Where in the World is Portia Simpson-Miller?

Yes it works to the tune of the Carmen Sandiego game show song, just dip your voice on the “Simpson.”

So, where is Prime Minister Simpson-Miller?

I wonder for a few reasons…and I gather that I am not alone in wondering.

The last I saw of her was at the Jamaica 50 Grand Gala. She looked regal and happy. That’s nice. Before that I saw her gleefully waving in London as our athletes trooped into the stadium. Super. During this past weekend I saw a picture of her and Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar at that country’s 50th Independence celebrations. Yay, Caribbean unity. A few weeks ago the Prime Minister received an honorary degree from Northern Caribbean University but I didn’t see any footage of her acceptance speech (pardon me if I missed it). Congrats to her…an opportunity for a speech about policy or the state of the country. Alas, missed. And, to be honest, an acceptance speech from a University campus is not what I’m looking for. Nor am I looking for the obligatory Emancipation and Independence messages.

I am looking for leadership…leadership that Jamaica desperately needs at the moment.

On the heels of the death of Prime Minister Meles from Ethiopia, Prime Minister Simpson-Miller’s absence from public life really struck me. And before Meles there was President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi who died around April 7, 2012 (succeeded by Joyce Banda) and President John Atta Mills of Ghana who died on July 24, 2012 (succeeded by John Mahama). So, I wondered even more. Where is Jamaican Prime Minister Simpson-Miller? Because it is now an open secret that the Prime Minister is unwell (it was apparent to me during the campaigning before the December 2011 election and recent images of her, to me, show more than age and private conversations confirm that she’s not well). Moreover, this kind of absence is not what I’m accustomed to from Portia Lucretia Simpson-Miller. I wonder if we – resident and Diaspora Jamaicans – need to begin a watch for her…as was done with the late Prime Minister Meles. The transitions for these countries were not all smooth but they were far less bumpy than in the past, which has become a source of pride for the citizens and supporters of those countries. Jamaica had occasion for such a transition too when Donald Sangster died in office and was succeeded by Hugh Shearer. More recently the resignation of Bruce Golding led to the election of Andrew Holness as JLP leader and swearing in as Jamaican Prime Minister. But I am less concerned about the transition process than I am with the the available options, should such a transition become necessary, because I’m far more concerned with the leadership vacuum in Jamaica. As someone on my timeline (@gocharms) commented this morning: Jamaica is on autopilot.

I can certainly understand that if the Prime Minister is indeed ill she may wish to remain private about the nature of her illness and that she should be afforded some privacy. I sympathize with her because it must be difficult. Yet she’s not just any ol’ public official; she really doesn’t have the luxury of this depth of silence. Like it or not, it’s the cost of being an elected official who is also the leader of a country. Surely we don’t need or require details of a treatment schedule or her medical history but the country at least deserves to know what plans are in place as she deals with treatment to ensure that the country has appropriate and competent leadership. But that is if she’s indeed ill. Regardless of the state of her health, the current state of Jamaican leadership is unacceptable. Jamaica is at a fragile place…the uncertainty does not help that position.

I am looking for leadership. Leadership that Jamaica desperately needs at the moment.

I am looking for leadership that would have capitalized on the Olympic fever and our athletes’ success. Such domination by a small country in the capital of the place that colonized us is surely not only a golden PR moment, but also a prime opportunity to harness the energy and focus of the country — then on the athletes’ hard work, execution, and the achievement — to tackle bigger issues that also require planning, hard work, and execution. It could have been a start, a teachable moment of sorts. There was much chatter about getting a holiday in celebration. Yet instead of a speech either to congratulate the athletes and to announce a holiday or to congratulate the athletes and to announce that now is not the time for a break, now is the time to push on, to work hard following the examples of our athletes…we get silence. Where is the passionate, effervescent Prime Minister Simpson-Miller who despite her perceived “intellectual gaps” is adept at whipping up and galvanizing a crowd? Why was that skill not on display immediately after or during Olympic fever to at least try to maintain the unity? There was a spirit in Jamaica and among Jamaicans that begged for use in a continuous and positive way. Alas. More importantly, where is the Prime Minister to provide leadership about the hoped-for IMF agreement and all the usual “bitter medicine” that it will require? To explain what it will mean for all strata of society? We can surely guess but that’s besides the point; where is the elected leader to…lead? To explain and reassure as public sector jobs are cut (it was announced recently that 3,000 jobs would be cut and I expect more of that…it would be foolish of anyone to expect otherwise)? To provide some sort of rationale for why the government needs consultants and why those consultants are being paid so much? Where is the leadership to prepare the nation for what could happen when Hugo Chavez, another leader with (apparently) failing health and possibly untenable popularity and support, is no longer leader and that PetroCaribe deal is on shaky ground? Another person on my timeline (@Tyrone876) labeled the lack of discussion about and preparation for such a scenario and the same for the possibility that an IMF deal is not forthcoming a “crisis.” Seems apt. Where is the leadership to explain (or SOMETHING!) about the value of the U.S. dollar (now almost JA$90 : US$1 and about the Canadian dollar, which is now over JA$90 : CDN$1?

