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If Fenton Ferguson shows up

Published:Tuesday | November 3, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Fenton Ferguson, Jamaica's embattled minister of health.

It is usually accepted in Jamaica that whenever prime ministers are about to announce an election, they would have long assessed the relative political strengths of the two main parties, but, more than anything else, feel sure that the ruling party is in safe striking distance of that much-desired victory.

This time around, I am getting the distinct sense that the political fever that tends to envelop the hierarchy of a party whenever its members are sure that the driving seat for the next five years will be theirs again has become somewhat subdued, as unplanned-for items like the dead babies tragedy refuse to follow the rules of a nine-day-wonder.

In the old westerns, the portrait of the times before many laws were refined and codified carries the concept of the 'hanging judge'. Such a judge would figuratively hang an accused for chewing gum as much as he would for murder.

In our local politics, we know that our prime minister is not a 'firing PM', and in too many instances where party officials appointed by her go off on some poorly planned adventure of their own, or a major policy failure results in tangible negatives like the last Riverton fire and the Outameni scandal, their voices are given more primacy instead of a firm leadership voice of reason from Portia Simpson Miller.

With that understanding, we knew that Fenton Ferguson's job would be safe, even if he refused to yield to the voices of decency, accountability and the action that shame over a major policy failure would warrant.

Just to recap, my view is that at the very outset when Ferguson accepted the job of minister of health, he knew that the state of the Government's health system in Jamaica resided just outside the door of chaos. By that reasoning, it was his duty to set up subsystems that would make him more proactive and better able to avert crises and to respond to them sensibly should they occur. He seemingly didn't.

Even if Minister Ferguson's explanations for his actions in the wake of the crisis are not explanations in the real sense, I believe if he knew that his PM was a 'firing PM', there is the likelihood that the nation could have averted or lessened the tragedy and, even if it happened as it did, I believe he would have resigned to save face from a public firing.

All of that aside, there is the politically pragmatic approach, which is deciding which action is easier this close to an election. A few weeks ago, many in the PNP were already awarding themselves at least 37 seats. Should Portia fire Fenton Ferguson over his poor showing in the dead babies scandal, would it increase or decrease the seat count?


Betting on assumptions


The same equation would be applied to allowing him to sit firmly on a three-foot chair. It seems to me that the PM has accepted the latter, but in making that gamble, the PNP is betting on two assumed factors.

The first is, a trend picked up in polls does not change overnight - in this case, 'overnight' meaning a week or two, or a month. The second is, the ruling PNP is also banking on its expertise in building the hype over the election season to such a fever pitch that its clutch of diehards and strong supporters will not be bothered to hold the dead babies scandal against the PNP.

At the same time, the PNP may have to stand the risk of hiding Ferguson from its political forums. In opting for this move, the PNP will have to treat Fenton the politician as a minister who has been figuratively fired.

PNP operatives have told me that the JLP's James Robertson seat in St Thomas is one the party is targeting for the upcoming election. With Fenton Ferguson's seat next door, one suspects that the PNP may decide to leave Ferguson to face off alone with the JLP's highly energetic Delano Seiveright and risk a loss instead of allowing any negatives to become attached to the PNP at the national level.

In other words, the PNP could politically ditch him at the broader level, while leaving him to fend for his own against the politically hungry, young and energetic Seiveright.

Somewhere along the way, our PM gambled away too much of the 'Portia' in her, opted for reigning instead of governing, and, after the seemingly long break, she is now finding more familiarity with guesswork than stamping her claim on closeness to the people. Ferguson is simply a result of that foray.

- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to