In Defence of Portia : A Supporter Speaks Out
JA$99.57 to US$1.00. This is the talk of the town in Jamaica, the death of the Jamaican dollar. As the dollar veered dangerously close to the cliff, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Portia Simpson Miller, has generally remained silent. Taking her 19 member Cabinet with her, the PM has frequently retreated, to find solutions – presenting little results. The country waited for 14 months for an IMF agreement, public sector workers saw their salaries frozen, parliament has failed to act on important pieces of legislation, the national debt continues to hit breathtaking highs, while the standard of living continues to hit devastating lows, crime continues to pose a significant threat, with even the Security Minister allegedly being robbed – just to name a few of our challenges. As Jamaicans grow restless and the calls echo louder for the PM to either resign, take a salary cut, cut the size of the Cabinet or simply practice what she preaches, one young Jamaican, Nick Cobran, has come to the defence of the woman many call “Mama”. He cries foul, dismissing the criticism as unfair and “severely partisan”. He has agreed to share his thoughts with Veritas. Here he is, in defence of Portia.
Q : How long have you been a supporter of the PNP?
A : Well, I grew up seeing my mother support them, but it was when Portia got elected that I really started to follow up the politics. By 4th form, I was able to understand the whole ideas etc.
Q : If Portia wasn’t the leader of the PNP, would you still support the party?
A : I would still support the party, because I believe in the ideologies, even though the party has deviated from them somewhat. I believe in the uplifting of people and this party has a record of trying to uplift. My mother and countless others would not have gone to university had it not been for Michael Manley. Having said this, I love Portia because she reminds me of Manley, though he died while I was still young.
Q : Many say the PM is incompetent & has no vision, do you agree? Why or why not?
A : I do not agree, because leadership is something you are trained and groomed for; she has been trained. Her track record as minister of various portfolios is good. Of note is the tourism master plan that she initiated and local government reforms, she has a vision..if anyone denies that, they are severely partisan. This is a woman who has been taking money from her pocket to send kids to school (I know of this). She eventually started a foundation that does this. I’m saying this to say that she has a vision to lift the people. Sadly, not everyone shares her vision because they can’t see beyond the fact that she isn’t the most eloquent speaker.
Q : As PM, Mrs. Simpson Miller never gives one on one interviews or answers direct questions in Parliament, what do you make of that?
A : That is not true. She has given statements in parliament and she has been questioned on them and she has answered. Standing orders give guidelines on when questions should be asked of the Prime Minister, interested persons should questions. I watch parliament and I don’t see questions tabled/posed to her. The opposition is weak.
Q : You say Standing Orders guide her, but what about PM’s Question Time? It was started by Golding and she abolished it. Is that a sign of fear?
A : Question time was never apart of standing orders. Golding had his style and way of doing things as PM. I don’t think it is fair to compare them. I think it is the need for her to be prepared in answering questions, and nothing is wrong with this, you know people are very critical of Portia. Anything she says, it will be criticized. She didn’t abolish the asking of questions, it’s just her style. It does not mean that questions can’t be asked of her, just do it as the standing orders state.
Q : Do you think the PNP is surviving on Manley’s legacy as opposed to finding new solutions to our problems?
A : I think it is a bit of both. The issue is, the PNP knows that the solutions will hurt many Jamaicans over the medium term, but what I have an issue with, is the fact that they will not be decisive in relation to the solutions. Jamaicans need to pull their weight.
Q : As a leader, do you think she has been effective in marshaling the country so far? Why or why not?
A : Yes and no. Yes, because she has still sought to go about the country’s business, not giving attention to detractors. She has made representation in Sports (Chris Gayle etc..), she has made it clear to her country that we NEED to take certain measures and that the IMF is not the only solution and there has been accountability of her ministers. No in the sense that her Govt. takes too long sometimes to tell the people what is what, as well as take decisive actions, including decreasing levels of export etc. We need to be harder on our business people, dem living too nice.
Q : The matter of Cabinet size, is the Cabinet too big?
A : I don’t think the Cabinet is big, because of the whole issue of succession planning, it is a good idea plus MOST of the Ministers are competent. If you have so many competent persons and such a large mandate, why not? On the other hand, I don’t see why they won’t take a pay cut.
