Portia Lucretia Simpson-Miller, Order of the Nation (ON), Member of Parliament (December 12, 1945 - ) is a Jamaican politician and was the country's Prime Minister from March 30, 2006 to September 11, 2007 and again from January 5, 2012 to March 3, 2016. She was Jamaica's first female Prime Minister. She was Vice-President of the People's National Party from 1978 until she was elected President in 2006. First elected to Parliament in 1976, she entered the Cabinet in 1989, as Minister for Labour, Welfare, and Sports and remained in government until narrowly losing the 2007 election. Before becoming Prime Minister and Minster of Defense in 2006, she held the Local Government portfolio from 2002. During her period in office as PM, she was one of only seven women in the world out of 192 nation-states who were leaders of their nations.
Throughout her career, Simpson-Miller has had a reputation as a voice for the poor and unemployed, as an advocate for women and as a face for the faceless. She helped to set up a network of child-care centers to encourage women into employment. Although her period as head of government has been short, her successful career serves as an example and model for other women to emulate. Her passion for social justice could be regarded as representative of feminine compassion, although there are no few men who are also passionate about creating more egalitarian societies. More women in public life will not automatically make the world a more just and peaceful place. However, if Simpson-Miller's political agenda serves as an model, those who follow her are likely to help drown the voices of those who would perpetuate privilege, inequality, and injustice.
Portia Simpson-Miller was born in Wood Hall, St. Catherine into a working-class family. The area where she grew up has been described as a "very poor section of Jamaica." She attended Marlie Hill Primary School, followed by St. Martin's High School, then completed a Bachelors degree in Public Administration at Union Institute and University, Miami, Florida. She completed this while a member of parliament, traveling to Miami to attend seminars and meet with tutors between 1994 and 1997, when she graduated. She also acquired a Diploma in Computing, Programming and Public Relations. Subsequently, she has obtained a certificate in Advanced Management from the University of California at Berkeley, a Certificate of Participation in the Executive Program for Leaders in Development at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and a Certificate in Public Relations and Advanced Management from the Institute of Management and Production (IMP).
Simpson-Miller is married to The Most Honourable Errald Miller, formerly Chief executive officer (CEO) of Cable & Wireless Jamaica Ltd.
She entered politics when she won a council seat in 1974, representing the ward of Trench Town West on the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation. She was first elected to Parliament as a People's National Party candidate for the South West St. Andrew constituency in 1976. A year later, she was appointed Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government. In 1978, she was elected a vice-president of PNP, retaining this post until 2006. At the 1980 General Election, the PNP—the governing party at the time—lost and she was one of the few PNP members who retained their seats (9 out of 51). Between 1983 and 1989, the PNP remained outside Parliament, boycotting the 1983 election. Simpson-Miller served as party Spokesperson on Women’s Affairs, Pension, Social Security, and Consumer Affairs from 1983 until she was returned to Parliament in 1989, under Michael Manley (PM from 1989 until 1992) again formed the government. She became Minister of Labour, Welfare, and Sports until 1993. In 1993, she stood for the Presidency of her Party when Manley (son of the party's founder) retired but lost to Percival Noel James Patterson. She continued, however, to serve under Patterson in his Cabinet. In the general election that year, she won the seat of South West St. Andrew and took over the portfolio for Labour and Welfare until 1995, when Social Security and Sports were added to her responsibilities. In 2000, she moved to the Ministry for Tourism and Sports, which she held until 2002. After the general election that year, she returned to the Ministry of Local Government, this time at its head.
During her tenure as Labour Minister, she took a special interest in the working conditions of overseas farm workers in Jamaica, improving their working conditions. Through strategic investments of the National Insurance Fund, she oversaw an increase in growth from $1.5 million to $20 million over a three year period. She established a chair in Labour Relations at the University of the West Indies and established a network of children's day-care facilities (for working parents) across the island. As Tourism minister, she had to deal with the drop in visitors following 9/11 as confidence in travel fell. She worked hard to promote Jamaica and with the airports to improve security. As Sports minister, she has championed "the island's young athletes as role models."
Portia-Simpson Miller has also represented Jamaica at the international level. Appointment include Director of the Commonwealth Local Government Reform, Vice-President of the Inter-American Network of Decentralization, Local Government and Citizens Participation (RIAD), Director of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Center for Local Government Training (CIFAL), and Chair of the Caribbean Local Government Ministers.
