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Much to be proud of this Ja55

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, August 06, 2017

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Proverb: Tek weh yuh get till yuh get weh yuh want.

Translation: Take what you can get until you can get what you want.

Explanation: Every opportunity, well used, can be a stepping stone to realising your ultimate goals.

The raging debate on whether Jamaica's Independence has been worth it will doubtless continue for many more years. I believe we made the right decision when we lowered the Union Jack 55 years ago today. However you square it, measure it, or dice it, we have made significant strides for which we can be truly proud.

Three of our most significant achievements are the reform of the electoral system, improvements in public transportation and pioneering institutional building.

Electoral system reform

The history of corrupt elections in this country is voluminous. The mother of all corrupt elections was held in 1976 under a State of Emergency. This was declared on June 19, 1976, and lasted for a year. Jamaica Labour Party candidates, organisers and supporters in key constituencies were imprisoned or confined, threatened and intimidated by political thugs.

The findings of the Smith Commission revealed that the state of emergency's calling was predicated upon the facilitation of political opportunism and not bona fide concerns about national security. I have provided incontrovertible evidence from the commission's report in previous articles, which demonstrate that State power was corruptly used during the 1976 State of Emergency to preserve the Michael Manley regime in power. We must never pass that way again.

No one can deny that widespread political violence and murders that almost always accompanied elections in Jamaica is now a thing of the past. Who can forget the 844 [official police statistics] Jamaicans who were killed leading up to the October 30, 1980 General Election?

Significant credit must be given to former prime ministers Edward Seaga and Michael Manley, as well as others in the arena of representational politics who resolved that the slaughter of Jamaicans, which preceded the holding of our ninth parliamentary elections, should never be repeated. Their enlightened cooperation inspired and culminated in legislation which set in motion the framework that slowly defanged widespread election violence.

“The 1980 General Election was the first election supervised by the Electoral Advisory Committee [EAC], which was established under the representation of the People's Act (Interim Electoral Reform), enacted in 1979. The establishment of this body was part of the reform of the electoral machinery which also included amendments of various provisions of the Representation of the People's Act itself. The administration of the electoral system passed from the chief electoral officer to the director of elections, a post created by the Representation of the People's Act (Interim Electoral Reform).

“The Electoral Advisory Committee introduced several new features in the procedures related to the conduct of elections. Foremost among these were:

1. The use of ultraviolet light [integrity lamp] for the detection of persons who sought to vote more than once.

2. The ballot papers for the first time carried certain features which served to enhance their security and improve the secrecy of the ballot.

3. A substitute ballot paper which was used in the place of regular ballot paper, when the latter was either stolen, lost or destroyed.” (Electoral Commission of Jamaica [ECJ] website)

A great Jamaican who played a Herculean role in the dousing of the flames of widespread political violence through his tireless work in building and safeguarding the work of the EAC was its first chairman, the late Professor Gladstone E Mills, OJ, former professor of government at The University of the West Indies.

He died in September 2004.

His pioneering work was fittingly saluted by former Prime Minister P J Patterson: “His chairmanship of the EAC, in particular, laid the foundation for the present electoral system, which has been acknowledged as the best the country has ever had. His approach was indeed the epitome of fairness and balance, underpinned with institutional capacity-building, which would ensure the sustainability of the work of the EAC.” (Jamaica Information Service, September 27, 2004)

I believe the maturing of our electoral system is an achievement of which we can be justly proud.

“Former Chairman of the ECJ Professor Errol Miller says Jamaica can be proud of its electoral system, which has improved significantly since Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944 and continues to advance through the leadership of the ECJ.

“ 'The reform of the country's electoral process is one of the great accomplishments of the Jamaican people since Independence,' he told JIS News. 'We have reached a stage where our electoral process is recognised around the world, and measures we have developed here are being adopted elsewhere. We are called upon to assist many countries in the Caribbean and outside, and our people serve on various committees and are part of various bodies,' he said.

“According to Professor Miller, Jamaica adopted from its colonial masters a 'flawed electoral process', and from 1944 until 1979 the electoral process was managed 'colonial style, on a winner take all' system.

“ 'The party in Government sets the laws, conducts the elections, and Parliament itself sets the boundaries of constituencies all to their advantage,' he said.

“He credits the changes to the work of parliamentarians and former prime ministers and party leaders Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, 'who took the decision that this could not continue, and they established the EAC with responsibilities to protect the electoral process from the direct control of the Government'.” ( Jamaica Observer, December 21, 2011)

Public transportation

Recall that there was a time in Jamaica when headlines like these were commonplace in the national newspapers: 'Middle passage minibuses', 'Schoolboy kills 'ductor' ', 'Shotta buses; dangerous rides', 'Preacher rebukes pregnant woman on Coaster bus', 'Four die in Clarendon minibus crash'; 'Sex Coasters the newest fad'.

There was a time in Jamaica when it was de rigueur that you took a bath immediately after a ride on public transportation.

How did the cruel times in public transportation come about? In the early 1970s, in keeping with the new direction of Michael “Joshua” Manley and what was called democratic socialism, the Jamaica Omnibus Service (JOS) [nicknamed 'Jolly Joseph'], which was generally efficient [with respect to cost and the quality of service that it offered to commuters - at least those are the recollections of persons I consulted], was nationalised. This was consistent with Manley's thrust for Jamaica to “own the commanding heights” of the economy.

