KINGSTON –– Former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller yesterday urged her colleagues in Parliament to do whatever is in the best interest of Jamaicans.
“We have a responsibility to do what is in the best interest of the Jamaican people,” Simpson Miller said as she made her last speech as a Member of Parliament in Gordon House.
In her final speech to the House of Representatives, before walking out the doors of the chamber for the last time clutching a bouquet of flowers handed to her by successor as Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips, Simpson Miller described the Parliament as the “bedrock” of Jamaica’s stable democracy.
“This parliament is the bedrock of our stable democracy and our free society. It must celebrate the best of Jamaica. It must project what makes us a great people,” she told the House.
The former leader of the People’s National Party (PNP), who was replaced by Dr Phillips in March, and is expected to hand in her letter of resignation as the Member of Parliament tomorrow, was responding to a number of tributes from her parliamentary colleagues before her departure.
She thanked the colleagues with whom she had served over her 35 years in Parliament for their support, after they had paid tribute to her during the special joint meeting of the Houses of Parliament, which started nearly one hour late and ended with several people unable to make their contributions.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Pearnel Charles said that missed contributions would be packaged in a publication and circulated.
Among those paying tributes to her were Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who attributed to her a “truly phenomenal career”.
Holness noted that Simpson Miller was not only the seventh woman to be elected to the House of Representatives, but was Jamaica’s first, and only, female prime minister.
“This was no ordinary feat, and you are no ordinary woman,” the prime minister remarked.
He added that the defence of the poor in the society must never be left unattended, as Simpson Miller had been the voice that kept successive governments focused on policies and programmes beneficial to poor Jamaicans. However, he sought to offer consolation to the outgoing MP with news that “there is a new defender of the poor”.
“I have studied you in that regard. I have observed how you have operated, and I am saying to you on your retirement that you don’t have to worry, there is a new defender of the poor people of Jamaica,” Holness said.
Dr Phillips said that Simpson Miller’s presence in Parliament embodied all that was good about Jamaica, while others focused on what is wrong with Jamaica.
“We, the members of this honourable House and Senate, have a responsibility to place on record our appreciation of her outstanding contribution so that future generations may become aware of her tremendous contribution to the building of the nation,” he said.
In a lengthy response to the tributes, Simpson Miller said the people of St Andrew South Western helped to make her what she is and her life would always be intertwined with theirs.
She said that her life had been made richer and more meaningful, because so many others also contributed to her development and success.
Among those she listed were her husband, Errald Miller, her relatives, her housekeeper Marva, and her supportive group from the constituency.
In paying tribute to her colleagues in politics and Parliament, she included the late Anthony “Tony” Spaulding, former MP for St Andrew Southern, whom she described as her “protector” and who had helped to launch her political career.
“Tony taught me the ropes of how to deal with [the] then rough political landscape of the time,” she said, referring to her first political victory as councillor for Trench Town West in Spaulding’s St Andrew Southern constituency.
She also paid tribute to the late leader of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Hopeton Caven, who lost the St Andrew South Western seat twice to Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidates before giving way to her entrance into the constituency, which she won on her first attempt in 1976.
Simpson Miller credited former Prime Minister Michael Manley’s “belief and confidence” in her, which led to him assigning her to several portfolios.
She also credited former JLP prime ministers Hugh Lawson Shearer and Edward Seaga for giving her support in her early years in politics.
She said that Shearer, as president of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, had always offered his expertise in labour relations while she served as minister of labour and social security, and Seaga always stood up and defended her.
“I want to thank you very much Most Honourable [Seaga], once again. We have a fond respect for each other,” she commented.
Simpson Miller also lauded her frequent competitor for the leadership of the PNP, Dr Phillips, whom she regarded as a patriot, and another former prime minister and leader of the PNP, P.J. Patterson, for his confidence in her.
The sitting ended with parliamentarians giving her a standing ovation as she walked through the doors of the chamber for the last time.