Party leader and Prime Minister
In February 2006, she again stood for President of the PNP to replace Percival Noel James Patterson (Prime Minister 1992-2006), who was retiring. In the election, held on February 26, 2006, she received 1,775 votes, while her nearest rival, national security minister Dr. Peter Phillips, took 1,538 votes. She was only able to garner approximately 47 percent of the delegates' vote, making her the first PNP president to be elected by less than half of eligible delegates, but the first woman in the party's 68 year old history.
On March 30, 2006, she became Jamaica's seventh Prime Minister, its first woman PM, and the third in the Anglophone Caribbean following Eugenia Charles of Dominica and Janet Jagan of Guyana. She also assumed the defense portfolio.
While Prime Minister, Simpson-Miller instructed one of her nations "leading lawyers to take a fresh look at the proceedings" surrounding Marcus Garvey's conviction for fraud in 1923, which is widely believed to have been politically motivated. Simpson-Miller regards Garvey's philosophy of self-reliance and pride for those descended from the victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade as part of the Jamaican heritage. Garvey is Jamaica's "first National hero." Speaking on the 44th anniversary of Jamaica's independence on August 16, 2006, while visiting New York City, she invoked the memory of Garvey and said that "as prime minister, she will work for a unified Jamaica." "I have made it quite clear at home," she told the assembled guests in Manhattan's New York Hotel, "that I am for all the people." On October 16, 2006, she opened an exhibition on Garvey at Liberty Hall in Kingston, saying multi-media exhibition was "a fitting testimony to the vision that our great National Hero held for the advancement of the children of the African Diaspora.
In the general election held September 3, 2007, the PNP led by Simpson-Miller narrowly lost its majority to the Jamaica Labour Party led by Bruce Golding, who succeeded her as Prime Minister. The PNP retained 27 seats. The Labour party won 32. Simpson-Miller initially refused to concede defeat, alleging voting irregularities and the possibility that recounts will change the final result. She conceded defeat on September 5. She assumed the official leadership of the opposition.
Second Term as Prime Minister
On December 5, 2011, Holness asked the Governor-General, Sir Patrick Allen, to dissolve parliament and call an election, despite the fact that elections were not constitutionally necessary until September 2012. The date of the general election was set as December 29. Major local media outlets viewed the election as "too close to call," though, as Simpson-Miller campaigned in key constituencies, the gap widened to favor the PNP. Days before the election, Simpson-Miller came out fully in favor of LGBT rights in a televised debate, sparking an eleventh-hour controversy ahead of the vote.
In early vote counting on December 29, it was apparent that the PNP was winning a large number of swing constituencies. The election results were officially declared by the Electoral Office and, upon the request of the Governor General, Simpson-Miller formed the new Jamaican government.
Simpson-Miller lost to Andrew Holness by a two-seat majority on February 25, 2016. A recount then granted her party an additional seat, resulting in a one-seat loss with the PNP holding 31 seats to the Jamaican Labour Party's 32. As a result, Simpson-Miller began serving as Opposition Leader for a second time.
According to the BBC, "Detractors of Mrs. Simpson Miller" suggested that she lacked "the intellectual capacity to lead the Jamaican nation and represent the country in a global capacity." Her defenders counter that she does not regard herself as an all-round expert but consults widely on issues; surrounding "herself with very bright people as she contemplates the way forward." Vando Palmer, communications adviser to Portia Simpson's campaign, says those criticisms are unfair to her because "Portia Simpson Miller does not pretend to be the repository of all knowledge… And she will surround herself with very bright people as she contemplates the way forward." Glenda Simms, a gender development consultant and former Executive Director of the Bureau of Women's Affairs in Jamaica, described her election as "a proud moment for the women of our region and the women of the world …the beginning of a transformation in Jamaican society, and I am convinced that this augers well for all peoples of the world, especially the third world." Detractors have also criticized her for not having run her ministries efficiently. It would have been unusual, however, for an inefficient minister to continue to work their way up the political ladder for such a long time, without being consigned to the back-benches.
Portia Simpson-Miller joined the relatively small group of distinguished women who have won election to their nation's highest elected office. The list includes Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, and Cristina Fernández of Argentina. Women remain underrepresented in the parliaments of the world. In 2007, "around the world, women held only 17 percent of parliamentary positions." Among Fortunes' top 500 companies, there were only 13 women CEOs; among the top one thousand there were only 26. While Simpson-Miller was PM, 11 countries had no women members of their legislatures at all. In the light of such statistics, her achievement withstands scrutiny. It ranks as a remarkable achievement in the context of world where few women reach a position of this status whether in public service, business or the not-for-profit sector.
