'When yuh salt, yuh salt,' but...


'When yuh salt, yuh salt,' but...

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, January 17, 2021

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It is the cook's fault when the cassava turns out to be hard and tasteless. — Ewe proverb, Ghana

“Every time the JLP [Jamaica Labour Party] come inna office, pure crosses reach dem,” was the summation of Miss Pam, a veteran in the wholesaling and retailing of ground provisions, vegetables, and citrus in Coronation Market in Kingston. What an interesting observation, I thought.

Pam is an affectionate abbreviation of Pamella. I took to calling her Miss P soon after our first meeting on Christmas Eve in 2011. I realised then that she possessed shrewd business acumen and a sharp wit.

Nine years ago, her stall was a beehive of activity, and last Friday was no different. As she skilfully issued instructions to the two youngsters who assisted her, she expertly juggled an animated discussion with two evidently regular customers:

“Yes, mi dear, JLP salt bad. Look how tings did a gwaan good, jobs and suh, and then, baps! COVID jus' crash it,” she opined.

“Yes, dem unlucky bad, Miss Pam,” one agreed. The other nodded approvingly. I listened intently as I quickly searched through an obviously fresh supply of yellow yam.

“Miss P, Mickey [one of her two assistants] weigh this already; it is three pounds,” I submitted.

“I know,” she said with a broad smile. “While I was talking to those two ladies I was also watching things around me,” she informed. “I am always watching what's happening around me. Always!” she reassured. She had effortlessly switched from the vernacular to Standard Jamaican English with ease.

Heavyset, she credited her physical agility to very hard work, honest dealings with everyone, and a clean conscience.

“I think I better take a pound of the plummy [red-ripened] tomatoes, a pound of the beetroot, and a dozen limes also,” I said.

My change was handed to me with expert precision; no calculator required.

“Miss P, yuh really believe saltniss [ill luck] always reach the JLP when they are in power?” I inquired.

“Yes, man!” she exclaimed. “When [Alexander] Bustamante was prime minister, I was too young, so I cannot say much,” she noted. “But, listen to me, you compare [Hugh] Shearer, Michael [Manley], Eddie [Edward Seaga], [P J] Patterson, Portia [Simpson Miller ], and now [Andrew] Holness, the JLP always have it tougher, she proffered. “You check it out,” she instructed.

I did.

Highs and lows

Has the JLP had to surmount taller social, economic, and political hurdles, compared to those of the People's National Party (PNP), whenever it forms the Government?

On the passing of Sir Donald Sangster, Hugh Lawson Shearer, another protégé of Bustamante, was chosen as Jamaica's third prime minister on April 11, 1967. He held the keys to Jamaica House until March 2, 1972.

The glister of political independence was still dazzlingly bright when Shearer came into office. There was no epidemic or pandemic to scuttle the economy. Agriculture and tourism were in tip-top shape.

Jamaica, the Caribbean, and elsewhere are prone to hurricanes. The ravages of these beastly systems seemingly took a hiatus while Shearer held office. Hurricane Beulah, in 1967, did very little damage to Jamaica's infrastructure, according to The Gleaner reports. And Jamaica did not experience another major weather system until Tropical Storm Gilda in 1973.

On the average, there was considerable buoyancy in the economies of our major trading partners — Britain, the United States of America, and Canada.

Shearer's Administration greatly capitalised on the economic growth momentum bequeathed by Bustamante and Sangster. Undoubtedly, 'tings [economic growth] did a gwaan good'. However, this Administration had to contend with a tremendous amount of heat from 'black power' groups. Their activities provided a powerful locomotive for the PNP. As Opposition, the PNP unrelentingly capitalised on islandwide social disaffection. The PNP also received tremendous support from a majority left-leaning media and popular culture gave its message wings. Everything Crash, by the Ethiopians, for example, became the unofficial anthem of the downtrodden and dispossessed.

These words found very fertile ground, fast.

“Look deh now, everyting crash!

Firemen strike, watermen strike

Telephone company too

Down to policemen do!

What gone bad a-mawin, can't come good a-evening, whoi!

Every day carry bucket to the well,

One day di bucket bottom must drop out.

Everyting crash! Lord! Whoi!”

The haunting lyrics became a clarion call for the downtrodden and dispossessed to do something.

They did.

Massive strikes and demonstrations were natural manifestations of national social discontent. Shearer was repeatedly alerted to the gathering storm of mass social dispossession. The Gleaner's archive, for example, has a multitude of letters to the editor from individuals 'high and low' who detailed the severely unpleasant hardships of the working classes and the cauldron of “repressed anger” and “social instability” that was sure to boil over.

They did.

Shearer's Administration did not address the massive social deficits fast enough. That great political failure became its Achilles heel.

Then cometh Joshua! Michael Manley inherited an economy that, in 1972, grew by 9.1 per cent (Planning Institute of Jamaica [PIOJ] figures). He came to power when there was much economic fat on the land. His promised socialist revolution and was euphorically supported by the masses. Popular culture ate out of the palm of his hands. Many songs which amplified Manley's socialist agenda in an unprecedented fashion shot to the top of the local 'hit parade' on radio.

An overwhelmingly left-leaning media marinated reportage, while the intellectual elites, particularly at the higher education levels, were seemingly disrobed of the critical eagle eye which was diligently applied to the Shearer Administration's nearly every move.

Certainly, when it comes to favourable conditions at the start of a political term, Manley is unrivalled. No other prime minister promised so much and yet delivered so little.

Manley, by any objective measurement, had unique and powerful social, political, and economic tools at his disposal. The most powerful asset in his toolkit was a nation willing to follow him almost anywhere. Still, Manley's far-left, redistributive-minus-production experiments proved nearly catastrophic in the 70s and landed us on the edge of an economic and social abyss. I have provided incontrovertible evidence to support this conclusion previously.

