Three observations

Friday, August 24, 2018

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I address three matters of current affairs and history today.

When the dollar devalued a few months ago, all questions about it were directed to the governor of the Bank of Jamaica. Was this to shield Finance Minister Nigel Clarke who should have taken the questions? How is it that the Opposition People's National Party did not point this out?

The nation elected a Government and one of its members should answer to the country on matters such as these, not an appointee of the Government who does not face the voters in elections. Nigel Clarke was marketed as a financial genius. Is that really so or was it just political hype?

In the Westminster system, the prime minister and the minister of finance (called the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain) must be members of the House of Representatives. The finance minister presents the budget to the elected arm of Parliament, hence the requirement of being elected.

I recall while a teenager in 1968, that the Jamaican pound was devalued from seven shillings and six pence to eight shillings and four pence to one US dollar. There were speeches by both the prime minister and the minister of finance. I recall then Prime Minister Hugh Shearer coming on the old black-and- white JBC Television and saying, “If you have seven and six in the bank, it is still seven and six. If you have seven and six under your mattress, it is still seven and six”.

I recall the then finance minister Edward Seaga saying that “common sense was to devalue”. So as far back as 50 years ago it was the elected representatives who spoke to devaluation.

And all devaluations of the Jamaican dollar since September 8, 1969 when Jamaica decimalised its currency have been addressed, if at all, by the minister of finance and sometimes also by the prime minister. All of the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over several decades where the Jamaican Government was perhaps obliged to devalue the Jamaican dollar or forfeit the next 'draw-down' of the IMF loan were usually addressed by the minister of finance.

In the United States of America, the Cabinet is appointed by the president, so the secretary of state for the treasury is not elected. However, the elected Senate and the Congress interview each prospective appointee before their appointments are confirmed. So the US federal Cabinet is required to be ratified by the elected legislature. Here in Jamaica, the appointment of the governor of the bank, as far as I know, does not entail ratification by Parliament.

Montague's denialcarried on JIS

So, Transport Minister Robert Montague has denied an accusation about overruling the relevant authority when he was national security minister. That is his right, but why was this an item on a Jamaica Information Service ( JIS) radio programme? Isn't JIS for Government information only?

It is bad enough that JIS has been used by both political parties while in Government as a sort of political propaganda arm at the expense of taxpayers. I imagine that no one will ever be able to do much about that, but using JIS as a defence against accusations is, in my opinion, taking things too far. “Me nuh care who a do it, Jah seh dat nuh right.” (Ernie Smith, 1976).

Edward Seaga's contributions an expansion of Norman Manley's work

Edward Seaga recently had an article in the Sunday Observer highlighting his achievements. No mention was made that he was building on the work of National Hero Norman Washington Manley. He mentioned the work he did by commissioning Olive Lewin to research and record folk songs.

But all of that was built on the earlier work of Jamaica Welfare (now Social Development Commission) founded by Norman Manley when similar research was done and Harry Belafonte was hired to record at least two folk songs.

Also, Seaga's HEART programme was an expansion of Jamaica Welfare Youth Camps. In 1937 when Jamaica Welfare was established, Edward Seaga was a seven-year-old child, having been born on May 28, 1930. He can hardly claim therefore, to be the author of such ideas, even if he should be commended for developing on them. The writing of our history should not be left totally to politicians.

In a similar manner, whoever created the Concord developed on aircraft ideas already in place and in this vein one should always hold in high place the work of the Wright brothers — Orville and Wilbur — who first flew an aircraft from New York to Paris, albeit by very primitive aviation techniques and an even more primitive aircraft machine. The same could be said for the first motor cars in relation to the most modern cars today.

In a public forum in 1993, the late Wilmot Perkins remarked that “before the advent of The University (of the West Indies), all intellectual activity in Jamaica revolved around Drumblair”. Of course, there were literary societies; particularly among the upper-class English creole colonists resident in Jamaica that could also have been classified as 'intellectual activity', but the point Perkins made was still valid. Drumblair (Norman Manley's home) was certainly the think tank for 'a new Jamaica'.

It really is a pity that just about all members of the Drumblair Circle that met at Norman Manley's home in the 1930s and 1940s are no longer alive. The PNP evolved out of the National Reform Association founded in 1935 by Ken Hill, and the PNP was really a combination of several civic groups that came together in 1938. Norman Manley never claimed to be its founder but he was its first president, and his conceptualisations heavily 'flavoured' the PNP manifesto.

And the PNP programmes from that time onwards, in a large way, were an expansion of Jamaica Welfare. Indeed, nearly everything that his son Michael Manley achieved as prime minister was really an expansion of the work of Norman Manley.

— Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or ekrubm765@

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