Throughout her political career, she has been known as "An advocate for the poor, the dispossessed, the oppressed and all those who remain voiceless and faceless in the corridors of power." Following her election, "Radio Jamaica's Kathy Barrett told the BBC, 'She's a woman who's very determined, a firebrand type of politician who has really hit home when it comes to the majority of people—especially women, the poor and the unemployed.'" In addition, she has spoken and written about climate change.
On May 29, 2006, she was invested with the Jamaican Order of the Nation, giving her (and her husband) the style "The Most Honourable."
Union Institute awarded her an honorary doctorate of humane letters in 2001, "for her exemplary efforts to improve the quality of life for all Jamaican citizens." Following her election as Party President, the I & U President, Roger. H Sublett praised her for running on a platform that "focused on empowerment for the marginalized, especially the poor, women, and children, and uniting all classes to tackle deep-rooted problems of crime and economic underdevelopment." When she spoke at the 2001 convocation, she told students:
It did not matter that I had served my apprenticeship in the intensive workshop of politics and government and had been schooled in the university of life … It did not matter that I was routinely called upon to represent my country at conferences all over the world. The absence of a college degree remained an issue in my life.
Her legacy will ultimately be evaluated after she had finished her career. However, in achieving high office as a woman in a society that is dominated be men she has set an example for other women to follow. She has brought to her politics what can be considered feminine qualities of compassion towards those on the margins of society. Professor David Rowe of the University of Miami has compared Simpson-Miller with Garvey; "in a society where wealth was still controlled by racial minorities, Simpson Miller was" he said, "the best option for the majority of Jamaicans for whom the 'duty is still tough.'" She embodies, he says, the principles of the independence movement except that she extends this to mean "independence for women, independence for the poor, independence for the neglected children."
|Party Political Offices|
|Leader of the People's National Party
|Prime Minister of Jamaica
|Succeeded by: Bruce Golding|
|Leader of the Opposition
|Succeeded by: Andrew Holness|
|Prime Minister of Jamaica|
|Leader of the Opposition
- Pamela Paxton and Melanie H. Hughes, Women, Politics and Power: A Global Perspective (Los Angeles: Pine Forge, 2007, ISBN 978-1412927420), 18.
- BBC, Jamaica to get women leader. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
- Union Institute and University, Network Crosscurrents: Notes on UI&U Alumni Learners, Faculty and Staff.
- Howard Campbell, 1970s Flashback: The 1980 General Election, The Gleaner. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
- People's National Party, Portia Simpson-Miller. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
- Polly Thomas and Adam Vaitilingam, The Rough Guide to Jamaica (New York: Rough Guides, 2007, ISBN 978-1843536918), 99.
- Colin Grant, Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0195367942), 4.
- Jamaican News, The Jamaican Diaspora Critical to National Development. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
- Daraine Luton, Marcus Garvey Interactive Museum Launched, Jamaica Gleaner. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
- Edmond Campbell, Bruce takes charge—Golding sworn in as Jamaica's eighth Prime Minister, Jamaica Gleaner. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
- Stephen Gray, Jamaican elections end tonight as minister says gays "threatened his life" Pink News, December 29, 2011. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
- Way now cleared for new gov't to take office Jamaica Observer, January 4, 2012. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
- BBC Caribbean, Portia Simpson: Profile. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
- David J. Rothkopf, Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They are Making (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008, ISBN 978-0374272104), 308.
- Government of Jamaica, Profiles of Cabinet Ministers. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
- Portia Simpson-Miller, "Confronting Climate Change—A Shared and Global Responsibility," UN Chronicle 44(2) (2007): 16. ISSN 0251-7329
- Government of Jamaica, PM to be awarded with order of the nation today, Prime Minister's Office. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
- Jamaica Gleaner, The Most Honourable Portia Simpson-Miller, Jamaica's last democratic hope. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Grant, Colin. Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0195367942.
- Paxton, Pamela, and Melanie H. Hughes. Women, Politics and Power: A Global Perspective (Sociology for a New Century). Los Angeles: Pine Forge, 2007. ISBN 978-1412927420.
- Rothkopf, David J. Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They are Making. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. ISBN 978-0374272104.
- Simpson-Miller, Portia. Confronting Climate Change—A Shared and Global Responsibility. UN Chronicle. 44(2) (2007): 16. ISSN 0251-7329.
- Thomas, Polly, and Adam Vaitilingam. The Rough Guide to Jamaica. New York: Rough Guides, 2007. ISBN 978-1843536918.
All links retrieved November 30, 2022.
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