Omar would have served Jamaica better had he stayed in academia

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, June 18, 2017

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Proverb: Fiyah deh a muss-muss (moos-moos) tail, him think a cool breeze

Translation: There is a fire blowing at the tail of the mouse, but he believes he is feeling the effects of a cooling breeze.

Explanation: Many times, in our naivete, we remain unaware of impending danger until it actually overtakes us. Also, the foolhardy blithely interpret the signs of danger to mean that all is well

The People's National Party (PNP) announced last week that Dr Omar Davies will retire from representational politics effective June 29, 2017. His exodus will mark the end of an era which thousands of Jamaicans will unhappily remember for many years to come.

Davies was, undoubtedly, Jamaica's worst finance minister since political independence. The debilitating consequences of his scorched-earth economic policies produced a trail of human suffering that was rivalled only by the economic disasters occasioned on this beautiful country by the quixotic regime of Michael Manley in the 70s.

The Davies Effect

The PNP and economic growth are seemingly antithetical. According to figures by the Planning Institute of Jamaica, in 1971 the Jamaican economy grew by almost 12 per cent in that one single year; this is equivalent to the cumulative growth under Dr Omar Davies' entire 14 years as minister of finance between 1993 and 2007.

Davies' high interest rate policy crippled local entrepreneurship in the 1990s. The evidence speaks for itself.

Recall that these companies capsized under the P J Patterson/Dr Omar Davies time at bat: (This is an abbreviated list) 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; Things Jamaican, which had its location turned into a detention centre by the PNP. Add to those 45,000 small- and medium-sized businesses that went under during the 1990s.

Thousands of honest businessmen and women, whose only crime was investing in the land of their birth, were ruined. Many have migrated, according to the association that represents Finsac'd entrepreneurs. Some 20 have committed suicide. Thousands today are like dead men and women walking, shattered human shells, who cannot bring themselves to pick up the pieces.

Recall this tear-jerking story in the Jamaica Observer on April 18, 2015, titled 'Zinc shack is man's home after Finsac takeover.' The sad tale said among other things:

“Before Finsac, Mecheck Willis was living comfortably with his wife and five children in his four-bedroom, two-bathroom house on Patrick Drive, St Andrew.

“His thriving business, which employed three people, also afforded him to hire a full-time household helper.

“Now the lifestyle of the ailing 64-year-old is a far cry from what it was: He lives in a one-room, wood-zinc-and-cloth shack in a depressed community in the Six Miles area of St Andrew, his wife has since died, his family torn apart, his children's education has been disrupted and he has to rely on his church and Good Samaritans for meals.

“Willis told the Jamaica Observer last Thursday, 'Mr Omar Davies said what happen to me shouldn't happen, because there was a window of opportunity where people like me house shouldn't sell and I questioned him on it in the 2009 inquiry'.

“'So I think that by this they would have done something for me already. And they don't want to come out with the result of the inquiry so that everybody can get to know what they can do about it,” he said.

“I believe the Government should be responsible for me because my house is directly 'tief dem 'tief mi house. But is because I didn't know all that was happening. So by the time I start to act on it they say six years pass so they can't do anything. The lawyer that I was dealing with put me in this dilemma because he did not do what he was supposed to do,” he said.

“Willis's challenges started out quite innocently.

“I used to do sales work and I took out a little loan from a bank — Eagle Commercial and then Island Life Merchant Bank. The bank manager at Island Life was at Eagle first then he moved to Island Life Merchant Bank and he took the account with him,” Willis explained.

“He misled me in the way he was dealing with the account.”

Recall also this Jamaica Observer story entitled: 'Finsac crisis blamed for Mandeville couple's death', on January 3, 2013. The tragic and painful details are difficult to read even up to today.

“A suicide note left behind by Morris and Grace Richards, the Mandeville couple who allegedly committed suicide on New Year's Eve, has linked their deaths to problems associated with the 1990s Finsac crisis.

“The police said Monday that there was no evidence of foul play, and confirmed that they had found a suicide note at the scene. They said that, based on information from their investigations, the couple had 'personal problems', which may have led to them committing suicide. Both were in their 70s.

“The Jamaica Observer learnt from business associates yesterday that the Richardses had lost their business, Richards and Richards Construction Company, to Finsac Limited — the company established by the Government to handle bad debts arising from the 1990s financial sector meltdown, which cost thousands of local entrepreneurs their properties and life savings.

“One close friend of the family, president of the Association of Finsac'd Entrepreneurs (AFE) Yola Gray-Baker, said yesterday that the couple was well known to her and other members of the association.

