Will address Sandals caper
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller Saturday expressed satisfaction with her first 100 days at the head of the Jamaican government, pointing to agricultural performance as her biggest plus, but violent crime, though trending down, as the biggest minus.
But commenting publicly for the first time on the period regarded as the first milestone for new leaders, Simpson Miller conceded in a Sunday Observer interview that there was much more work to be done.
‘I think that I have done a lot of work during the period. However, there are some things that I really wish could have been done, but we are still working, because there are a number of things that you will not be able to achieve overnight,’ said Simpson Miller. ‘There are some things that you are going to have to work over the short, medium and long term, for example the question of poverty.’
The prime minister, who is also president of the ruling People’s National Party (PNP), thanked the country for its support, and at the same time asked for patience, saying she was hamstrung by limited resources.
Simpson Miller’s first 100 days ended June 30, but the prime minister has largely remained silent about the period, ignoring critics who say she has little to show and has made little impact during the period, beyond statements declaring her love for the church.
Although remaining personally very popular in public opinion surveys, her fledgling administration has been shaken by several crises, including the faulty cement affair which virtually brought the construction sector to a halt and forced her to take the reins from her portfolio minister, Phillip Paulwell.
She was more decisive in demanding an inquiry into the beating of a woman by six special constables in Half-Way-Tree, and later an investigation into the circumstances leading to the delay in the release of the 2006 GSAT results.
None of the reports have been published as yet.
On the latest scandal over the massive over-spending in the Sandals Whitehouse hotel caper, Simpson Miller said she would be addressing the nation shortly.
But she insisted her administration would have to account for every dollar of taxpayers’ money that was spent. ‘I am trying to give the taxpayers of this country value for every tax dollar that is spent,’ she insisted.
‘It’s been rough, in terms of what you really want to do, against the background of the high expectations out there, and the expectations are very high… But I think people areunderstanding that I will not be able to do a number of the things that they would wish to be done in a flash. They know that it will take time,’ she told the Sunday Observer.
Outlining the six areas which had been receiving special attention during the first 100 days, the prime minister said education and youth training were her priorities, and the focus would continue to be on early childhood education.
‘The Transformation Programme continues because we have to get it right at that level,’ she said.
Simpson Miller disclosed that she would shortly be announcing a reform programme for early childhood education but would not discuss the details when the Sunday Observer pressed her.
‘There were some areas that had asked for special focus and they received it,’ she said. ‘But very soon we will be announcing a reform programme, and I think that will be important to the country.’
The justice system, she said, had been given resources to implement some special programmes, to start the process of reform necessary to provide the right alternative so individuals are not tempted to commit crimes.
Reprisal killings, she said, in many of instances were carried out because individuals felt they would not get justice through the normal channels.
She pointed to legislation, including the Bill of Rights, which were currently being debated in the Upper House.
Crime too high
Turning to the issue of crime, Prime Minister Simpson Miller regarded it as ‘still too high’ and representing a low for her administration.
Police in July reported that Jamaica recorded a 41 per cent decline in murders in June 2006, ending the first half of the year with a total of 659 homicides compared to 759 over the same period last year.
‘I am still uncomfortable about the crime because one death is still one too many,’ she declared.
On investment, she pointed to ongoing programmes such as the expansion of Port Bustamante, the building of hotel rooms to boost the tourism product and the recent investment in the agricultural sector with assistance from the Brazilian government.
‘I wanted a focus on agriculture, and that’s one of the reasons I accepted the invitation of president Lula Da Silva to Brazil,’ she said.
On her trip to the South American country, Simpson Miller negotiated a US$100-million line of credit to facilitate the importation of machinery and agricultural equipment for the rehabilitation of Jamaica’s sugar industry. The assistance, which will be accessed by the private sector, forms part of the overall programme with Brazil for the production of ethanol, renewable energy and the introduction of a new, high-yield variety of sugar cane in the island.
As she stressed the need for patience, the prime minister vowed to dispel the belief that government was about 90 per cent talk and 10 per cent work.
‘I want my government to do the exact opposite. I want to talk 10 per cent and work 90 per cent. In fact, when you do the work, it will speak for you,’ she said.