Tue | Aug 4, 2020

Portia's journey - I endured it all, says retiring MP

Published:Tuesday | June 27, 2017 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller takes her salute, in the nation's Parliament then said goodbye.
Former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller walks out of Gordon House for the final time yesterday.
Simpson Miller

Declaring she has "endured it all", including claims she was illiterate, Portia Simpson Miller, Jamaica's first female minister, has bid goodbye to representational politics, 43 years after her entrance as a councillor in the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation.

Yesterday, the Parliament, in a joint sitting, paid tribute to the 71-year-old who used her last address to the nation's legislature to track how she got elected to the House in 1976, her nine terms representing St Andrew South Western, her election to head the People's National Party and subsequent elevation as head of government.

"It has been quite a journey. I have endured it all - the ridicule, the victories, and defeats. But I have stood tall and remained focused," she said. "I have consistently been able to do so out of the fundamental belief that good will always overcome evil."

The ridicule started, she said, from she was picked to run for the St Andrew constituency. It continued when she contested for the leadership of the party on both occasions, and then when she became prime minister for the first time in 2006.

"I am proud of my record of representation of the people of St Andrew South Western," Simpson Miller said. She has been criticised for the level of development in the area especially given the length of her representation.

"I inherited a constituency with poor and inadequate housing, poor or no public infrastructure, poor health-care facilities, and limited access to special services," she said, adding that the election of 1976 saw her "thrown into the deep enduring a period of extreme political violence".

"I had to build community leadership, and steadily improve the living conditions and give hope to the people. I have been an active MP and with the support of the people. I have accomplished much."

Date with destiny

At the national level, as Cabinet minister or prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller noted her achievements in sports, labour and especially in helping to secure improved conditions for farm workers.

Having had her "date with destiny" in 2006, Simpson Miller, when she took the reins government, said, "I had defied the odds. This girl made the journey from Wood Hall to Jamaica House."

The current economic reform programme, which started during her second stint as head of government, she said, was a major part of her legacy and a period when she claimed she had to "balance the books, while balancing people's lives".

"In the early days, some said I could not read. [But] while some judged me harshly, I was determined to be who I wanted to be, not how others saw me."

Critics have said Simpson Miller as head of government was too slow to punish errant members of her administrations and did not engage fully with national issues.

As party leader, they claimed she took too long to call it quits, raising questions of whether she was pushed, when she stepped down earlier this year after leading the PNP in 2016 to its second general election defeat out of three under her leadership.

"Many have commented about my legacy in recent weeks. While there are many significant things that I can point to and say, I did that, the legacy I am most proud of is my relationship with the people of Jamaica."

Simpson Miller's resignation as MP takes effect tomorrow.