Mon | Apr 23, 2018

Daniel Thwaites | What’s Chef Tufton cooking?

Published:Sunday | April 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM

I'm remembering when Chris Tufton was agriculture minister. I can't recall if the sugar cane, yam and banana were popping up, but I do recall that billboards of his image were sprouting everywhere. He had that toque (chef's hat) firmly in place, grilling and serving up the lionfish.

The PR was excellent. I believe it contributed to the control of that malignant species, although not perhaps as much as the ingenious rumour that eating the lionfish makes one leonine, or as we might otherwise say, "It good fi nature."

I hope Chef Tufton isn't cooking up crow this time for me to eat. You see, rarely have I been asked to account for my opinions in such detail as following the publication of last Sunday's column. The trouble was owing to my view that Tufton ought not to resign - although this business of columnising is about giving reasons, making up one's mind, explaining oneself and, sometimes, changing one's mind.

Next, on the point of excellent PR. Tufton has a formidable media presence in the health ministry. Much of it is directed towards promoting the Jamaica Moves programme, and as is inevitably the case in political matters, one's strengths are immediately cited as weaknesses.

So you will hear Tufton criticised for his media savvy, which I think is unfair, in particular because I think Jamaica Moves is an excellent programme. We're becoming, as a nation I'm talking (because I don't want anyone to take this too personally), salty, sugary, oily rolly-pollies, and militancy against the Jamaican butt-spread is a key part of the battle to minimise pressure on public health facilities.

Which brings me to a third point about Chef Tuffy: If I have a bias, it's that Tufton should remain. That's because I don't think we're overflowing with talent in the political arena. Mind you, we're packed to the gills with political talent, meaning the ability to talk sh***, to convince men that their brother is their enemy, and lull people to act against their own long-term interests. But we're short of the other skills that really matter because the kind of people who have those skills gravitate away from, not towards, our politics.

 

MAN OF TALENT

 

I count Tufton among those with talents that can serve the Jamaican public. And unlike some asinine and irresponsible commentators, I don't believe his skin colour should count for or against him.

So we come to the nub of the matter: Should Tufton hang on yonder gallows?

A few preliminaries are in order. First thing, no recent administration can cover itself in glory when it comes to CRH. Although this isn't an excuse for Tufton, it is an extenuating circumstance that may cause those wishing to tighten the noose to take pause.

Next, I don't think that every offence is a hanging offence. It's not for every slip, you should slide, and the wages of every sin isn't death. There's an element of reciprocal bloodsport, particularly in the wake of Fenton Ferguson's's manhandling that can be too much of a motivating factor.

With all of that said, the list of offences in the indictment that Dr Dayton Campbell has drawn up against Tufton is extensive. Parenthetically, one has to acknowledge that Campbell is proving himself a formidable adversary for Tufton, and is himself quite adept at kicking up a media storm. He's put on the toque and Tufton is on the grill.

The charges include: ignoring the technical and medical leadership when they advised the abandonment of the sick building, being less than forthcoming with the staff and other interested (and vulnerable) parties about their risks, dallying with a predicament that required an emergency response, and essentially failing to act appropriately in view of the crisis.

In short, he accuses Tufton of a failure of judgement caused by allowing political considerations to override medical and technical competence.

 

Split of Medical Opinion

 

One question is whether there was a split of medical opinion back in February 2017 about whether the CRH should be immediately shuttered. Tufton says there was; Campbell says there was not. This is a matter to be determined by the facts as they emerge.

What does PAHO have to say about it? Will the CMO, Winston De La Haye, give us his recollection? If it should emerge that the Minister was untruthful about that, I suppose I would have to shift my position.

One would also want to know that steps were being taken to move patients and staff out of the sick and poisoned environs. Here the story gets murky, because while we're told that the most toxic parts of the building were cordoned off, the extent and effectiveness of the precautionary measures is an open question.

The initial demand that the building be shut down in 10 days sounds drastic to my unprofessional ears, but honestly, the eventual wait of one whole year seems ridiculously long to those same ears. So was there steady, if even incremental, progress towards removing services from the sick building? And is the allegation true that real hustling to get it done only began when the story was leaked a year later? That would be pretty damning.

All of that ties into the claim that the political decision allowed the staff to be exposed to dangerous carcinogens and other sickening agents. The All Angles interview of the nurses from CRH was eye-popping, and the prevalence of staff illness and the frequency of their visits to the staff sick bay should have been setting off every alarm. I certainly know that I wouldn't want to risk anyone I care about working under those conditions. And that right there is the 'dandymite'.

Tufton hangs in the balance, but really it's the public health system - that perennial political football - that's ultimately struggling for oxygen and life.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.