Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) - A liberating force for 70 years

Jamaica Observer:

The following is an edited version of the address by the former prime minister Edward Seaga on the occasion of the JLP's 70th anniversary function held on July 8, at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel.

TODAY, we gather on the very date, July 8, at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, which, exactly 70 years ago, in 1943, Alexander Bustamante and a team of like-minded political pioneers founded the Jamaica Labour Party.

The JLP was to have a profound influence on the affairs of Jamaica in the 70 years that followed. It charted the critical direction at many cross-roads in the life of the nation.

When the first rush of political determination raised doubts and anxieties as to whether worthy leaders would emerge in 1944; when the Federal alliance subverted Jamaican goals, and confounded and bewildered the nationalist agenda in the 1950s; when the fledgling nation had to steady itself and find sure feet in the early years of Independence; when socialist experimentation and communist flirtation consumed the national consciousness with fear and plunged the nation into panic in the 1970s, it was the sure-footed, unswerving leadership of the JLP that steadied the country and charted a course of certainty.

Emerging Vision

Unmistakably, the surge of militancy of the 1930s was not to achieve self-government. This was the objective of the nationalists whose mission at the time was more concerned with self-determination and the replacement of colonial government. As such, that was a replacement of colonial bondage in which ideas of brotherhood and equality and ideals of a benevolent godfather state stirred personal commitment and patriotic response.

It was this compelling drive springing from the hopelessness of everyday conditions of the life of the mass of Jamaicans in the 1930s which surged to prominence in the last half of that decade. It was this flow of events, driven by the imperatives of economic deprivation and social desperation that converged in 1938 with a bang. As a result, it was the ordinary people who settled what needed change and when, by pooling their own demands for improved conditions into a momentous clamour and monstrous protest that broke loose on the waterfront, the sugar estates and in the public streets. That powerful surge was to take Bustamante, who had been riding the tide, to the forefront of leadership and change forever the course of Jamaica's history.

Bustamante harnessed the anger of the working class and organised it into a force which liberated the strength of Jamaican workers to pave the way for that better future. This liberated force of labour is the recurrent theme that was to dominate individual enterprise and political policy over the decades to come. It was the first of many critical stages of our history in which the JLP liberated a new dimension of internal strength from within the people to power them into the next stage of take-off.

That next stage grew out of another phase of brewing frustration and bewildering directions. As an emerging nation gearing toward full independence and self-determination in the 1950s, the course shifted dramatically as the decade aged. Those who championed self-determination from the socialist struggle shifted the focus away from the growing confidence of Jamaicans ready and willing to shoulder the responsibilities of independence as a nation. Great doubt was cast; it was believed that we could not shoulder the responsibilities of independence as a nation. Great doubt was cast; we could not shoulder those burdens alone, it was said. We needed to share the weight with other states much smaller, less populous and at a great distance, who were brothers and sisters we hardly knew. It was, in fact, almost ludicrous: The stronger was to seek succour from the weaker. Resentment grew about our need to rely on lesser states in which we could be bound in a federation as a minority player. The nationalism which had little strength at the outset in the thirties and throughout the forties, was strident enough in the fifties to reject the notion that Jamaica was unable to make its own way as an independent nation.

The Next Phase

Alexander Bustamante and the JLP were absorbed earlier with liberating the power of the working class and focusing their energies on securing a better life. That was the opening mission statement of the JLP. Nationhood was not on the agenda in the early days. Two decades later, as the energy of the worker movement became more and more absorbed in the political drive, a new national focus with a new thrust was needed. As the fifties drew to a close, the frustration and ambivalence of Jamaica's involvement in Federation would provide exactly the ferment that would be required to create the surge to the next dynamic phase of Jamaican history.

The JLP, led by Sir Alexander Bustamante, moved to the forefront of the impasse, took the driver's seat, directed the traffic and pulled Jamaica out of its paralytic association in the Federation of the West Indies with a resounding victory in the Referendum of September 19, 1961, a pivotal date in our history.

The independence of Jamaica which followed the JLP-led withdrawal from Federation was to be the new springboard. But it had its uncertainties. Many wondered, as in 1944, whether we were ready for leadership, this time entirely on our own. And the same people who doubted the process of political advancement in 1944 were the same who expressed fears in 1962: the money interests, landed proprietors, and the emerging middle class of substance. From these fears once again, the call was for a steady hand holding a steady course. The JLP again was the people's choice, by general elections on April 10, 1962, to take Jamaica through this period of uncertainty.

New Dynamism

As Independence dawned on August 6 of that year, a new dynamism emerged: The creation of national symbols - the flag, the anthem, the motto; the showcasing of our traditional culture, now feelingly more so our own than ever before - the Jamaica Festival; the surge of art and craft and a showcase for these talents - Things Jamaican and Devon House; the salute to national heritage - designation of our National Heroes and the return of the body of Marcus Garvey to Jamaica; the birth of our popular music - ska, rocksteady, reggae.