While oil crises in the 1970s and a downturn in bauxite sales were important negatives to Jamaica's balance of payment problems, the weight of Manley's redistribution policies was the death knell to Jamaica's 60s-very-early-70s economic growth spurt.

Tropical Storm Gilda, 1973; Hurricane Carmen, 1974; Hurricane David, 1979; and Hurricane Allen on August 6, 1980 collectively did significant damage to the country's social and physical infrastructure. But the real 'Grim Reaper' of Jamaica's economic infrastructure was Administration ineptitude. Again, I have presented incontrovertible evidence to support this conclusion previously.

Like Shearer, Manley was warned to change course. Even a few intellectuals who had come to their senses had sounded the danger alarm. Manley paid scant attention.

When Edward Seaga took office on November 1, 1980 there was trouble on nearly every front. The economy was in tatters. The country was deeply polarised and hundreds were still picking up the pieces scattered by Hurricane Allen. Allen did significant damage, especially in the northern sections of Jamaica. The Gleaner reported that some 5,000 Jamaicans had been left homeless. Allen left just over $200 million in damage — banana production, in particular, had suffered a major hit.

Economic liberation, resurrection of Jamaica's tourism sector, revival of agriculture and other major industries, as well as repair of relations with our major trading partners, in particular the United States, among other factors, helped the Seaga Administration to wake the economy out of its formerly near-comatose state. By 1981 the economy registered a growth rate of 2.5 per cent, according to the PIOJ. In 1987 the economy was buzzing at eight per cent (PIOJ).

Only in the 1960s and the mid-1980s did our economy register noteworthy growth. During those two periods we had, on average, six per cent growth. The later part of the 1980s — this is when economic growth averaged six per cent — like the 60s was characterised by dispossession and social fallouts among the majority.

There are huge lessons here, prominent among them is: The product of a stable economy cannot be extended inequality.

Hurricane Gilbert, on September 12, 1988, delivered a devastating punch to Jamaica's economy. The near-ruinous impact worsened levels of inequality. Thousands were left homeless; infrastructure damage was immense; tourism, mining, and agriculture were dealt a hammer blow; in fact, some US$800 million in damage was left in the hurricane's wake, and 45 citizens lost their lives, according to reports by The Gleaner.

Two months after Gilbert pummelled Jamaica basic services, such as electricity and water, had returned to most parts of the island. Seaga received local and international kudos.

A reliable source told me that Seaga was advised to call an end of November/early December 1988 general election. He waited until February 1989 and was soundly defeated by Michael Manley, who had, by then, dispensed with his Kariba suit, espoused a capitalist approach, and publicly committed to a rapprochement with America.

The Gleaner archives provides copious evidence that Seaga was warned from as early as 1982 that he needed to temper the pace of liberalisation and inject a greater balance of programmes that promoted the social and economic mobility of the black majority who had been flung to the periphery of appreciable economic growth. He did not sufficiently heed those warnings, in my estimation.

P J Patterson ascended to the prime ministerial perch in March 1992. Like his predecessor, he inherited an economy that was on an economic growth trajectory — 7.0 per cent in 1989; 6.3 per cent in 1990; and 2.7 per cent in 1992, according to PIOJ's figures.

Patterson was given the political nomenclature Fresh Prince. He rode on the mantra of 'Black Man Time Now'. These were political adhesives for many who felt hard done, betrayed even, by the brown and white upper classes. As often happens in politics, though, a resounding triumph quickly turned out to be a double-edged sword as extremely high expectations were not met. Landslide political victory must result in landslide representation and results at all levels.

Patterson is our 'winningest' prime minister. Like Manley, the nation was willing to follow him almost anywhere. Like Manley, he appeared promising, but ultimately disappointed. His Administration's policies dragged the economy off of its growth path. This happened at a time when economies in the Caribbean grew on average three per cent to five per cent during the 1990s. Ours floundered! Our black entrepreneurial class was almost disseminated in the 90s by the suicidal high interest rate policies of the Patterson Administration and Dr Omar Davies, his finance minister.

Unlike Manley and Seaga, Patterson cannot credibly blame the weather for his very low marks on the management of the country's economic affairs. After Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, Hurricane Charley in 2004 — not to be confused with Charlie in 1951 — was the most consequential weather system. Charley caused one death and $7 million in damage to roads, according to The Gleaner.

Patterson, like all our prime ministers, made his mark. He brought back decency to public transportation in the Kingston Metropolitan Area, pioneered many pieces of utilitarian legislation, and started the Highway 2000 project. His almost placid style of leadership did help to drain a lot of the political toxicants out of local politics.

However, I think Mr Patterson stayed too long atop the political roost. A critical mass grew tired of him and his strangling tax increases by 1999. “The birds that stays in the tree too long invites a stone,” is a Ghanaian proverb that all in politics should heed.

Miss P's Theory

When the Shearer, Manley, Seaga, and Patterson administrations are compared, which had to surmount the tallest social, economic and political hurdles? The evidence suggests, all told, that Seaga had to surmount the tallest hurdles, Manley the tallest social hurdle, and Shearer the tallest political hurdle.

Miss P's summation does seem to have more than just a grain of truth. All told, with tough conditions at the start of a political term, Edward Seaga found himself at the front of the firing line. Nonetheless, Seaga managed to achieve very high marks on the economic scoreboard, compared to Manley and Patterson. When it comes to the development of functional institutions — one of the critical pillars of a Western liberal democracy — Seaga is unmatched.

A tough start and a rough passage are not totally bad things, in and of themselves. Of course, a lot depends, too, on the mettle of the leader who stands on the bridge during torrid times.

Part Two next week.

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com

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