At 4:27 pm (Eastern Standard Time), Jamaica ushered in its seventh Prime Minister, who joined the nation's eight other leaders of government who have served at challenging periods in the nation's history, but arguably, none at a more crucial period than the Most Hon. Portia Lucretia Simpson Miller.
In his welcoming address to the swearing-in ceremony at King's House, Governor General, the Most Hon Sir Patrick Allen, described the moment as a "critical juncture in our history" but that, in the nation’s jubilee year, it provided “a watershed moment in Jamaica's history".
The realities, challenges and symbolism of the moment were not lost on the new Prime Minister, as she embraced her mandate as "a time for hope and national unity".
In her relatively brief inaugural address, Mrs. Simpson Miller renewed her government's desire to implement short-term measures to tackle unemployment, to pursue prudent and transparent governance, to facilitate investments and, ultimately, to grow the economy out of persistent indebtedness and economic stagnation.
"I know that we face an awesome task. There is greater debt, increased poverty levels, tighter fiscal space," she pointed out.
While emphasizing that the new administration would not "engage in a blame-game", the Prime Minister gave an assurance 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 stated.
Alluding to the pressing challenges facing the economy and its impact on the welfare of individuals, the Prime Minister stated that the mandate which Jamaicans gave the People’s National Party on December 29, was a call to action and “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,” she added. That mandate, she said, was “a cry for us to restore hope."
In a clear signal to Jamaica’s business community, at home and overseas, the Prime Minister emphasized that while the government will implement policies designed to create jobs and alleviate poverty, State intervention would not be implemented in a reckless manner.
"We will pursue a tight fiscal policy, reduce our debt to GDP ratio, maintain the key macro-economic fundamentals and be very careful and prudent in our debt management," she said.
She reiterated the government’s stated policies which were "based on the principle that the private sector is a main participant in shaping” the Jamaican economy.
“However, in a time of crisis, government must act to stimulate growth and to restore confidence in the country’s ability to pay its way. Hence, in the short and medium term, we will use state resources to stimulate employment through the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP),” the Prime Minister explained.
She assured that the government would implement the measures “in a transparent and non-partisan manner, to improve critical areas, such as the infrastructure and the environment, which support economic growth."
She also explained that the mandate calls on the government to protect the good name of Jamaica, at home and in the eyes of the international community.
Jamaica, she declared, must remain for all, a “quality brand,” which gives citizens, from all walks of life, the opportunity to achieve their goals.
"The Jamaican people have sent a clear message. They want a more accountable and transparent government which consults them; and, they should expect nothing less," she said.
With respect to CARICOM and the country’s international partnerships, the Prime Minister disclosed that the government intends to “broaden and deepen our input into the regional integration movement.”
The regional agenda of the new administration also includes plans "to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice in its final appellate jurisdiction; and in this way, end judicial surveillance from London." Emphasizing the need to “fully repatriate our sovereignty", the Prime Minister invited the Opposition to “follow through" on the statements which it recently made that both parties were not far apart in their respective positions.
"Let us, together, complete this aspect of regional integration within the life of this administration,” she urged.
In a charge to her generation, the 66 year-old Prime Minister and one of the country's longest serving legislators called for deep reflection on "lessons of the past” and the need to “complete the circle of independence" going forward.
"As we continue our journey, this is the Jubilee Year of Jamaican Independence. This 50th anniversary year 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."
Using the upcoming 2012 London Olympics as a motivational tool, Mrs. Simpson Miller observed that Jamaica's athletes are poised to make Jamaica proud again, therefore the government’s new mandate "presents a unique opportunity for us to unite and work together as one people, and take full advantage of the prospects that will emerge…as we invite the rest of the world to ‘Meet Jamaica' in London in July and August."
In a national call for unity, the Prime Minister stated that in the “face of these dramatic winds of change” in the global economy, “this nation requires the strength, the creativity, the innovation and the steely courage of every Jamaican man, woman, youth and child to place this vessel on a path to prosperity."
She invited Jamaican's from all walks of life to form "a strong bond of patriotic unity and let us move forward together on this journey into our collective future" and she implored everyone to share her passion for the transformation of the country.
"I believe that today marks a critical turning point in our journey. You must believe this with me and you must play your part in this process of transformation," she said.
Mrs. Simpson Miller who lost her initial bid to secure her mandate in 2007, earlier in her presentation, reflected on that development while acknowledging the faith and confidence that the electorate had reposed in her following the December 29 General Election.
"In our political history, it is a rare opportunity to be given a second chance to lead. It is also a sobering experience," she admitted.
"But, I have been strengthened by the experience of going through the first phase of the journey, and I have emerged like the steel in ‘It Takes a Mighty Fire', which H. D. Carberry, our Jamaican poet, wrote about in his poems of discovery and self awareness. And, after being tested and tempered, I stand before you, today, a stronger and better person, who is prepared to be of service to my country and people," she stated.