Tue | Jan 22, 2019

Ferguson a failure

Published:Wednesday | October 1, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Dr Fenton Rudyard Ignatius Ferguson resigned as Jamaica's health minister on July 15, 2013. That date marked the occasion on which new regulations banning smoking in public spaces took effect. Since that moment, Dr Ferguson has been riding high, drinking in the applause at his various public and private speaking engagements, while smiling at his reflection in every piece of looking glass.

He, by virtue of those regulations, where the asthmatic and others no longer had to be assailed by the fog of cigarette smoke in public, had cemented for himself a legacy. He, Fenton Ferguson, would forever be recorded in history as the man who dictated that you could only comfortably light your Matterhorn or Craven A in the confines of your home.

Witness Dr Ferguson in action during the Sectoral Debate on July 14 last year when he invoked the great Comrade leader, Michael Manley, telling the House of Representatives that, "for the first time at last, the people of Jamaica will have a smoke-free environment in specified areas". That speech represented the 'it' moment in a near 40-year political career.


It was the moment when the 1989 Dentist of the Year acknowledged to himself that he had reached. He had now ensured that the next entry of his name into The Directory of Jamaican Personalities would have an extra sentence, of the kind only Dr Peter Phillips and Derrick Kellier of the current crop of Cabinet ministers, could rival in terms of impact on national life. In his head, it's apparent that Dr Ferguson finally accepted that he was now a bona fide star and had established himself as more than just a household name in his own house.

To say that Dr Ferguson's management of the outbreak of the chikungunya virus has been a cock-up of 'sightings' proportions is to understate the point. The man has careened from denial to paranoia to conspiracy to grudging acceptance of the scale of a problem he claimed, in his address to the nation on Sunday, that his team at the health ministry had been preparing for more than the last two years. News flash! Nobody believes you.

Dr Ferguson's approach to the crisis as it unfolded in his own constituency in Eastern St Thomas should be made into a mini-documentary and shown to all Cabinet ministers at their swearing-in ceremony at King's House. They should be told in no uncertain manner by their prime minister that such conduct will get them fired, as only a person who doesn't care for his job can be so aloof, and with such style, as Dr Ferguson has been.

Indeed, Dr Ferguson ignored the cries from his young challenger in Eastern St Thomas, the Jamaica Labour Party's Delano Seiveright, that chik-V was running wild through various communities. Perhaps embarrassed that something like that could be happening in his own constituency and he didn't know it, Dr Ferguson branded Seiveright a scaremonger who had gone as far as to orchestrate the writing of negative letters about him in the daily newspapers. He even threatened to take 'action' against Seiveright for being alarmist and, in the process, fooled me into using my radio platform to upbraid Seiveright about manipulating a public-health issue to score political points.

Seiveright was vindicated days later by a flood of reports about the hundreds of teachers and students from St Thomas who were absent from school because of symptoms consistent with chik-V. The minister will need a few months to wipe all the phlegm from the creases in his face.

So here we are, a nation stuck with a health minister whose legend has been cemented and who behaves as if he's still in the refractory period of the most notable success of his political career.

Minister, it's either you remit to the taxpayer every dollar you've been paid since your resignation last year, or start working now to earn your corn. It's shameful that on the biggest public-health issue we've had in many years, the country has a titular health minister who has never been in command of the issues, always lagging behind with the crucial bits of information.

Mama P, the country needs to talk to you about Fenton.


George Davis is a journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and george.s.davis@hotmail.com.