Portia just doesn't get it
I view with great interest the goings-on in the People’s National Party (PNP). After the party’s loss in the last general election, following a disastrous campaign, there have been calls for party President Portia Simpson Miller to step down, but she apparently has no plans to vacate her post anytime soon.
Respect is due to Mrs Simpson Miller. She has risen from humble beginnings and succeeded in becoming Jamaica’s first female prime minister, and has given four decades of service to her country in the political arena.
She has made statements expressing her sentiments that no one else would make a better leader for the party, and many of her fans and supporters agree. She is a likable person and openly demonstrates affection to those she meets and greets. But personality and likability do not necessarily translate into good leadership skills.
Whether you have a favourable opinion of Mrs Simpson Miller or not, a dispassionate evaluation of her track record will paint a sobering picture. During her first stint as prime minister, she was not installed after a general election. She took over leadership of the party in February 2006 when former party President P.J. Patterson relinquished power, after being victorious in three consecutive general elections. However, of the three general elections that she led the party in, she lost two, and those were the two that she called. The election that she did win was basically a gift from the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), following the Dudus-Manatt-Tivoli disaster, after which then Prime Minister Bruce Golding stepped down. Add to this, the fact that she led the only one-term PNP government, her performance as leader has been unimpressive. On election day, she was asked by a journalist what she would do if she were to lose and she asked, “Do I look like a loser to you?” I would not characterise her as a loser, but the title of 'winner' does not aptly describe her performance either.
One of the desirable qualities of a strong leader is holding your subordinates accountable, and Mrs Simpson Miller has consistently failed to do so. Members of parliament and government ministers have performed poorly or engaged in questionable behaviour with little or no consequences. The Ministry of Health’s mismanagement of the chikungunya epidemic is a glaring example of this. The reappointment of Richard Azan as state minister in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, after he breached government procedures and guidelines, is another. The fact that after such a disastrous campaign, and more than one month after the election loss, there has been no shake-up in the party, with everyone still sitting comfortably in their positions, suggests that the ‘no-accountability’ mentality is still prevalent in the party under her leadership.
Another vital quality of a good leader is the willingness and ability to communicate effectively with those you lead. Again, our former prime minister has failed in this department. There have been numerous pleas for her to communicate with the populace more frequently and for her to speak out on issues and crises affecting the country, and she has fallen short in this area.
For example, it took her more than a week to address the nation about the conflagration at the Riverton City dump, a disaster that sent more than 800 persons to health centres, doctor’s offices and hospitals. And when she did respond, she made excuses for then National Solid Waste Management Authority Executive Director Jennifer Edwards, claiming that she did not deserve to be fired because she did not start the fire herself.
The media have expressed frustration regarding their efforts to engage in dialogue with the former prime minister, and on a couple of occasions, journalists have been manhandled by her members of her security detail.
Now, in an interview with journalist Emily Shields last week, the opposition leader claims that she did no interviews because she was not asked, a statement refuted by at least two media houses. Another desirable trait of a good leader is credibility, and Mrs Simpson Miller’s is shaky at present.
Good judgement is also required from a leader, and the decision not to debate clearly demonstrated a skewed assessment of the political climate. In the same interview, Mrs Simpson Miller said that the decision was not hers, but that of her handlers, which begs the question, “Who is really in charge of the party?”
The present government is now stalling and making excuses regarding their pre-election tax-break promise, with some members taking credit for work done under the PNP administration. A strong, unified and credible Opposition is needed to address them and call them out on any misinformation that they may disseminate.
It is, therefore, unfortunate that as rumours of a possible challenge to her leadership have begun to circulate, Mrs Simpson Miller remarked to Shields: "They challenge me at their own will or risk.” Her response shows that she does not get it. Rather than such braggadocio, she should be humbly preparing to pass on the baton to a worthy successor. She has already run out of her zone.