New PM eyes republican status for Jamaica

Newly-installed Jamaica Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, the first ever woman to head a government in the largest of the English-speaking Caribbean islands, said she wants to get rid of the British monarch as head-of-state, replacing her with a republican form of government.

In her address, after taking the oath of office on Jan. 5, becoming the island’s seventh head of government, following her People’s National Party (PNP) landslide victory in the Dec. 29 general elections, Simpson-Miller referred to Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary later this year.

She said it will be a time for reflection on the lessons of the past, “and as we celebrate our achievements as an independent nation, we now need to complete the circle of independence.

“In this regard, we will, therefore, initiate the process for our detachment from the monarchy to become a republic with our own indigenous president, as head-of-state,” she told her audience, which included an estimated 8,000 party officials, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, supporters and members of the diplomatic corps at King’s House in Kingston, the Jamaica capital.

The new prime minister also pledged to “broaden and deepen” the island’s input into the regional integration movement.

“We will restore the vibrant and vigorous participation of our country,” she said in that regard. “Previous PNP administrations have given quality time and expertise to this regional integration movement.”

Simpson-Miller said one important agenda item will be to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final appellate jurisdiction, ending judicial surveillance from London.

“We must fully repatriate our sovereignty. And, in going forward, we invite the Opposition to follow through on the statements which it recently made that we were ‘not far apart’ in our respective positions,” she said.

“Let us, together, complete this aspect of regional integration within the life of this administration,” she added.

Only Barbados, Guyana and Belize are members of the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ, which was established to replace the London-based Privy Council as the region’s final court.

But most of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries are members of the original jurisdiction of the court that also acts as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the 15-member regional integration process.

Simpson-Miller told her compatriots she was “deeply humbled that, once again, you have chosen me to lead our nation, as it stands at a crossroads”.

She had first headed a government in Jamaica from 2006-2007 following the retirement from active politics of then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson.

But she was defeated in the 2007 general elections by the Bruce Golding-led Jamaica Labor Party (JLP). In the December poll, the PNP won 42 of the 63 seats in the Legislature.

“In our political history, it is a rare opportunity to be given a second chance to lead,” Simpson-Miller said.

“It is also a sobering experience. But, I have been strengthened by the experience of going through the first phase of the journey. And, I have emerged,” she added.

The Jamaican leader said she is fully aware that the country faces “an awesome task.

“There is greater debt, increased poverty levels, tighter fiscal space. My administration will not engage in a blame-game,” she said.

“We will present the facts to the Jamaican people, based on rigorous analysis. Our approach must be to right the wrongs and insist on accountability.

“Let us learn from our past, absorb the lessons and go forward. We only need to look back to confirm where we are coming from, and to correct our errors and weaknesses as we look to the future. That is the way of progress,” she added.

Prime Minister Simpson-Miller said the mandate which Jamaicans gave to the PNP “is a call to action.

“It is a signal from our people that we, the government, must earn their trust. It also gives us the opportunity to ease the burdens and the pressures of increasing poverty, joblessness and a deteriorating standard of living.

“The mandate is a cry for us to restore hope. The mandate calls on us to protect the good name of Jamaica, at home and in the eyes of the international community. Jamaica must remain for all, a ‘quality brand,’ which gives citizens, from all walks of life, the opportunity to achieve their goals,” she said.

The prime minister said her first order of business for the new government will be to inform itself about the true state of the Jamaican economy.

“Then we must act. We remain committed to a vibrant partnership with all critical stakeholders; local private sector; the public sector—civil servants who play a pivotal role in nation-building; our international partners; and, in particular, with the International Monetary Fund, as we identify the basis for a new agreement,” she said.

“I also assure you that we will work with anyone who is prepared to work in Jamaica’s interest and who shares our vision that people must be at the centre of our development,” she added.

“Our investors, including foreign direct investors, must contribute to making Jamaica a truly competitive economy. Now, more than ever, we must also make it easier to do business in Jamaica,” she continued.

“Investors demand no less, and our future social and economic prospects depend on it,” said Simpson-Miller, stating that her administration would be “marked by greater openness in government and frankness in our relations with the global community”.

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