Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Editorial: A lesson for Ferguson

Published:Sunday | November 8, 2015 | 11:00 AM

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller didn't go far enough. For Fenton Ferguson ought to have been fired from the Cabinet rather than shifted from the Ministry of Health to Labour and Social Security. And it should have happened before now.

But, however inadequate the PM's action may be deemed to have been, it represents a victory for Jamaica's democracy and what can happen when citizens are, in its largest sense, politically engaged. The outcome of this affair is also a lesson in the dynamics of competitive politics.

First, at one level, we understand Mrs Simpson Miller's reluctance, apart from her innately conservative instincts, to cut Dr Ferguson loose. Not only is he a senior figure in her party, in charge of it its eastern region, but he is known to be loyal to the leader. Furthermore, the latest controversies around the former health minister are at a time when a general election appears imminent and the party is still attempting to balm bruised egos and angered supporters in some constituencies where sitting members of Parliament were deselected and other people with ambitions sidelined.

Nonetheless, the prime minister, we feel, erred. There was far more to be gained, politically and otherwise, if she had, early on, acted decisively with Dr Ferguson, who has displayed consistent poor judgement. He twice collided with, but neither recognised nor learnt, important lessons dealing with the value of transparency and the engagement with his constituents - the Jamaican population - for whose health services he was accountable. In the process, Dr Ferguson squandered opportunities to enhance the quality of governance, and in the process, also caused undue angst to his party and Government.

 

HEALTH CRISIS

 

First, there was the chikungunya crisis of over a year ago, a vector-borne epidemic, which he could not avoid, but about which he became obtusely and prevaricatingly defensive, rather than attempting to rally the society in a drive to eradicate the mosquitoes that transmit the virus.

In the end, he was saved by Mrs Simpson Miller and found refuge in the pleats of her skirt.

More recently, there has been much debate about the findings of an audit of hospitals in the island's four health regions, which didn't paint a pretty picture of these facilities, the details of which Dr Ferguson preferred to keep within the province of himself and ministry colleagues, rather than share with the public.

In some instances, inadequate public policy and a shortage of resources are factors of the problem, but mostly, the audits reveal weaknesses in operational management for which those on the job should have been held to account.

As the minister, Dr Ferguson was ultimately responsible, but appeared to interpret the discovery of shortcomings as a personal assault that was better kept out of the public domain. The ruse backfired.

What he accomplished was a diminution of public trust in him and confidence in his ability to manage his portfolio. It is not surprising that when it was revealed that 18 babies - plus one later on - died from bacterial outbreaks at two hospitals, only a few people didn't believe that Dr Ferguson had prior knowledge but hid behind a claim of ignorance in order to save his skin.

Fenton Ferguson is of a time, school and formative politics, perhaps of Wildman Street and Lady Musgrave Road, where transparency was not a high-value concept. The scathing criticism he has received, insufficient as some might regard it, proves the fallacy of those notions.