I am looking for leadership. Leadership that Jamaica desperately needs at the moment.

Where is Prime Minister Simpson-Miller to speak up about the kidnapping and murder of Clover Graham? Where is Prime Minister Simpson-Miller to speak up about the murder of Dr. Barry Dixon? Where is Prime Minister Simpson-Miller to speak up about the killing of Kayann Lamont and her child by the police? At this point I may even be OK with her going to Yallahs and hugging up Ms. Lamont’s parents, sisters, grandmother, and children. OK…not really, more is needed…but where is even the smallest indication that Jamaica has an elected Prime Minister who is actually trading on her self-professed love of country and of poor people to provide some comfort and empathy in a very troubling and grief-filled time?

Some will say, “Well, what do you expect of Prime Minister Simpson-Miller because she was, after all, not fit for the job of in the first place.” This may be true but the fact is that she was elected to lead and she’s not doing so. Where are the surrogates, then, the senior leadership of the PNP and GOJ to provide a steadying message and hand? Fact is, no one in her cabinet is stepping up so the leadership vacuum is even more severe. I saw more of and heard more from Finance Minister Peter Phillips during the Manatt Mendacity than I do now…now when he’s actually in a position of responsibility and trust. Funny how that works, eh? Not much from Peter Bunting who really should be saying and being more proactive about the growing crime and scamming problem that is his responsibility as Minister of National Security. I wonder if he knows that the constant statements about the crime rate being down don’t match up either with the frequent reports of murders, kidnappings and robberies or with the persistent use of excessive force by the Jamaican police? Minister of Science, Technology, Energy, and Mining (*grimace*) seems to be beating at JPS’ door yet nothing much is being said about PetroCaribe. One measly comment that you’re hopeful of a Chavez victory because Jamaica cannot afford to lose the deal (likely if Chavez loses, which is distinctly likely) is not sufficient, sir.

Where is Jamaica’s elected leader to set the tone and present a narrative that seeks – at least – to reassure the country’s citizens about Jamaica’s ability to cope, but ideally a tone and narrative meant to gather support for a clearly defined plan for the obviously rough road ahead? A plan to which GOJ can and should be held accountable? Where is the honesty and frank discussion?

Jamaica needs leadership.

Where is the leadership to explain just exactly what mission Jamaica is on and how the country will get there? Because at the moment Jamaica is on an auto-piloted mission to God knows where and I’m not sure even He knows how we’ll be getting there.

Where is Prime Minister Simpson-Miller and, most important, what are Jamaicans going to do about it?

18 Responses to “Where in the World is Portia Simpson-Miller?”
  1. yardiebwoi says:

    Wow. Curiousity got the better of me. Blog popped up in my Facebook news feed. Am glad I clicked through. Eloquently voiced my silent concerns

  2. jean says:

    I sincerely hope she’s not ill CJ. Have such a soft spot for her because she’s our first woman PM. But yes, the silence is troubling.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Jean. I too hope she’s not ill…I’d really, really hate that. I too have a soft spot for her from long ago but couldn’t help but “speak up”…

  3. Arlene Dixon says:

    Wow! You left absolutely no stone unturned…I say no more!!!! Now I wait…..

  4. Sharifa says:

    Ren you are spot-on. As soon as I saw the title, I did a “yea, where the heck is she?” because though I read the news pretty regularly and was in Ja for 3 weeks this summer, I just couldn’t say. There is certainly no leadership and auto-pilot is a dangerous situation…I never heard abt possible illness.

  5. Candi says:

    This piece covers every question and concern I have and more people need to see it. Our leader is M.I.A and it makes me wonder, how come nobody else sees this as a problem. If she’s sick the responsible thing to do would be to let us know and then put someone else at the helm. Our country is basically running itself, no bueno.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. It does seem like she’s MIA and that’s unfortunate…I keep hearing of appearances and I too see glimpses but it falls short of what’s needed (and expected), eh? Really hope she’s OK but the country needs more…

  6. Mr. Editor says:

    While I too have been curious about the Prime Minister’s whereabouts, I’m troubled by your conclusion as to why she’s absent. I believe it is dangerous to conclude, so forcefully, that she’s ill and therefore hiding. Secondly, the leadership of our country is entrusted to a Cabinet – she is not alone in leading the nation. She has always maintained that her style of leadership is one which allows for her Ministers to take the lead in their respective portfolios. She has indicated she will not take the hands on approach of her predecessor, Golding, which arguably resulted in his political demise, so perhaps this is just the way she leads. Truth be told, we knew the type of leader Portia Simpson Miller is when we elected her party to power. Elections have consequences. She is not a leader who leads from the front. We knew this. I think we should be more careful in how we pronounce on the PM’s absence. Very well written post.