Q : Does the failure to take a pay cut damage the PMs credibility in asking Jamaicans to sacrifice?
A : I would not say damage credibility, but you can’t expect Jamaicans to sacrifice if you won’t. I would say it results in people just being upset, but credibility, nah. She didn’t break any laws or betray people’s trust.
Q : The PM said a new IMF agreement would have been signed within 2 weeks of taking office, it took 14 months. How does that reflect on her?
A : I was of the impression that she meant negotiations would have commenced in 2 weeks, and in any case I’m sure that was cleared up. The IMF has an agenda and we are seeing it now. They dictate and control our sovereignty at the moment we sign. They were drawing it out on purpose, so even if she meant 2 weeks and that’s not what the IMF wanted, it wouldn’t happen. The IMF’s agenda is not development. It is spreading this neo-liberal model that will maximize their wealth at the expense of countries.
Q : The dollar. $99.57 to $1. Should the PM show more concern? What do you make of her general silence on that?
A: What is she to say? There is a Minister of FINANCE. Moreover, as I said, we have lost our sovereignty and have become controlled by the IMF. They are drawing out this thing on purpose while the dollar decreases so they have no real intention of helping. They are withholding the foreign exchange we need. They are behind all this, but the PM can’t come out and say this right? Beggars just can’t go against the dominant force or the force they are depending on. The governance process has to continue until the foreign dollars are handed over. Having said this, I think she should say something, but this is based on my personal hate for neo-liberal institutions like these. I really don’t think there is anything that anyone can say but to explain the situation to the public. IMF stalling on us.
Q : Many people use the current decline of the dollar & the poor economic growth of the 1990’s to argue that the PNP cannot manage the economy. True?
A : In the 1990’s, the PNP got complacent due to the long term in power. However, growth does not result in development. People were developing in the 1990’s. If people were not satisfied, the PNP would have been long gone from office. The 1990’s was when the PNP ended the IMF relations and naturally, with having to repay debts etc, it would impact our economy. I already stated that the IMF has their own agenda and we fell victims to that. Currently, I think governments can manage the economy, but they are not willing to be DECISIVE…both parties know what needs to be done, but if they do what needs to be done, they will face what Manley faced, revolt of the business class. This, coupled with the fact that a lot of these businesses support these parties, they don’t want to lose this.
Q : The PM has many of the same faces from the Patterson administration of the 1990’s. If they failed then, is it a good idea having them lead now?
A : You are implying that they failed; I’m suggesting that they did not. Infrastructure developed under PJ’s administration, there was the modernization of the telecoms sector etc. They did not fail. As I said, growth does not indicate development. The thing is, people saw development. She also has many new faces in the Cabinet and I feel they should be given a chance to work with the experienced ones.
Q : What would you consider to be the PM’s biggest success & failure so far?
A : Her successes are ongoing. This can be seen in the social benefits people are getting. People are accessing housing, also general infrastructure developments. I think there were 12,000 jobs created over the last quarter. We’ve not heard of the losses of jobs. Her failures? Not using the opportunity to cut Cabinet salaries, as well as let issues die. For example, the 60 mil vehicles, which are for LONG TERM usage for ANY government. Too much propaganda was allowed to be spread, too much propaganda has been allowed to stay in the media unaddressed..that’s a failure in my eyes .
Q : Finally, should the PM retire before the end of the parliamentary term, and if yes, who should replace her & why?
A : I think she should. I also think that’s the plan on her end. This is evidenced by the system they have put in: succession planning. This is how succession planning is important, as well as the Cabinet size. If she goes, there will be a larger/wider pool of candidates for the job. I see persons who have the potential to replace her, but there isn’t any one person I would choose at this time. Peter Bunting is a standout, as well as Phillip Paulwell..there is also (Whykam) McNeil. (Lisa) Hanna could be ready in 10 years. I say these people because they are seemingly able to handle portfolios and provide leadership. I also feel like these are ministers you could place at any Ministry and get results because of their wide range of expertise.
There you have it. He says back off, not her fault. He contends that the PM is tried, tested and proven, the right woman for the top job. How do you see it? Is the defence a good one? Are we really just severely partisan? Or has Mama failed her children? Share your thoughts.