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Friday, March 31, 2006
Madam Prime Minister - Portia sworn in as Jamaica's first female head of Government

Jamaican Gleaner

Petrina Francis, Staff Reporter


Portia Simpson Miller raises the Bible as she takes the oath of office at her swearing-in ceremony as Prime Minister at King's House yesterday. Mrs. Simpson Miller, who succeeds P.J. Patterson, is the first woman to hold the office of Prime Minister of Jamaica. Looking on is Governor-General Professor Kenneth Hall. - RUDOLPH BROWN/CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER

PORTIA SIMPSON Miller yesterday wrote a page in Jamaica's history by becoming the nation's first female Prime Minister, pledging to stamp out corruption, extortion and break the power of criminals.

Mrs. Simpson Miller also promised to advance human rights and individual liberty.

In the run-up to the special delegates' conference to elect a new Prime Minister in February, Mrs. Simpson Miller was harshly criticised by many who said she did not "match up" to her fellow contenders who all had the title of Doctor before their names.

But yesterday she said everyone was equal and should be treated as such.

"Each individual is sacred. None is more important than the other. Money should not make one person more important than the other, learning should not make one person more important ... nor should class, colour or gender. We are all equal ..." the new Prime Minister said to tumultuous applause.

COLOURFUL CEREMONY

In the colourful ceremony held on the lawns of King's House, St. Andrew, and watched by an estimated 10,000 guests and thousands more at home and abroad, Mrs. Simpson Miller also pledged to foster and facilitate conditions for employment and wealth creation.

She succeeds P.J. Patterson who stepped into retirement yesterday as the nation's longest-serving Prime Minister.

Adorned in an ivory skirt suit, trimmed with gold, Mrs. Simpson Miller told the gathering, which included Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, regional leaders, members from the United States Congress and others, that the state has a responsibility to protect the society.

"We cannot build the harmony and peace that this society so desperately needs unless all Jamaicans know that they will be treated with dignity and respect," she said.

She continued: "I pledge to ensure that the interests of all our people are protected, and that victimisation never rears its ugly head in any way under my administration."

The new Prime Minister takes up the mantle 32 years after entering representational politics at age 28.

Mrs. Simpson Miller was sworn in exactly 14 years after Mr. Patterson took over from late former Prime Minister Michael Manley.

The new Prime Minister said there could be no economic transformation without an overhaul of the education system.

In his remarks Mr. Patterson, who handed in his resignation letter to Governor-General Professor Kenneth Hall just before the ceremony, thanked his Cabinet which was automatically dissolved on his departure. He also thanked other members of Government he has worked with for close to a decade and a half.

"Prime Minister Simpson Miller, I wish for you all that is good as you assume office," Mr. Patterson said. "May you enjoy calm seas and a prosperous voyage and may your efforts be crowned with abundant success."

For his part the Governor-General said the momentous event could be traced back to the history of the people of the New World.

He said women were courageous enough to build and maintain their families, yet audacious enough to challenge and accelerate the conquest of slavery and colonialism.

Mrs. Simpson Miller is known for her passion for the poor and dispossessed, and the Governor-General told her that the "hopeful" and the "hopeless" have high expectations of her.

"The task may be formidable but the mission is not hopeless and impossible," he said.