Columns

Portia Simpson Miller: Person of the Year

Ken Chaplin

Tuesday, January 03, 2012    

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EVERY year a Jamaican is selected by this column as the most outstanding person for his or her achievements during the year. Two persons are usually named in case one drops out.

This year, Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington was named first as Person of the Year while Andrew Holness, prime minister, minister of education and leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), and Portia Simpson Miller, opposition leader and president of the People’s National Party (PNP) shared the second place, depending on who won the general election.

One of the disadvantages media face in the selection of Person of the Year is that if the choice is made too early before the end of the year another person may create a greater impact as the year ends.

Ellington was written to and told of his selection. He was asked to have certain information furnished, including details of his climb up the promotional ladder. I have known Ellington from he was a sergeant, and enjoyed a good relationship with him when I was director of media relations for the police force, and always thought highly of him.

Strangely enough, Ellington did not respond to my communication. So he flatly fell out of the loop.

I suspect he was displeased with me because I came down heavily in a few columns on the excessive use of force by the police and soldiers against the people of Tivoli Gardens that resulted in at least 70 people of various ages being killed during the incursion of the community to capture Christopher Coke.

I repeatedly wrote that, in the initial assault on the community, the police and soldiers were justified in using necessary force against gunmen who fired at them as they entered, but were brutal after they had the situation well under control, reportedly shooting innocent people. Two teenagers allegedly taken away by the police are still missing.

Ellington should know that I am still of the view that part of the assault was excessive. A commission of enquiry into the bloody incursion, which the public defender, Earl Witter, promised that he would recommend to the Government, seems to be off the radar.

It is estimated that some 800 hard-core Labourites in Tivoli Gardens did not vote in the election. The PNP created a shockwave by winning the general election by a landslide 42 to 21 seats, proving all the recognised forecasters wrong. Given the fickleness of Jamaica’s electors, I do not make forecasts on elections.

The JLP had too many discreditable matters stacked against it. There were the Christopher Coke/Manatt debacle, for which the Government paid a high price, and the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme scandal, for which it paid a higher price. The Government was outclassed by the PNP in the propaganda dynamics on these two issues.

In the Trafigura Beheer issue in which the Dutch Government wants to question the PNP leader and other officials of the party over the US$3l million which was given to the party by the Dutch company; the party’s lawyers scored a major victory by having the case postponed until after the election.

The company had a contract with the past PNP Government to trade oil for Jamaica on the international market. In the dispensation of justice the holding of elections are not considered by the courts. Justice has a clear, definable course that cannot be changed. Simpson Miller has said that the money was returned to Trafigura Beheer.

It seems to me that the main reason for the massive JLP loss was the condition of parochial roads. Everywhere I went people were complaining. The airwaves were jammed with complaints. I have written a number of columns about the deplorable condition of the roads islandwide which have caused inconveniences to motorists, particularly taxi drivers and pedestrians.

In my own community in Stony Hill, every area has been neglected. Some roads have been abandoned. In Sherbourne Heights, the citizens have been repairing the roads for the past 15 years. Complaining to the then member of parliament, Andrew Gallimore, was an exercise in futility. I am not surprised that he lost his seat. Generally, when the PNP was voted out of office in 2007, about 30 per cent of communities in the island had bad roads. When the JLP leaves office in the next few days the percentage would have increased to 80 per cent.

The PNP has on its agenda the establishment of a single road authority. This should be treated as a priority. All roads now under the authority of local government should be vested in the single road authority.

In the column on October 11 last year I wrote that two bright young comrades, Raymond Pryce and Damion Crawford, should be given more space in the party’s affairs. The two were elected. I interviewed Pryce a few years ago when he was an officer of the Consumer Affairs Commission and was impressed with his approach. I have never met Crawford, but he appears fearless and willing to fight for what he believes. I am sure there are bigger things ahead for both.

Simpson Miller is a born fighter and determined political leader. Her dropping of Dr Omar Davies as finance spokesman and appointing him as transport and works spokesman was a good move and demonstrated her strength of character. Dr Peter Phillips is expected to be appointed minister of finance.

For Simpson Miller, who has fought like a tigress for the PNP since she was a teenager, becoming prime minister off her own batting is a dream come true. She has worked hard on her speaking ability and the only thing new in the debate with Holness on the eve of the election was her remarkable improvement as a debater.

Simpson Miller has one enduring quality — listening keenly to advice and suggestion before making her own decisions. It’s a quality which she will need more than ever as prime minister.

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