Tue | Dec 12, 2017

"Remind them, sir" ... Young Portia in Parliament

Published:Tuesday | June 27, 2017 | 1:12 PMJovan Johnson
Portia Simpson Miller

Eight meetings into the new parliamentary session following the 1976 General Elections Portia Simpson Miller uttered her first words "Remind them, sir". 

This was on February 8, 1977.

Now, 40 years later, Simpson Miller will close a storied parliamentary career with her resignation which takes effect on Thursday. Today, the Senate and the House of Representatives will sit jointly to pay their tribute. 

The populist leader was among five females elected in the 1976 polls. Carmen McGregor, Enid Bennett, Dr Mavis Gilmour and Violet Thompson were the others.

But, little did they imagine that the then 31-year-old Portia Simpson Miller, who was elected on a People's National Party ticket to represent St Andrew South Western, would have gone on to become Jamaica's first female prime minister, and the fourth female head of government for an independent English-speaking Caribbean nation.

Prior to her first series of words, Simpson Miller, who was not yet married, made her first parliamentary contribution. She voted 'aye' and along partisan lines on a divide on a bill to change the Constitution to give then Prime Minister Michael Manley powers to select any number of persons from the Senate for a non-Cabinet ministerial position. 

The vote aside, Hansard, the official records of Parliament, reveal that Simpson Miller's first words were made while Housing Minister Anthony Spaulding gave a statement to the House.  Spaulding was updating the House on the forced eviction of 1,000 residents from Wilton Gardens (Rema), who were accused of not paying rent for occupying government houses.

"It is a fact that a Ministry of Housing collections office in Rema, where payments for rent and sales could have been made, was deliberately destroyed ... after months of harassment of its staff and destruction of its furniture and files," Spaulding said. 

Simpson Miller interjected: "remind them, sir".

Edward Seaga, the opposition leader at the time, condemned the February 2 incident and accused the Government of orchestrating an illegal and violent eviction of Jamaica Labour Party supporters.

Rema is located in St Andrew Southern, which was, at the time, represented by Spaulding. The constituency shares border with St Andrew South Western.

Whether Simpson Miller made more substantive contributions in her first year of her parliamentary life is not clear as Gordon House says a fire at the government’s printing office destroyed the transcripts for the period April 1977-January 1978.