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Portia's legacy unveiled

Published:Monday | December 5, 2016 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell
Simpson Miller

Political commentator Martin Henry says while the last cycle of the Portia Simpson Miller administration might be viewed as a watershed moment in Jamaica's longer-term history, her performance as a member of parliament is woefully lacking and her contribution to tribal politics cannot be ignored.

Taking a cursory glance at Simpson Miller's legacy against the background of her announcement to step down as president of the PNP after 10 years at the helm, Henry said although the lion's share of credit might go to then finance minister Dr Peter Phillips, it should be acknowledged that it was under Simpson Miller's leadership that the country finally bit the bullet and took strong steps under the International Monetary Fund programme to recalibrate its finances.

Henry argued that Simpson Miller's administration dealt with the problems of Jamaica's fiscal imbalance, "putting her house in order in terms of Budget, in terms of income and expenditure, and the general management of the country's finances."

Commenting on Simpson Miller's legacy, the senior political commentator said it would be difficult to pronounce on it in the immediacy of history, noting that time would provide a better perspective on her contribution.


Started as councillor


Beginning her career in representational politics when she became a councillor at the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation in 1974, Simpson Miller managed to capture the parliamentary seat of St Andrew South West, which had been previously held by the Jamaica Labour Party.

Consolidating her hold on power in that constituency, Simpson Miller moved on to become a minister of government in multiple portfolios, including labour and sports, and has served as prime minister in two short stints.

Henry said in her various roles Simpson Miller had never performed with world-class distinction, but in terms of Jamaican politics, the first female prime minister has held her own in rendering commendable public service in the political sphere.

"She was a beloved minister of labour and sports and used those two portfolios to do what Portia Simpson Miller does best: mix with and engage with the people and resolve problems at the level of personal and community needs to a large extent."

Henry said the former prime minister made a bold effort with the now-defunct Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme but came under substantial criticism that the vehicle failed to drive as fast and powerfully as expected.


More decline than progress


Examining the state of the St Andrew South West constituency, Henry said the area has showed more decline than progress in terms of overall housing stock, employment possibilities and businesses located in that stretch of Kingston, which was once a fairly substantial commercial centre.

"She is going to leave behind a legacy as a political representative on the ground of not having done very much for the welfare of the people that she so committed to."

"No matter how we spin it, Portia Simpson Miller has been a significant contributor to the contentious tribal politics of Jamaica over the many years she has served and her most recent outburst in South East St Ann, among her own supporters, is indicative of the point I am making about her own conduct and in her engagement of politics," he said.

Gleaner columnist Dr Orville Taylor, who worked as senior director in the Industrial Relations Division of the Ministry of Labour when Simpson Miller was portfolio minister, said she did not distinguish herself in terms of critical pieces of legislation that were needed to advance the cause of the working class.

"As a pro-poor, pro-worker, PNP president and labour minister, there was far more that she could have, and should have, pushed for," he added.

In his comments, former health minister John Junor said Simpson Miller's lasting contribution at all levels had been her advocacy on behalf of the less fortunate and poor of Jamaica. "She never failed to be a passionate advocate in that regard," he said.