The first salvo urging Jamaican ownership, the Jamaicanisation programme which led to:

The birth of the Jamaican Life Insurance Industry;

The Jamaicanisation of the financial sector;

Jamaican share ownership in publicly quoted stocks on the stock exchange,

The self-confidence of a nation of emerging economic strength expanding rapidly in mining. manufacturing, tourism and commerce;

The launch of a national airline, Air Jamaica;

The introduction of landmark social legislation and the expansion of social facilities - introduction of the National Insurance Scheme, new hospitals (Cornwall Regional and the Children's Hospital), introduction of family planning and doubling the number of secondary schools;

Membership in international institutions, giving us pride of place.

The decade of the sixties was no mere release of energy. It was an outburst of positive, patriotic, productive, broad-based initiative, exuberance, creativity, enterprise and application of effort which has not been duplicated since. It was Jamaica's golden age, the second wave of liberation of the positive energies of the Jamaican people with the JLP leading the way.

Had we continued on this route, the Jamaica of today would have been among the noted success cases of the developing world. But that was not to be the case. The People's National Party was elected to govern on February 29, 1972. It was their second period as government. Where the first effort under Norman Manley was dominated by the failed federal adventure, the second period under Michael Manley became dominated again by a foreign adventure, this time with an alien ideology and uneasy fraternity with socialist and communist bloc nations. This adventure also failed but not before Jamaica was torn and shredded.

Michael Manley tried to do what Bustamante and the JLP had done in the first and second terms of government. Where Bustamante had liberated the dynamic of the working class and energised a prideful independent people, Manley wanted to unleash the Jamaican psyche, to raise social consciousness and create an egalitarian society.

Great Difference

There was a great difference in the two approaches. The JLP liberated a positive dynamic which created a bigger cake to share. It was a "pulling-up" process which was fuelled by the inner need to create, and achieved more. The PNP was more concerned with dividing the cake into equal slices, a process which fed on envy of those whose bigger shares should be sliced thinner, a negative, "pulling-down" process.

Recent events recall the rejection of the "pulling down" ideologies as we have now come to see in the world-wide demise of socialism and communism. They failed not because they were devoid of noble ideals, but because they were ideologies created from the top by authors who never asked the poor what was the first priority on their agenda. Had they done so they would have understood that economic betterment is the simple ideological priority of ordinary people which ranks first and second. The anger and frustration of diminishing slices of the national cake toppled the Berlin Wall and crushed the distributive ideologies.

Mission of the '80s

The forces liberated by adventure in socialism in the seventies did not succeed in expanding or building substance to increase the national cake. Hence, once again, the seventies were a period of intense frustration and danger, as in the thirties, and to a lesser extent the late-fifties. This set the stage for the third liberating movement which was to unleash a whole new dynamism in the 1980s. And again, the JLP led this thrust and charted the course which was to shape Jamaica's future. I had the responsibility to lead Jamaica into this new dynamic phase of the 1980s.

A legacy of the 1970s was the dependency of the individual on the state, a natural outcome of the primacy of the state in socialist doctrine. In contrast, individual initiative and enterprise were to be the theme of the 1980s. This was the untapped reservoir of energy to be liberated, a process began in the early days but stifled in the seventies. The mission of the 1980s was to open this valve and release the energy of this enormous human potential responding to the push of achievement and the pull of reward.

In contrast to the closed society of the seventies, the eighties were to become the stage for the new lifestyle of the open society, In this process of "freeing-up", encumbrances to initiative and enterprise would have to go.

Government beauracracy would be deregulated starting with import controls, price controls and the simplification of the tax system. Later, exchange control regulations would have to follow.

Demotivating taxes would be reduced to levels which did not stifle incentive. Punitive income tax rates were simplified and reduced; import tariffs were decreased in stages to more acceptable levels.

The change of government on February 9, 1989 shattered the fragile model of economic management which had successfully restored the economic path of progress from which the country had been diverted over the previous dozen years. What followed was painful recent history.

Gentler Nation

The valve to unleash new energies to propel the country forward to the end of the decade and century has its roots in the turmoil and abuses of the 1970s. It was in that decade that Jamaicans awoke to the realisation that the Constitution of Jamaica chartered for Independence in 1962 was devised for a much kinder and gentler nation. Certainly it was written in the shadow of those unwritten understandings which ensured that the subjects of the United Kingdom needed no written charter. Everyone knew where the lines of misconduct were drawn and if the letter of the law did not spell out precisely the limits of power, no one would misuse the laxity of law to abuse the parameters of power because that simply wouldn't be cricket. Long and great traditions established the boundaries of permissible levels of tolerance.

