiveness and redemption.
A wise man once said that champions ride on the shoulders of the people for a season and then they fade, but heroes are for all times. As the coming pages further show, P J Patterson is an authentic Jamaican hero whose vision and achievements have ennobled our lives. His name will live as long as Jamaica lives. Let us begin to respect his work, learn from his deliberations and honour him.
Paul Buchanan is a former PNP Member of Parliament
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