Jamaica’s New Parliament

By Marcia Forbes, PhD
CJ Contributor

Fresh-faced Senators so Far

It’s been a whirlwind of activities in Jamaica over the past two weeks in particular. National Elections came and went and a new 43 year old Prime Minister with his new Cabinet has been installed. The dust has not yet settled though. Parliament is to be reconvened, but before that Senators from both political parties need to be appointed.

The Upper House of Jamaica’s Parliamentary Democracy, the Senate, carries a total of 21 Senators – 13 appointed by the ruling party and 8 by the opposition. The Jamaican Constitution allows the Prime Minister to name up to four Senators as Ministers. Two Senators have been so appointed.

On March 7th Jamaica saw a highly qualified and well-admired young woman as well as a promising young man named to the Senate and assigned Ministerial responsibilities, one as a full Minister and the other as a State Minister, or Junior Minister, a title such Ministers really dislike. Both grew up in politics and boast Fathers who have served/continue to serve in Jamaica’s Parliament.

Political Families Prevail

In a previous article I spoke about the political families of Jamaica and mentioned Pearnel Charles Sr. and Jnr. In a surprising move, we saw Charles Jr. appointed to the Senate and as State Minister in the Ministry of National Security. Very few saw that coming. His Member of Parliament Father is reported to be tipped to serve as Speaker of the House of Parliament.

In that aforementioned article I did not mention Kamina Johnson-Smith who had served in the Senate but did not contest a seat in the just concluded elections. Her Father, Anthony Johnson, a Minister of Government in the 1980s, later served in the Senate and over 2007 to 2011 had been appointed Jamaica’s Ambassador to the USA and High Commissioner to the UK.

A Female Minister of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade

To a chorus of ‘Ooos’ and ‘Aahs’, Mrs. Kamina Johnson-Smith, was reappointed to the Senate, sworn-in and appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. This personable woman who hardly looks a day over 30 years of age had made a mark for herself in the Senate. Always well-researched, articulate and measured, Kamina was the TV face and radio voice of the JLP during its well-run election campaign. Social media love her.  One tweep admiringly refered to her as ‘Kamniscient’, a take-off of omniscient – the all-knowing Kamina.

And yes, Kamina does know a lot. I met her several years ago when she worked in various positions in the Legal, Regulatory and Corporate Affairs Division of telecommunications company Cable & Wireless/LIME. With a solid 20 years of working experience, a first degree in French and International Relations, a Law Degree from the University of the West Indies as well as a Master of Laws (Corporate/Commercial) from the prestigious London School of Economics and Political Science, Johnson-Smith is more than qualified for her new portfolio. She is the first woman to hold this post.

 Women in the Cabinet

Four women account for 22.5% of Jamaica’s newly announced Cabinet of 18 Ministers. While this is not a significant improvement quantitatively, compared to the Cabinet going into elections, it may be argued that this is so qualitatively, based on the portfolio assignments of Oliver ‘Babsy’ Grange, Shahine Robinson, Kamina Johnson-Smith and Marlene Malahoo-Forte.

Still, that Jamaica had a female Prime Minister in the just past administration counts for a lot. But how does one weight this? Under PM, Portia Simpson-Miller, there was only one other full Minister, Lisa Hanna. The other two females in the previous Cabinet represented the PM, covering her Sports (MP Neita-Headley) and Information (Senator Sandrea Faulkner) portfolios. The female State Minister under that administration (Ffolkes-Abrahams) and too with this administration (Fayval Williams), as is the norm, was/is not in the Cabinet.

Oliver ‘Babsy’ Grange, a stalwart in the Jamaica Labour Party, was given what some describe as a ‘Super Ministry’. It encompasses entertainment, youth, culture and sports. This means that Grange will cover the portfolios formerly handled by Lisa Hanna (Youth and Culture) and Natalie Neita-Headley (Sports on behalf of the PM). Incidentally, both these latter two women again won their seats for the PNP in the recently concluded elections.

Shahine Robinson, who has been winning elections for the past 15 years, has been assigned the Labour and Social Security Ministry. Attorney at Law and former Judge, Marlene Malahoo-Forte is now the island’s Attorney General and will sit in the Cabinet.

Youth in Parliament

Youth is a fluid terminology. It is used to denote age and at other times experience. That said, there are several new, young Members of Parliament within the winning Jamaica Labour Party. These include persons like Juliet Holness, Charles Jnr., Floyd Green, Malahoo-Forte, Alando Terrelonge, Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn and Johnson-Smith who are all still in their 40s. State Minister in Finance, Fayval Williams is likely to be just over 50. We trust that the party will allow these persons to grow and blossom and that many of the old stalwarts will graciously step aside within the coming few years.

Dr Marcia Forbes, a Caribbean Journal contributor, is a media specialist, the co-owner of multimedia production company Phase 3 Productions Ltd and former Permanent Secretary in Jamaica’s Ministry of Mining and Telecommunications and later the Ministry of Energy and Mining. She is the author of Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica and the recently-released Streaming: Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles.