Who will succeed Portia Simpson Miller? Part 1

Who will succeed Portia Simpson Miller? Part 1

Grace Virtue

Monday, January 25, 2016

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There will be a general election this year, and whenever it happens, it will likely be Portia Simpson Miller’s last in a political capacity. It will signal the beginning of the end of a parliamentary run which began in 1976 when she won her St Andrew South Western seat for the People’s National Party (PNP).

Over the 40 years, she has served as minister of labour, welfare and sports; minister of labour and welfare; minister of labour, social security and sports; minister of tourism and sports; and minister of local government and sport. She was a vice-president of the PNP from 1978 to 2006, when she succeeded former Prime Minister Percival James Patterson to the presidency of the party. She replaced him as prime minister on March 30, 2006 to become the first female Jamaican head of government and the third in the English-speaking Caribbean — behind Dominica’s Eugenia Charles, and Guyana’s Janet Jagan.

I am not attempting here to evaluate the successes or failures of her leadership. That subject warrants serious study beyond the agenda of any individual or groups, or superficial issues on which she is mostly judged, such as how often she speaks with the press or how well or how poorly she does it. On the issue of her failures, they need to be measured against those of prime ministers before her. How are hers different or similar? How have their failures contributed to hers? She has been Prime Minister for just about six years total, but it is commonly agreed that Jamaica has been underperforming economically for more than 40 years. The issues of unemployment, weak public infrastructure and social institutions have been with us since Emancipation.

Now, pundits representing influential special interest groups are touting the economy as poised for take-off like it has never been. Logic suggests that if the country finally pins down the until-now elusive economic growth, the resources, will ultimately be available to address pressing social problems.

How then do we splice Simpson Miller’s contribution, or lack thereof? Do we blame her for the failures but credit Dr Peter Phillips for the successes of her Administration? Should there be concessions for the fact that she took the high road after Phillips twice challenged her leadership and gave him broad latitude to do his job as finance minister anyway? Does her "hands-off" approach serve a purpose here? Could he, as finance minister, have achieved at the same levels if she had pressed for the populist social programmes that might have been expected of her? These are questions worthy of serious contemplation.

For now, the question is: Who will succeed her? Phrased this way, the issue assumes definitive knowledge and/or control over a process to be certain of a particular result. But I have neither. Moreover, a future where outcomes are dependent on human behaviour may be predictable, but is never certain, because behaviour changes and there are always circumstances outside of our control to render our best plans and expectations irrelevant.

Therefore, the question is really: Who is most likely to succeed Simpson Miller? I am cutting from the bottom of my list of eight individuals, as follows:

1)Lisa Hanna: As one of the youngest members of parliament and the Cabinet — minister of youth and culture — her name comes up in discussions about leadership succession in the governing party. However, when feminists and development experts advocate for more women in leadership and governance, Hanna, 40, is not who they have in mind. They are mostly talking about women with maturity, competence, sobriety, and collaborative building skills that they are focused on using their platform to make people’s lives better. I maintain that her tenure as youth and culture minister has been extremely superficial with more questions than accomplishment.

In one example, St Ann North Eastern Member of Parliament Shahine Robinson pointed out recently that only about 30,000 at-risk youth of an estimated 600,000 have been impacted by her ministry from 2012 to 2015. This kind of underachievement is no platform for promotion to leadership of a country.

2) Mark Golding: I want to understand better the principles that guide Senator Mark Golding’s thinking and actions as minister of justice in a post-colonial society where the dispossessed masses have suffered inordinately at the hands of the powerful and how they relate to broader issues of equality, fairness and human dignity.

Note that if Jamaica is serious about becoming a developed country, politicians must begin to publish their guiding philosophies, especially those who hold portfolios like Golding’s. I try, for example, to understand what drives his obsession with the Caribbean Court of Justice. I am quintessentially anti-colonialism and, therefore, naturally in favour of institutions designed by us, for us, and are reflective of our abilities to solve our own problems. I am puzzled, however, with the energy that has gone into this one issue, while broader issues of constitutional reform, warranting the same attention, are ignored.

I have also heard, on two occasions, professors from the University of the West Indies talk about legislation being pushed through Parliament without the public being sufficiently informed or opportunity allowed for serious scrutiny. If that is true, it is a travesty of justice and an abuse of a critical office in a democracy. These professors, incidentally, need to do what self-respecting people in the academy elsewhere do: assign your students to research, analyse, and publish their findings on these incidents.

Minister Golding is a nice man, but that is not the issue here. The Justice Ministry exists principally to protect the broad mass of the people and the primary obligation of the minister is to ensure their rights are protected. The leader of a country should enjoy the broad trust of the people to act in their best interest and with their consent. Right now, I am not certain that Minister Golding is convinced of any of this.

Six more prospects to consider. Check in again next week.


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