Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
When Opposition Leader Andrew Holness paid tribute to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller during yesterday's joint sitting of Parliament, the rapturous reaction of fellow parliamentarians evaporated any remnant of disunity that might have lingered ahead of the grand celebration of Jamaica's golden jubilee.
"Madam Prime Minister, this one is for you. Since Independence the woman would be the person of greatest note for Jamaica," Holness declared. "I stopped and I thought about it and the founding fathers came to mind, but I have to say that the Jamaican woman, particularly the Jamaican mothers."
Holness' remaining words were drowned out by the blissful applause of members, led by none other than Simpson Miller injecting some energy during a moment of solemnity interspersed with subdued celebration that befits a sitting of Parliament.
An electrifying speech by Senate President Stanley Redwood and a sober presentation by House Speaker Michael Peart had set the stage for an inspirational sitting.
Earlier, Simpson Miller welcomed the visit of Dr Goodluck Jonathan, president of Nigeria, and hailed the impending visit of Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, as part of Jamaica's 50th anniversary celebrations.
"Our achievements have been significant globally and locally," declared Simpson Miller. "We have expanded and improved health-care delivery; achieve world standard in infant mortality and life expectancy, along with some of the most far-reaching legislation and reforms that have impacted the poor and marginalised in society."
Simpson Miller noted that Jamaica has been ushered into the mainstream of technology over the period, with significant improvement to the country's infrastructure.
"We have expanded access to better education at all levels and many Jamaicans today enjoy a better quality of life," she asserted.
The prime minister conceded that there was still some way to go to fulfil all the hopes and expectations of Independence.
Never belittle ourselves
"But we must never belittle ourselves or allow ourselves to think that we have not accomplished," she admonished.
"As we celebrate, let us use the occasion to lay the foundation for the Jamaica we want to see in the next 50 years; my vision is for a Jamaica where all our citizens can live in peace and safety," she declared. "I see a Jamaica where people are confident in their history and their place in the nation, an educated and qualified people."
In summing up the past 50 years, Holness said two statements ring true about Jamaica.
"During the past 50 years we have achieved much, during the past 50 years we could have achieved so much more," he declared.