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'I soon gone again'

Portia defends overseas trips

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor -- special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, January 24, 2014    

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PRIME Minister Portia Simpson Miller has defended her frequent overseas trips, even as she made it clear that there is no immediate end in sight to the jet-hopping.

"I want [to tell] those who [are] criticising, pay your way and come with me and you will see a leader at work... no rest, day and night, in the interest of the Jamaican people," she said yesterday.

"And I soon gone again, because this weekend I am going to Cuba for something for heads of Latin America and Caribbean to have discussions on a number of critical [issues]," she quipped.

The prime minister, who announced that her Government — with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) -- will spend another $46 million to install farm roads and drainage for a packaging house in Yallahs, St Thomas, said such international support is the reason she will continue to accept overseas invitations.

"I want to set it straight, when President Moreno of the IDB invites me to do something anywhere, I am going to respond, because I know what they (IDB) have done for us," she said.

She was speaking at yesterday's commissioning of the Yallahs Irrigation System and the launch of the Yallahs agro-park in St Thomas, which were funded through the IDB.

According to Simpson Miller, she will not turn down any invitation, which could result in Jamaica losing out on the benefits that bilateral meetings provide.

"...Hope that will be an education for some, that leaders are invited by heads [of government], and if they do not travel for those bilateral [talks] then your country would lose some benefits, and I do not intend for Jamaica to lose [out]...," she noted.

Last December, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness tabled questions in the House of Representatives seeking information from the prime minister on the frequency of her overseas trips and the costs, as well as the cost of trips made by other members of the Government since January 2012.

Simpson Miller, who yesterday said that she wanted to set the record straight, pointed to the 'goodies' she brought back from her overseas travels such as the $1.6-billion grant from China.

"When I am going on my private trips I pay my way or my husband buys my ticket," Simpson Miller said.

She said her ministers are being criticised for travelling overseas, she recalled when she first became prime minister in 2007 that Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke visited Europe and pounded the pavement there to get support so that sugar workers can now be relocated from the terrible conditions of the barracks.

Meanwhile, Simpson Miller said the commissioning of the irrigation system and the launch of the agro-park project is meant to restore the Yallahs Valley to its former productive state and to serve as a major boost to rural development.

"This Government is taking a planned approach to agricultural development," she declared.

The Yallahs Agro-Park, she announced, has started production in earnest with some 22 acres of onions under production for which there is a contracted market for the entire crop.

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