JAMAICA | Debunking the myths about the 1980s Under Edward Seaga

JAMAICA | Debunking the myths about the 1980s Under Edward Seaga

Jamaica’s economic management has taken a turn in fairly recent times and is returning to the very scenario that we have longed passed in the 1980s, with all its compelling lessons, pains and unprecedented pressures on our citizens.

For the benefit of our young people and those who have forgotten that period, I will do a brief revisit, so that there is greater clarity about what happened under Prime Minister Edward Seaga and the Jamaica Labour Party.

This article is not a 'get Eddie Seaga' exercise, but a continuation of my attempt to purge our social, cultural, economic and political history of lies, half-truths, omissions, embellishments and the general dishonesty so commonplace in the reportage and recording of this history.

In short, too much of our history — oral or written — simply lacks integrity, and the political period of the 1980s is no exception.

Shalman Scott Shalman Scott I feel quite justified in writing about the facts of the period referenced, as I recall and saw it. I do so dispassionately and objectively. I was the first mayor of the city of Montego Bay, JLP councillor for 13 consecutive years for the Rose Hall Division in the parish of St James.

I was also regional supervisor (Western Jamaica and Ocho Rios) for the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and that union's spokesman on tourism.

In addition, I was lecturer in Caribbean trade union history at The University of the West Indies' School for Continuing Studies (western Jamaica); the Jamaica Maritime Institute and the Jamaica Tourist Board visitor information section, Montego Bay area.

I was also visiting lecturer in the History and Social Science Department at Northern Caribbean University, Mandeville, Manchester.

Later on, I was host of the RJR programme aired from Montego Bay called the Western Response, produced by veteran journalist and broadcaster Marlene Stephenson Dalley.

I have been a political analyst for multiple media platforms for over 33 years here in Jamaica and occasionally for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC Radio).

I have also been a retired businessman in tourism since 2006. All this to most humbly make the point that I was and have indeed been in the thick of things from back then, and that I have always loved my country and its people who have done so much for me, even as I make my small contribution to it. And so I am continually grateful. That is why I write particularly for succeeding generations including my own dear grandchildren.

What I have been hearing about this period of the 1980s and the impression that the narrative conveys is not only a steep stretching of the truth of what transpired but the misleading of the young people in particular is of concern to me and therefore I am compelled to act.

Eddie Seaga's total political life did not begin and end with this period of the 1980s. While that period is the focus of this article, overall, there are some positives to Seaga's political life, which have been amply recorded in many places including works such as the production of books by him.

Considered by some to be a bright man, Seaga has played no small role in the institutional building of this nation and I admire him for not being a politician who sought to feather his political nest financially as far as it appears.

Some people would trust him to keep their dollar. But he also was far from being a saint and that side of his personality, political activities and utterances continued to make some people feel uncomfortable and his 'tit for tat' policy made others cringed.

To now hear all the nonsense being peddled about the period of the 1980s just won't cut it and I will not allow the purveyors of the rubbish to have a field day uninterrupted, and taking more than a cruel advantage of those who have forgotten, those who were too young to recall and those who were born after this period. This article is dedicated to them especially as my contribution to their clarity relative to our political history in particular.

It is not intended to be an anti-Seaga article but historical facts about a specific time in our political journey as a nation.

This period within the context of the history of the international economy was called the “Second Gilded Period” the First Gilded Period was known as the Great Depression of 1929. The Second Gilded Period manifest itself in the form of an international Debt Crisis.

With a universal Political response of structural adjustment in the form of reconfiguration of the Economies of less developed and underdeveloped economies particularly. The response from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Paris Club was debt rescheduling, restructuring and debt forgiveness.

The Finance Minister of Mexico in 1982 announced that Mexico would unilaterally reschedule its debt in the first flagging of the enormity of the crisis.

The two oil price shocks of the previous decade, coupled with the program of economic destabilization  which incorporated the flight of capital and massive closure of business and loss of jobs, created monumental damages to the tune of some 30% loss of the GDP of the Jamaican economy.

By 1976 the BOJ ran out of reserves, reflecting a negative balance, which lasted for the next 20 years ending in 1996. This is the hand that Seaga was dealt, and which he enthusiastically shuffled the deck, as the paramount local political agent of the process of destabilization. Any claim therefore that the 1980s was a period of progress is one of aggravated dishonesty.

Externally, there were serious tensions in the world.  These included the Iranian Revolution of 1979; the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-88; the continuing conflict and tension associated with the Arab /Israeli war in the previous decade which precipitated contortions and distortions; and the reconfiguration on and of the structure of the Jamaican economy in the 1980s.

