Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Person of the year

Published:Friday | January 2, 2015 | 12:00 AM
File Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson a top contender for 'Person of the Year'

Around now, some magazines and newspapers name their 'Man of the Year', or 'Woman of the Year', or 'Person of the Year', who, in their opinion, has been most newsworthy.

Time magazine chooses a person, group, idea or object that "for better or for worse ... has done the most to influence the events of the year". In the past, Time has given the title to Adolph Hitler (1938) and Winston Churchill (1940), Joseph Stalin (1939 and 1942) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (1941), Ronald Reagan (1980) and Ayatollah Khomeini (1979).

For 2014, the Time magazine award went to the 'Ebola Fighters'. In 2011, it was 'The Protesters'. In 2005, it was 'The Good Samaritans'. In 2002, it was 'The Whistleblowers'.

Who, in your opinion, has had the greatest impact - for better or for worse - on the majority of Jamaicans during 2014? A facile answer would be Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. As head of government and the Cabinet, the buck stops with her whatever happens in the country; but she constantly reminds us that she gets out of the way and allows her cabinet ministers to do their jobs. So I guess she would rather others get the credit (or blame).

The Jamaican economy passed all four quarterly International Monetary Fund tests in 2014 under the leadership of Minister of Finance Peter Phillips, so he should be in the running for the award. With the incomes of many stuck in a wage freeze, and as our dollar devalues and inflation progresses, most of us Jamaicans have experienced a lowering of our standard of living; many of us were pushed below the poverty line in 2014, joining our brothers and sisters who have been there for some time. Phillips is certainly a candidate for Jamaican 'Person of the Year', because he and his policies have affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans, although not for the better.

Protesters were out in their numbers this year, as Jamaican civil society flexed its muscles. Those who occupied Emancipation Park to protest the National Housing Trust scandal were ignored. Those at the gates of the University of the West Indies protesting Professor Brendan Bain's dismissal as director of a programme to train HIV/AIDS health workers had some success as he was re-instated; but the donors have since pulled their funding. The Christian protesters who occupied Half-Way Tree Square on September 29 to protest the proposed legalisation of buggery have, it seems, made their point and won their case, although the government seems to be trying to legalise buggery through the back door.

Street protests are yet to come into their own in Jamaica, and are not yet up to the standard to win Jamaican 'Person of the Year'. Maybe the 'Save Goat Islands' street protests expected in 2015 will be more worthy.

Singers and athletes

Who made Jamaicans feel good during 2014? Tessanne Chin won 'The Voice' in December 2013, and the euphoria carried over well into 2014. Our athletes won 10 gold, four silver and eight bronze medals during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and placed 10th overall. Alia Atkinson has put Jamaica on the swimming map; surely, she should be a candidate for 'Person of the Year'. Not everyone follows music or sports, and those were all short-lived feel-good moments.

During 2014, there was something that engaged large numbers of Jamaicans - maybe 70 per cent us who live here. It crippled many, had most in agony and distress, and resulted in millions of person-hours of lost production. Of course, I am referring to the chikungunya virus, which we (affectionately?) call chik-V.

Jamaican medical authorities received two years' warning before its coming, and were advised long in advance of effective strategies to mitigate it. But nothing was done until it hit us hard.

And then the government denied its seriousness, reporting only a paltry few "confirmed cases". Those who raised the alarm were labelled as troublemakers, and even now. we have no data on the numbers of persons affected, nor even an approximation of the number of chik-V related deaths.

Unquestionably, Minister of Health Fenton Ferguson is the best candidate for Jamaican 'Person of the Year'. Surely, every Jamaican household and every Jamaican workplace has members suffering with chik-V. Rarely has the (in)action of a Cabinet minister affected so many hundreds of thousands in so short a time - and the gift just keeps on giving.

So I lay it all before you, my readers, and ask you to choose for yourself the person, group, idea or object that - for better or for worse - has done the most to influence the events of the past year. The verdict is yours!

Happy New Year! And enjoy the five days of Christmas which remain.

n Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a Roman Catholic Deacon. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.