From as far back as June 2020, the country was put on notice by Member of Parliament (MP) Desmond McKenzie that the Denham Town Primary and Infant School was destined for a name change in honour of former MP Edward Seaga. That became a reality exactly one year later on June 3, 2021 when it was officially declared the Edward Seaga Primary and Infant School.
“Speaking at the renaming ceremony, Prime Minister Holness said the schools founded by Seaga have been key providers of education to the community” (Jamaica Observer, June 4, 2021). “Indeed he played a pivotal role in the development of the new schools,” he continued. But what he did not explicitly state was that Denham Town All-Age School, as it was first known, is not among the schools Seaga helped to develop. It was constructed in 1950 and had already made a name for itself under the formidable leadership of its first principal, WBC Hawthorne, years before Seaga became the Kingston Western MP in 1962.
WBC Hawthorne remained principal for some 13 years before he moved on in 1963 to further distinguish himself as the first General Secretary of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association. By Holness’ own standards, Hawthorne appears a substantially more deserving candidate for the renaming honour than does Seaga.
This was not the first time that Seaga, under the Holness Administration, was being honoured for contrived reasons. In announcing the decision, in March 2018, to name the then near completed North-South Highway in his honour, Holness declared, “It is with good reason why it was selected; he was responsible for the development of downtown Kingston. He was also integral and initiated the development and expansion of Ocho Rios as a tourism destination. The North-South Highway creates that link and so it is only fitting…” – a curiously fitting reward for Seaga’s Columbus type “discovery” of two locations which ostensibly only came into existence upon his arrival.
It was of no significance that the vision and actual construction of the cross country highways were conceptualized and mostly constructed under the PNP administrations of PJ Patterson and Portia Simpson Miller. Nor did it matter that the construction of said Highway was stridently opposed by Seaga who shockingly revealed at the naming ceremony some 15 years later that it was he who had asked that the highway be named for him for the reason outlined by the Prime Minister.
He was more gracious in accepting the Petrojam renaming honour. “All I did was to buy it (the refinery) so I didn’t think that I was worthy of being honoured for the occasion,” Mr. Seaga declared. Still Mr. Holness pledged (a mere three months before the highway renaming) that even more of those honours were afoot for Mr. Seaga: “It is our way of saying we love you, we cherish the work you have done and we have to find more ways to symbolize it!”
So, Mr. Seaga now has named after him (and counting), buildings (including the HEART Trust building), schools, highways and byways. Mr. Seaga has unquestionably distinguished himself in certain areas of national leadership but must we rename the whole country for him? And if we must, can’t we do it all at once rather than adopting this crawling peg approach? How about opting for a Seaga Republic or a St. Edward Island?
And what of Portia Simpson Miller? Is she not loved enough to participate in this wanton sharing out of our national assets and institutions? The victim of gender or political bias or both? Now that she has retired from public life and with her triangular “Square” at the Hagley Park / Spanish Town Road intersection now so dramatically altered, will she be considered for an upgrade anytime soon? Perhaps some good reasons will be crafted, in due course, for renaming Tivoli Gardens High School in her honour?
The whimsically subjective approach to honouring our public figures has gone on for too long and urgently needs to come to an end. The justification for such decisions need to go beyond the Cabinet of a ruling political party to embrace a wider cross section of our non-parliamentary citizenry. This group should include representatives from the grassroots and should be guided by standard evaluation criteria. The chances of being memorialized in this country currently hang too heavily in favour of the politicians, and the sterling contribution of ordinary and not-so-ordinary Jamaicans to national development are too easily jettisoned on the scrap heap of history.
It is well known, for example, that Highway 2000, (the PJ Patterson Highway) the first tolled highway in Jamaica, was conceptualized by Kingsley Thomas, then CEO of the Development Bank of Jamaica, who assiduously nurtured the vision and who, as chairman of the National Road Operating and Construction Company (NROCC), saw to the successful implementation of the project despite overwhelming odds (Business Observer, February 12, 2020: Highway 2000, the IPO – a testimony to the vision of Kingsley Thomas). Yet it is PJ Patterson who gets to take the credit merely for being Prime Minister at the time. Not only did Thomas loom large as mover and shaker in the Patterson years but he has also been credited with “leaving blueprints for (other) north-south roads and for their connection in a loop in the west of the island” (PressReader.com). In due course, the politicians of which ever ruling party will be drawing lots among themselves to see who gets to name the next leg, although nobody is more qualified than Dr. Kingsley Thomas to have the transformational cross country highways named after them.
Some things are worth repeating, as is the following excerpt from Devon Dick’s column – Gleaner, April 4, 2018 – Name highway after Nanny: “Just as there is a committee that deals with national honours, there should be a committee that handles the naming of buildings and places after people.” I concur. The Prime Minister could enormously enhance his own fledging legacy if he retreats from his obsession with the preservation of Mr. Seaga’s and moves quickly to bring this committee into being. After all, we are all stakeholders in this land. We need to have a say in this (and other matters) more frequently than every five years.