“They moved from owning a construction company to selling chemicals to survive after losing their properties, and I understand that the house in which they were living was about to be put up for sale,” Gray-Baker said.

“I spoke to Mr Richards' brother (who is living in Miami) and he said that they were having difficulties trying to make ends meet, but may have been too proud to beg assistance,” she added.

“She said that the situation facing the Richardses was indicative of those facing most of the AFE's members, who are still seeking to hold on to properties they had used as collateral for the bad loans.

“The police reported that the couple was found hanging at their Glenwood Close home, off Woodlawn Road in Mandeville about 8:30 am Monday. Relatives, friends and employees of the Richards' E-World Limited in Mandeville were in shock at their untimely death.

They were described as “humble”, “hard-working' and “God-fearing”.

I could cite many more heart-jerking stories from our dailies which capture the devastation of ordinary Jamaicans whose lives have been smashed to bits because of the cruel high interest rate policies of the PNP in the 1990s. I hope that Dr Davies, in the quiet moments of his retirement, will read some of the accounts of riches to rags which he and the PNP presided over.

The country must never forget Davies' infamous “run wid it” speech after the 2002 election, in which he admitted to fiscally imprudent spending decisions to bolster the PNP's chances at reclaiming office; and his dismissal of some of the young males in his St Andrew Southern constituency as “irredeemable”. This was the inner sanctum of the PNP speaking.

Davies, in his quiet moments of retirement, hopefully will re-examine some of his intemperate political statements. Maybe then he will discover why, outside of 'Jungle', he is one of the most disliked politicians in Jamaica.

In a few weeks from June 29, 2017, Parliament will convene a special session to heap accolades on Davies for what some will call his sterling contribution to national development. Davies, I am sure, has done some good. The fact is, the minuscule political good he has done has been cancelled several times over by his national economic failures.

I believe Davies would have served this country better if he had stayed in academia. Recall that he came to representational politics from a background in academia. He signalled his interest in public affairs through a series of columns in the Jamaica Daily News, then the Portmore-based community newspaper Twin City Sun, and finally on Radio Jamaica. He gave up his lecturing job at the University of the West Indies (UWI) to manage the Government's Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ). ( Jamaica Observer, September 4, 2015)

Like so many other Jamaicans, Davies made the fatal error of assuming that because he was good in his field of academic training, he would make a great politician and policy maker.

I sincerely wish him well in retirement.

41st Anniversary of the 1976 State of Emergency

It would be fitting if Dr Peter Phillips, the fourth president of the PNP and leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, were to tender a sincere apology to the people of Jamaica for the wrongs committed during the 1976 state of emergency. Tomorrow, July 19, is the 41st anniversary of the sordid event.

Will Phillips follow the admirable moral precedent of Prime Minister Andrew Holness who earlier this year apologised for the Coral Garden Massacre? I don't believe he will. Phillips, does not have the political gumption.

The country must never forget that former Prime Minister Michael Manley, sensing he was going to lose a general election, spearheaded the declaration of a wretched state of emergency. Manley told Parliament in 1976 that “new and unique types of violence” [Hansard] had been imported into Jamaica and, therefore, there was the need for a state of emergency. This was declared on June 19, 1976, and lasted for a year. In the weeks and days preceding the December 15, 1976 General Election, several key Jamaica Labour Party people, including Olivia “Babsy” Grange and Pearnel Charles, were detained. Charles was jailed for almost a year.

Kenneth Smith, then chief justice of Jamaica, headed a commission of enquiry into this most sordid piece of Jamaica's history. 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.

The commission also uncovered that the heads of both intelligence agencies of government — the Special Branch of the police force and the Military Intelligence Unit (MIU) of the Jamaica Defence Force — never advised Manley of any potential threat to national security during Carifesta and, indeed, Deputy Commissioner of Police Curtis Griffiths, head of the Special Branch, testified to the commission that he knew nothing about the intention to declare a state of emergency. He read of it in the press, although he was the chief intelligence officer of the Government.

Captain Carl Marsh, in charge of the MIU, also gave devastating testimony. He advised that there was no need for a state of emergency.

Those who are interested in the truth can consult the archives of the Institute of Jamaica and The University of the West Indies, Mona.

Proverb: Rock tone a ribba bottom no feel sun hot.

Translation: A stone at the bottom of the river never feels the heat of the sun. (Beckwith)

Explanation: Those in easy circumstances do not realise the hardship of others. (Anderson, Cundall)

— Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer




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