Sun | Dec 11, 2016

Slackness in the Government

Published:Monday | October 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Michael Abrahams, Online Columnist

There is a popular saying in Jamaica that goes, ‘Tek sleep mark death’. The writing was on the wall shortly after Portia Simpson Miller took office.

During Bruce Golding's tenure as prime minister, Mrs Simpson Miller made it clear that she thought that his Cabinet was too big, and emphatically demanded that he reduce it. Her objection appeared to be genuine and with good basis, but within about 48 hours of her inauguration, she announced an even bigger Cabinet and showed no remorse.

This had apparently set the tone for how her administration would operate, where the tenets of transparency and accountability would take a back seat to the warped principle of appeasing the party faithful. Observing the dynamics within the party has led me to ask the question: What does someone in this administration have to do to get fired?

Careless and irresponsible talk, encouraging blatant disregard of the rights of our country's citizenry, obviously will not do it, as evidenced by Savanna-la-Mar Mayor Bertel Moore's remark that police should "shoot first and ask questions later". Not only did he make this unfortunate comment, but denied making such a statement, and only relented after being played an audio clip in which he was heard to say it more than once at the same meeting. The rate of killings by members of the security forces in Jamaica is excessive, and is so unacceptably high that it has attracted international attention. So, for someone in a position of authority to make such a remark, in an environment such as ours, is totally unacceptable. However, despite this, he still has his job.

Then there is Richard Azan, junior minister in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing. Mr Azan breached protocol and broke rules in authorising the construction of shops in the Spaldings Market and the collection of rent from these shops, and, after stepping down briefly, was quickly reinstated after the director of public prosecutions ruled that no criminal charge be laid against him.

When asked about Mr Azan's reinstatement, all we were told by the prime minister was that there were no criminal charges, and at his reinstatement she said that she was happy to "restore him to the job of continuing the good work for the people of Jamaica".

As a concerned citizen, I must question governance where it is suggested that the absence of criminal charges absolves one from being brought to book for otherwise improper conduct. Good leadership, after all, must involve setting good examples for those being led.

It is, therefore, not surprising, but no less disappointing, to observe the prime minister's defence of the incompetent and apparently dishonest manner in which the minister of health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, has dealt with the present chikungunya epidemic. To say tthe populace was unprepared and underinformed would be a gross understatement. The infection has been spreading like wildfire, causing widespread morbidity and crippling productivity in businesses across the island due to absenteeism.

A well-organised public education programme, as well as aggressive vector control and clean-up programmes, which would be useful and welcome in a situation such as this, are lacking.

The minister, in trying to defend himself, claimed that the Government did nothing wrong, and said, "While we are fighting and we need to protect our people, we also have an industry that is external - the tourism sector - that every pronouncement is also picked up, (and) you're getting several cancellations."

I find this statement to be worrisome, although it explains why I never did believe the figures reported by the Ministry of Health. By making that remark about the tourism sector, the minister basically admitted that he was not being up front with the people of this country regarding the severity of the problem, and in doing so put millions of Jamaicans at risk.

This is inexcusable and suggests that he either does not understand, or chose to ignore, his job description. As minister of health, his primary concern should be the health of the country's citizens, not tourist arrivals.

As expected, the prime minister has no problem with the minister's handling of the crisis, stating that he is doing a good job because, among other things, he "turns up for clean ups". This, I must say, is one of the most absurd responses I have heard in response to the inept handling of a major health crisis, and makes me seriously question the prime minister's ability to lead.
All this brings me back to my initial question: What does someone in this administration have to do to get fired? It is clear that carelessness, dishonesty and incompetence are tolerated and defended. We, the people of this country, deserve better.

Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician,  comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.