After Government took over the JOS, fares were kept artificially low, scheduling of buses fell apart, breakdowns became commonplace, and management of the service went south. This created a vacuum which was filled by enterprising owners of small buses and taxis, who delivered a comparatively faster and 'reliable', but largely illegal service.

Naturally, the JOS was not able to compete with these minibuses and 'robots'. By 1983 the illegal service all but conquered the Corporate Area transportation system, and this forced the Edward Seaga Government to turn off the engines of the supremely loss-making JOS.

I have long held the view that the 'Jolly Joseph' should have been restructured, retooled and rebranded, not retired.

To P J Patterson's eternal credit, a seismic shift was made in public transportation in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region in the late 1990s with the setting up of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC). All administrations since then have sensibly tried to improve the JUTC.

Patterson and subsequent administrations also deserve credit for amendments to the motor vehicle policies which have enabled thousands of ordinary Jamaicans to own their own means of transportation.

We cannot go back to the brutal days when 'schoolers', boys in particular, were persona non grata on minibuses; when pregnant women were sometimes forced to stand because of a middle passage-like transportation system; and when many women feared going on the bus because perverts lay in wait to rub themselves against their bodies, using the 'sardine tin'-like conditions as conduits to satisfy their deviant sexual obsessions.

Institutional building

Edward Seaga and local institutional building are almost synonymous. “Mr Seaga's political career began in 1959 when Sir Alexander Bustamante, founder of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), nominated him to serve in the Upper House of the Jamaican Parliament, the Legislative Council [later the Senate]. His appointment, at 29, made him the youngest member ever appointed to the Legislative Council.” ( Profile of Edward Seaga, p1)

The late Lee Kuan Yew famously said, “A true leader thinks what his country can become 100 years in the future and sets in motion structures to achieve his vision.” This is what Seaga attempted.

What are some of Seaga's achievements in institution building? Let's start with financial institution building, the lifeblood of any economy: Jamaica Stock Exchange (1968), Jamaica Development Bank (1969), decimalisation of the Jamaican currency (1969), introduction of merchant banking in Jamaica (1969), Jamaica Mortgage Bank (1972), National Development Bank (1981), Agricultural Credit Bank (1981), National Investment Bank of Jamaica and Export-Import Bank (1986), JAMPRO [formerly Jamaica National Investment Promotion Limited] (1987), Digiport [first satellite telecommunications data processing operations], and the Self Start Fund (1984).

Seaga and the JLP built the National Arena in 1963; Things Jamaican in 1963; student revolving loan fund for higher education (1970); established Jamaica Racing Commission and Jockey School (1972); Golden Age Homes for the elderly poor; Programme for Advancement of Early Childhood Education; residential halls for The University of the West Indies, University of Technology, Jamaica; HEART (now HEART/National Training Agency) in 1982; establishment of the Office of the Contractor General (proposed in 1979) in 1983.

Seaga should be forever credited for his unrivalled magnanimity when, after the 1983 General Election (selection since it was uncontested by an unprepared PNP), he did not use the Government's total control of the Senate and the House of Representatives for raw political advantage. He could have changed the constitution of the country to the eternal advantage of the JLP. He did not. Instead, he appointed independent senators and demonstrated statesmanship. Compare Seaga's actions with the behaviour of Michael Manley and his clandestine use of his constitutional powers to declare a year-long state of emergency in 1976.

As a builder and facilitator of cultural institutions Seaga is matched by few: Jamaica Festival (1963), return of Marcus Garvey's remains to Jamaica (1964), several museums inclusive of the Arawak and Port Royal (1965-1969), introducing National Heritage Week (1968), Creative Production and Training Centre (1971), and the Media Divestment Programme to establish several small private radio and church television stations.

In 1996 Seaga spearheaded the redevelopment of the Kingston waterfront; 1967, reclamation and development of the Ocho Rios waterfront; creation of the Urban Development Corporation in 1968, National Committee for Drug Abuse, 1983; Metropolitan Parks and Markets (now National Solid Waste Management Authority); redevelopment of Bloody Bay in Negril; and a comprehensive redevelopment of many rural towns. And I could go on.

The great Jimmy Cliff sang that we have “many rivers to cross”. I agree. Nevertheless, I believe we made the right choice when we decided to paddle our own canoe. Happy 55th Independence, Jamaica!

PS: Dr Canute Thompson, in his The Agenda piece last Sunday, said that my article of June 11, 2017 showed instances of crocodility. Crocodility is an ancient word for captious or fallacious reasoning. Thompson's inferences and their antecedents are just that.

Did he make his deductions before or after he read this section of my article? “I am a great believer in the Edward Irving “Ed” Koch political and social strategy of 'How am I doin'?' I don't posit that this method by itself is scientific. But, then again, what is more scientific than people speaking their hearts in their natural, unvarnished, unrehearsed state and space? Anyway, that polemic is for another article.”

Thompson would do well to understand this simple rule: “There are two possible outcomes: If the result confirms the hypothesis, then you've made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you've made a discovery.” — Enrico Fermi, physicist and Nobel laureate (1901-1954)

Proverb: A no evryting com' from above a blessin'

Translation: Not everything that comes from above is a blessing.

Explanation: Enjoy those blessings which come from above, but do not be misled by deceivers who use their superior positions to dispossess the unfortunate.

Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

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