Prime Minster Portia Simpson-Miller at European Development Days 2013

Image credit: Jamaica's Office of the Prime Minister

As has become the norm, there are lots of questions about Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller’s travel itinerary.  The questioning and criticism have been growing for months as Prime Minister Simpson-Miller seems increasingly absent from national life, appearing only intermittently in Parliament or on TV or at Jamaica House press briefings; many feel that as Jamaica faces increasingly difficult economic and social obstacles, she’s not a visible or active steward of the country’s business.  Her lack of visibility has led some to question her capabilities as leader of the country.  

Nov.27, 2013 cartoon in The Jamaica Observer by Clovis. (Image credit: Clovis/The Jamaica Observer)

Nov.27, 2013 cartoon in The Jamaica Observer by Clovis. (Image credit: Clovis/The Jamaica Observer)

The latest manifestation of this criticism has been about her availability to the Jamaican press vis-à-vis her availability to foreign press.  Most notable is that on her recent trip to China, Prime Minister Simpson-Miller gave a full, sit down interview history lesson to a Chinese journalist. This is something that she hasn’t done for some time with a Jamaican journalist for the Jamaican people.  Additionally, the country has received no formal report on the business or outcome of that China trip.  Other recent trips have been followed by a deafening silence.  And then, I believe last week, the Prime Minster’s security detail got into a (minor) scuffle with a journalist who persistently asked questions about the embarrassing reinstatement of Richard Azan after he’d resigned (presumably in disgrace but probably just until things were perceived to have calmed down) following a report from the Office of Contractor General on his involvement in the “Spalding Affair.”  The journalist’s questions were not welcome and as he pressed the Prime Minister for an answer about Mr. Azan’s reinstatement, the security detail flanking Prime Minister Simpson-Miller encircled her as she moved right along ignoring the questions.  Jostling ensued.  I believe this incident followed a Jamaica House press briefing at which similar questions were also asked and not answered (at all or at least to the satisfaction of at least some journalists), which resulted in sharp retorts from the Prime Minister and the Minster of Information, Sandrea Falconer.

So here comes news of the Prime Minister’s journey to Brussels, Belgium for European Development Days 2013.  A big deal is made of it by GOJ as she’s apparently the only representative at EDD 2013 from the Caribbean.  Lots of Heads of State, development officials and other “movers and shakers” in international development and international development policy are attending the EU-hosted conference.  It’s a big Brown Burke-ing deal.  And today there’s news trickling onto Twitter and to Jamaicans on The Rock that the Prime Minister may have made some inelegant comments at one of the EDD 2013 forums.    Then I saw a RT from @jcankash on my timeline

Wait, what?

Nov. 27, 2013 cartoon from Las May in The Jamaica Gleaner. (Image credit: Las May/The Jamaica Gleaner)

Nov. 27, 2013 cartoon from Las May in The Jamaica Gleaner. (Image credit: Las May/The Jamaica Gleaner)

So I’d seen the comments and wondering about the Prime Minister’s comments but frankly I’m worn out by the recent news from Jamaica.  But that RT pushed my curiosity to unimaginable levels so I went digging on the EDD 2013 website for either transcripts or videos of the sessions.  To my knowledge to date there’s been no official (Government of Jamaica distributed) transcript of the Prime Minister’s comments — either about her speech at one of EDD 2013’s opening sessions (generally about a vision of a post-2015 (i.e. post Millennium Development Goals  (MDG) deadline) world, or about her comments on a panel titled “Women’s Empowerment post-2015.”

Thankfully for these kinds of conferences in 2013, everything is online…because I doubt there’ll be a frank and timely reporting from GOJ on what the Prime Minister said, spoke about, saw, or accomplished.  On the EDD 2013 website there are recordings of what was a live stream of the various panels, speeches, and presentations.  The Prime Minister’s speech at an Opening Plenary is found here.  The Prime Minister’s panel participation is found here.  As I listened to the panel presentation again I tweeted what the Prime Minister said and created a handy Storify if you’re not able or interested in watching the videos: http://sfy.co/jWnH.  I’ve nixed any editorializing and just reported what was said as accurately as I can.

Not much to say, really, about what the Prime Minister said.  I am disappointed though because I do not think that the Prime Minister’s comments are a fair or accurate representation of Jamaica, or of the kind of efforts and thinking that we are and should be embracing.  I’m actually embarrassed as well.  How does it make sense to talk about young female Members of Parliament like that? As if they are not be trusted until they’ve been through some training while implying that men are somehow more capable, age notwithstanding.  Is there no current female Member of Parliament capable of being the Minister of Finance? A Junior Minister, then, since the women must be trained? Was no female candidate considered at election time, anticipating that she could take the lead at the (admittedly) important ministry.  And that lack of confidence in young and female MPs is after criticizing the Old Boys’ Network that gives men the advantage in political fundraising.  It seems even more ironic as the moderator asked about women being hindrances to women’s empowerment.  Heh.  Mostly the Prime Minister’s comments on the panel and in her speech seemed unfocused and cloyingly general.  The comments reflected very badly on the Jamaican people: is this the leader we’ve put forward to lead Jamaica in 2013?  Just how transformational is the Prime Minister?  As we contemplate the approaching MDG deadline (2015), a post-MDG world, and an inspired Vision 2030 Jamaica is Prime Minister Simpson-Miller’s leadership, as, I think, evidenced at this conference, the right and necessary leadership for Jamaica?  Where’s the substance even in a forum such as this with time constraints?  Where’s the vision? Please note that I’ve not commented at all on how articulate or not the Prime Minister is; that doesn’t matter, the substance does.  The substance is sorely lacking.

I need a drink on this very cold Fall night.

More anon.

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