Seaga lost control and became more of a reactive functionary rather than a proactive and transformational leader. He responded to the challenges of the crises with abrasiveness, insults and threats against the Jamaican people.

In 1980 when Seaga came to power the Jamaica’s Debt to GDP ratio was 63%.  The Debt ballooned to 262% of GDP in 1989, which represents an increase of 315.8% in Jamaica’s indebtedness over the 9-year period of the JLP/Seaga administration.

Any single digit growth in the economy, in the face of the growth in debt, was of no particular significance and consequence.

It must be noted that the source of  the minimal growth over the period, was primarily due to a reduction in oil price in 1986 and beyond.

Contrary to popular belief, this was not due to any successful investment projects nor any new investments apart from sweat shop jobs in the garment industry. 

David Rockefeller who came to  “turn Jamaica into the Singapore of the Caribbean” packed his bag and left Jamaica in less than five months of his arrival following several disagreements with Seaga.  

Most ironically, the flight of capital continued under Seaga with Exxon Mobil, the principal oil refinery pulling out of Jamaica.

The gas station lines were long and uncomfortable as people who had urgent business to attend to were locked in gas lines for hours. Life in Jamaica began to make no sense. Migration and Brain drain gained momentum. The major Bauxite Companies followed closely behind Exxon, leaving Jamaica.   

From 1980 to 1983 the JLP Government under Seaga failed a minimum of four IMF Tests. And as the pressure of a rapidly deteriorating economy hit Seaga, he seized on a distraction of the political crisis in Grenada and called a snap election in 1983.

The PNP did not contest and so the JLP had all 60 seats in the Parliament and 21 in the Senate.  With no opposition in Parliament Seaga began to indiscriminately wield his Axe . This included the Tax Axe as well as his Axing of many government departments resulting in widespread closures and thousands of redundancies. 18000 public sector workers lost their jobs.

He dismantled the structure of the local Government system leaving the Parish Councils with the singular responsibility of managing markets and cemeteries, bereft of funds. The only duty left for Mayors to perform, without authority of the Minister of Local Government, was that of approving the exhuming of dead bodies!

  • The KSAC was abolished.
  • Duckenfield and Greys Inn sugar estates were closed.
  • Moneague Teachers College and Jamaica School of Agriculture Closed.
  • An Auction System introduced where those who wanted foreign exchange to conduct business could apply to BOJ twice per week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • Several Hospitals were either closed or down graded including Ulster Spring, Spaldings, Alexandria, Noel Holmes in Lucea, Hordley in St. Thomas….Listed to be down graded Annotto Bay. etc.
  • The Community Health Aid program was abolished.
  • The Spraying of ganja justifiable or unjustifiable were damaging other legitimate economic efforts of the rural poor in particular Bee Farmers and Coffee Farmers.

Things got so bad at BOJ that in 1985 a load of crude oil arrived to be off-loaded at the Montego Bay terminal but the Captain refuse to unload the oil until he receive payment from the JLP government. Hugh Hart as Minister of Tourism and Energy during that time had to quickly gather up (with the help of the Police), US dollar donations from private Businessmen in Mo-Bay to pay for the crude oil.

After a successful effort of the JLP Government begging private citizens to pay its oil bill, the  BOJ was able to pay the cargo ship captain his money. He unloaded the crude oil and left Jamaica shores.

One of the manifestations of the Policies of Seaga in the 1980s was the  dramatic increase of the flow of people on the streets selling for survival .These were the  victims of downsizing and Rightsizing  program Gleefully pursued by Seaga.

The Misery Index rose exponentially and in the 1989 elections, Seaga and the JLP lost 45 out of the 60 Parliamentary Seats and four years later the JLP lost seven more in the elections of 1993. This represents a total of 52 seats within four years after being in power for the 9 years leading up to the1989 elections.  

The ongoing attempt to past off the 1980s as anything but an ugly and painful period for the Jamaican people, is tantamount to the GG being given a throne speech to read in 2011 by the then JLP Government that “the economy has fully recovered”!

This after the IMF cut the flow of funds from the previous year in June 2010 to Jamaica, and the national debt in 2011 was growing by an average of over US $10 Billion per Month.

This propaganda is taking advantage of the young and educated but indolent section of the population that are frequently and fluently repeating the foolishness.

Time has passed and even the present political practitioners need to be refreshed, as they are only human. Equally important, the people need to be refreshed cerebrally.  For herein lies the importance of staying the course for what can happen is real for it has happened before.

If many people are told the extent to which things can get bad and shown dramatically the painfully pathways we have already walked particularly at the hands of JLP and Seaga . I believe more will believe.  


Shalman Scott


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