PM Simpson Miller should listen to herself more

News post November 9, 2015

 Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller at the most recent swearing in.

I believe that if Portia Simpson Miller listens to herself more, and to others less, her Administration could have accomplished so much. Recalling her victory speech after she won the last general election, this column observed in our piece headlined, ‘The people spoke for Portia’:

“…One should never underestimate the political clout of that grass roots veteran Portia Simpson Miller…flashing her famous smile, and hugging her candidates one after the other, we saw a woman practised in the way of politics, hitting all the right notes… She thanked among many, ‘Comrade PJ Patterson’, her helper Marva, and Andrew Holness who had called to congratulate her, saying that ‘he was very gracious’… The prime minister-designate appealed: ‘Work with us as we will be working with you. [There will be] consultation and dialogue… we will hide nothing from you…to all business persons, you have a Government that you can trust’.”

We had a similar experience several years before when the PM’s handlers had refused to have her debate, but agreed to have her address the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica. At the conclusion of her speech, she received a standing ovation.

The Office of the Prime Minister website quotes PM Simpson Miller’s address at the swearing in of her Cabinet on January 6, 2016: “We must respect and include the people. We must exercise zero tolerance to corruption. We must work tirelessly to promote the rights, welfare and well-being of all Jamaicans…I am signalling today that this Administration will take a zero-tolerance approach to corruption, and that we will move quickly to strengthen the existing mechanisms to fight corruption, and will exercise our minds to finding new and innovative ways to stop the waste of public resources… I want to remind you that it is about the people of Jamaica, not about yourselves or a political party.”

Then I recall her coming off script and saying to her Cabinet, “Get to work now!”, with a passion that could not have been pretence. What has transpired since then reflects who took her seriously, who did not, and who could not. Really, when are we going to ensure that the skill sets of a minister match the demands of the ministry?

While we accept that former Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson had a heart for the people, clearly the systems put in place to ensure the proper running of our health sector were sadly wanting. Has this ministry, in particular, and our Government, in general, been hiring political friends who are ill-suited for the roles they are expected to play? Is this why the finance minister may be experiencing pushback from his fellow Cabinet members when he tries to implement governance measures?

The transferring of Dr Ferguson to another ministry, without demanding immediate upgrading of the facilities in our public hospitals, gives the public no comfort. The sickening details of the audit must be addressed and the public must see the PM, her new minister, and the responsible officials touring health facilities. This will give them far more credibility than the political campaign that they are currently conducting. I believe the prime minister cares. She must now take her own advice, and that of honest non-political Jamaicans, to do what is right for her country.

Church, crime and politics

This column is calling on every church group to have their members monitor their communities and report any signs of criminality and political thuggery. No other group has more influence or presence in Jamaica than our churches, and they must step up to their responsibility in promoting peace and justice in our country. Instead, we are hearing that pastors are being arrested for doing business with scammer money. Do church organisations have a monitoring system so that a man cannot just buy a clerical collar and call himself “bishop”?

When we hear the testimony of those beleaguered police officers and soldiers in the Tivoli enquiry, we wonder where were the church leaders when this community was being governed by fear and terror? Where are the church leaders in the ever-widening garrison areas around the island? When they visit the public hospitals to pray with their members, did they see the conditions being described in the health audit? Why has there been no outcry?

Our church groups should have been calling for a meeting with the prime minister, as was done by the National Partnership Committee, whose members spoke up for decisive action to be taken regarding the tragic “dead baby scandal”.

Over the past week we have heard of a young father and his one-year-old baby being shot dead, a promising University of Technology, Jamaica, student gunned down in a robbery, two homeless men killed while they slept. This country needs all Jamaicans to participate in our healing. Even as we demand better of our Government ministers and the security forces, we need to ask ourselves if we have done enough to speak up and organise ourselves to give no quarter to this criminality in our midst. Clearly our churches must step up.

Farewell, beautiful Cynthia

We attended the farewell event for Cynthia Wilmot last Sunday. Beloved icon of film and media, Cynthia was celebrated by her family of four generations, first at their home in St Thomas, and then at the Caenwood Auditorium in Kingston. There we greeted her beloved Fred, her husband of 72 years. I had celebrated the story of this avant-garde Canadian-Jamaican couple in my Observer column of May 2008, ‘Fred and Cynthia Wilmot — life on their own terms’ (, recalling their decision to make their home in Bull Bay in 1951.

We learned from Alma Mock Yen that Cynthia danced with Ivy Baxter, and then assisted Alma at her studio in Harbour View. We learned from historian Swithin Wilmot the impact of Cynthia and Fred on community and country. Film producers Marcia Forbes and Lennie Little-White spoke of Cynthia, the meticulous and creative mentor who inspired them. We learned from her business partner Hilary Nicholson of her passion to capture Jamaica’s rich history, the evolution of the union movement, the seminal work of Amy Bailey and May Farquharson towards the rights of Jamaican women, the love story of Edna and Norman Manley, and the journey of Louise ‘Miss Lou’ Bennett.

Most of all, we learned from son Billy and her grandchildren, the strength of this matriarch who nurtured and guided her large family. They shared the film of their majestic farewell, a ‘paddle-out’ from the Bull Bay shores by her grandchildren who are famous surfers. They sprinkled her ashes and then plunged into the water to have their last swim with their beloved. With the setting sun behind them, it was a breathtaking finale of Cynthia Wilmot’s beautiful life.

Published By: The Observer

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