As a young nation we have no such long and great traditions of our own. We borrow from other nations those values -- which govern society and reject what we wish, when we wish to abuse the system. That plainly was the mode followed to instigate the most draconian violation of human values in our nation's history when the infamous State of Emergency was declared on June 19, 1976, on the flimsiest of grounds to justify the meanest of ends: political survival. Jamaicans learned then that our constitution was elastic and could be stretched to shape many unconstitutional conveniences.

The JLP learned too, that year, that something had to be done to limit the elasticity of our Constitution which was not so much defective in what it says, but that it spoke in a soft voice where a stronger, firmer and more definite position should be stated. And where the Constitution was not the instrument of abuse the spirit of the Constitution was mauled by the power of the prime minister. In the late-1970s, the JLP charted the course to whittle down these powers that opened the way to abuses in sensitive areas of our national life.

Landmark Decision

The power of the prime minister was the first phase of this mission and his right through his minister to control electoral affairs, the first target. Out of this came the landmark decision in 1979 to remove the control of the minister over electoral affairs and the establishment of an independent Electoral Committee to take his place.  The mechanism for selecting the independent members by the governor general after consultation with the prime minister and leader of the opposition removed the final power of decision by the prime minister to make the choice on his own. Next came the removal of that same power of unilateral decision making from other sensitive legislation already in existence: the ombudsman and the Integrity Commission, both in 1985.

Thereafter, legislation establishing the contractor general and media commission followed this course in 1985 and 1986, again ensuring that the prime minister would have no unilateral power to name the membership of these commissions but would have only consultative power on the same basis as the Leader of the Opposition in advising the governor general in making his choice.

The next phase in this course was to reduce the unilateral power of the Prime Minister in the appointment of members of the Police Service Commission and to remove the control of the police force from the minister, exactly as was done 14 years earlier with the electoral system.

People's Expectation

The struggle does not end with reducing the power of government at the level of the prime minister. The abuse of human rights still continues. I set our position clearly before the country in advocating the enactment of a new constitutional figure, the public defender, to deal with such abuses.

This would strengthen the hands of "we the people" in contrast to the existing structure which protects and licences "we the government". It is a reversal of the role of power and resolution of whose hands ultimate power will reside that the new dynamic of a truly free people will evolve.

Mission of the '90s

Having freed the working class in the thirties, freed the federal bonds in the fifties to pave the way for Independence in the sixties, freed the country from the blight of socialism in the seventies, freed the economy in the eighties from stifling controls, it remains now to free "we the people" from our own excesses in political empowerment. The JLP has led the struggle through each of the stages of liberalisation and must accept this as a further mission. Notwithstanding the imminent hardships of today there are fundamentally deeper concerns which we fail to observe, prejudicing the ability of the nation to protect its poor and vulnerable.

All men are equal under the law, says the Constitution. But, in practice, we ignore this precept honouring some as first-class citizens but dishonouring the great majority as second-class. Those in the underclass cannot contribute effectively to the building of the nation. They lack the education and the will to work condemning themselves to the seventy per cent of the population that are dependent on others for help. Until all men have equal respect and equal education they cannot contribute equally because they are unwilling and unable. The building of the nation will rest on the 30 per cent who are more privileged but they are insufficient to give the nation growth.

Chapter 111 of the Constitution, the Human Rights section, has been virtually rewritten to produce a Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. This is the instrument required to ensure that men have the right to be equal. The Charter, of which I was the principal initiator, shifts the power of constitutional authority to "we the people". This prevents any more draconian measures of injustice which widen the gap between "we the people and them", the "haves and the have nots".

Every year, schools graduate twice as many students who are uneducated as those with an education. The uneducated are left behind with crippled careers while the educated go forward. This is the wellspring of poverty, the source from which all injustice is derived, the splitting of the society into first- and second-class citizens.

The Charter of Rights, if put to work and not left to rot, or to serve the elusive benefit of the privileged, can create what all the plans of the past have failed to do: it will lay the course with the sure hands that guided Jamaica through the uncertain pathways of the crossroads of our history when it steadied the ship, righted the course and sailed into safe harbour.

And now having freed the working class in the thirties; freed the bonds of federation in the fifties to pave the way for Independence in the sixties; freed the country from the political blight of socialism in the seventies; freed the economy for production in the eighties, it remains now to free "we the people" through the Charter of Rights.

Let the Charter be your Magna Carta, let it be your book of life to complete the liberation led by the JLP. "We the people" must be satisfied with nothing less than to unleash the powerful energies of the Charter of Rights to fulfil our destiny as a people. That will be our greatest liberating mission of all.

July 14, 2013