Thu | Jan 24, 2019

EDITORIAL - Leadership by squalor (Part 2)

Published:Friday | September 19, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Fenton Ferguson's burlesque defence on Wednesday of his management of the chikungunya epidemic illustrated why - despite following the appropriate protocols - he is unable to convince Jamaicans that the country is not in an acute health crisis. In the circumstance, it is easy for opposition scaremongering on a health matter.

The health minister's stentorian style suggests someone trying too hard to control his space, making it difficult to afford him the seriousness he probably deserves. In a way, Dr Ferguson has the opposite problem - but often with the similar outcome - to the security minister, Peter Bunting, who affronts with an underwhelming casualness.

We suppose that in Dr Ferguson's zeal to command, to appear to master the big issues, rest the ministerial blunders that attended the implementation of the bans on smoking in public places and the importation of e-cigarettes and why the minister would expend energy on a less immediately efficacious, if not fantasy, project like making Jamaica a centre of excellence for cancer treatment. It makes more sense paying attention to ground-level health issues.

upkeep of public spaces

With regard to the latter point, Dr Ferguson mirrors the seeming inability of the Simpson Miller administration to focus on the small things and to get them right - like the upkeep of public spaces, with its potential positive returns for the physical and social environment and for public health. People who live in areas where drains are cleaned, verges trimmed and garbage collected are more likely to feel good about their communities and themselves. They are less likely to engage in antisocial behaviour.

And it is a matter of public-health policy. A clean environment lessens the capacity for breeding of vectors of infectious diseases. Prevention is cheaper than treatment. In that regard, we support the minister's call, made in Parliament on Wednesday, for individuals and communities to take responsibility for their surroundings as part of the strategy to fight chikungunya and other infectious diseases.

We give credence, too, to the proposal by Desmond McKenzie, the shadow local government minister, for a national clean-up effort within the context of a national emergency in public health.

leadership matters

In such things, leadership matters. In this case, the greater responsibility for leadership and, more specifically, popular mobilisation rests with the Government, particularly its elected executives.

Unfortunately, this People's National Party administration, while adept at winning elections and doing a decent job at macroeconomic reform, has lost the art of energising people for collective community action, at which it was good in the 1970s, under the leadership of Michael Manley, when it made a hash of the economy.

We expect the administration to claim that a major constraint to doing what we suggest is an absence of resources, which translates to not enough money. That is not the problem. The weakness is administration, a failure to prioritise, and an inability to get value for money spent.

A case in point is this past Tuesday when 19 workers from the National Solid Waste Management Authority were in a crew cleaning a triangular area at the intersection of South Camp Road and Tom Redcam Avenue in St Andrew, with sides of no more than 20 feet and a base of 15 feet.

Perhaps, it is that our leaders see neither squalor nor waste.

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