    • Well, I haven’t concluded either that she is ill, or that she is ill and therefore hiding. I haven’t even concluded that she is hiding. I note only that she is missing from public life in an unexpected way, even in light of past experiences and especially given the personality I have seen on display from her for about 20 years. I’ve brought up the issue of health based on my own observations (hinting at others’ observations and knowledge too that have been expressed to me privately) and within the context of recent events in Malawi, Ghana, and especially Ethiopia. The latter country’s recent experiences especially really, really struck a chord in me. It is foolish to ignore it because the similarities between the situations are too stark. I note your concern and I did hesitate about whether and how much to say but given the context and full picture, it did not feel right or sensible to omit reference to it. Even so, the issue of health is a tangential issue, a possible explanation (and for the record given some responses to this post I feel that I have to make it clear: I hope that Prime Minister Simpson-Miller is well and in good health). The main and critical issue is the leadership that is needed by the country.

      Even though the execution of the business of the Government of Jamaica is entrusted to the Cabinet, the leadership of the country is not its primary responsibility. The responsibility for the leadership of the country rests with the Prime Minister. Further, even if the primary responsibility of leadership did rest with the Cabinet, it too is not doing an adequate job of leading. The examples I noted near the end of the post are but a few instances where grave issues are facing Jamaica and its citizens (both resident and in the Diaspora) but about which precious little is being communicated in a straightforward and timely manner. I could go on about the Jamaica 50 celebration debacle but I won’t, suffice to say that that’s another instance where I saw neither Prime Minister Simpson-Miller or her hand to push Minister Hanna into action for and communication with the Jamaican public. I could go on about Minister Thwaites’ handling of the Education Ministry and how he seems to not quite connect with parents, teachers, and ordinary citizens about Jamaica’s literacy woes and needs. Is it that I or other Jamaicans expect too much or the wrong things? And that’s a serious question. Opportunities to speak to a receptive population are being missed and I worry about the consequences of these misses.

      Leading from the front or in a hands on manner is not the issue. The issue is, simply, leading at all. The leadership of the country both behind the scenes and in the selection of a competent Cabinet and as the spokesperson for and on broad, national issues rests solely with Prime Minister Simpson-Miller. There is a distinct absence of her presence in, input into, and influence over national affairs. It is worrisome to say the least. I don’t expect her to give every major policy speech (and I don’t think anyone else does either because as you rightly imply it is not a one-(wo)man show) but I do expect her to be speaking up more, to be giving the big picture (tone, narrative, explanation, plan)…especially at times like these: when the nation is a critical juncture that some (perhaps hyperbolically) call crisis.

      Thanks for reading my blog and for commenting!

  7. JamaicanZ says:

    I will comment with a question.. Where is the driver of the bus called Jamaica? It matters not if you conclude that she is ill or not. The fact of the matter is that i agree with you, that both she and key members of her cabinet seem to me conveniently missing now that they have “powa”. What a way dem did have mouth fi chat when they were in opposition? Yes my comment may show my political leanings, however the facts remains the same. @gocharms put it perfectly, the country seems to be on autopilot.

    Now I do not blame to government at all. I blame us the voting public. We must be more vocal and inform the uneducated. Challenge the government to accountable for actions as well their in-action. I applaud your post and say that ‘we’ need these questions answered. I too will shout into the mega phone….. WHERE IS MY PRIME MINISTER?

  8. Micheal Bloom says:

    ortia Simpson Miller you ought to be ashamed about how you treat the Jamaican people. I am a newly graduated university of the West Indies graduate however, staying in this desolate land of what is known as ‘Jamaica,’ governed by an imbecile known as Portia Simpson Miller, leaves much to be desired. How do you sleep in bed at nights? Jamaica needs to wake up and create a new party one that is true and just because in reality not one of you cares about POOR people or the integrity of the nation. You have the audacity of talking to international press however you are discombobulated and daunted when a conversation is initiated from national media? You are a disgrace and the people of Jamaica need to be realistic, stop voting on kisses, hugs and start voting on issues. According to you ‘You not talking talking talking you are working working working,’ shut up and SHOW SHOW SHOW. Our forefathers, the great national heroes have bled, fought, died… I cannot believe this is what they fought for shame on you, every person in your cabinet and the opposing sides

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