Tuesday, October 7, 2014

When the going gets tough ….

by Jean Lowrie-Chin | Jamaica Observer column | 6 OCT 2014

Fenton Ferguson Official 8x10
Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson
Whenever we see folks trying to handle a crisis, our team will huddle to examine the approach and discuss what we would have done if they were our clients.  We all agreed that an insular ‘broadcast to the nation’ was not an appropriate vehicle to communicate the chikungunya crisis now touching almost every household in Jamaica.  The whole crisis started out badly – though I understand that it was not solely the decision of Health Minister Fenton Ferguson to soft pedal the news. 
This column has given kudos to Minister Ferguson for bravely soldiering through on legislation to control smoking in public places.  However, we cannot understand his approach to the ChikV issue - why he would have understated a situation which is an act of nature, not of his ministry?   

Further, even as we complain rightly about uncollected garbage, the minister should point out that those millions of mini-breeding sites in the form of plastic bottles, did not walk into the gullies.  They were thrown there by careless Jamaicans who continue to show little pride in their environment. 
Jamaica beach clean-up - from petchary.wordpress.com
In a conversation with two young Cubans, they told us that part of their post-high school one-year military service was ‘mosquito inspection’.  When we asked them what it involved, they explained that groups of them would be assigned to neighbourhoods across the length and breadth of the country where they were trained to identify and destroy mosquito breeding sites and counsel householders.
With unemployment a huge issue for school leavers and funding available for health and environment, perhaps the government could consider such a programme under JEEP, expanding it to weekly beach and gully cleaning. 
So how would our team have advised the Minister on his approach to the chikungunya issue? First, they believe, he should have called an urgent press conference flanked by the Permanent Secretary and the Chief Medical Officer. They should have made all the facts known to the media, showed that they have a cohesive plan that they would roll out immediately to minimize the impact of the disease and answered questions as fully and as frankly as possible.
The ministry could have immediately utilized material from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) to get the word out as quickly as possible to the general public through press, broadcast media and social media. Organisations like the JTA, NAJ, PSOJ, Council of Churches and Police Federation cover the entire island, so they could easily share this information and lead clean-up activities.
What makes simple, logical steps so difficult, is bureaucracy – that morass which is the perfect hiding place for mediocrity and incompetence.  While we must respect our democratically elected government, they should in turn respect the people they swore to serve.  There is nothing wrong with hiring people who are loyal and share your perspective on policy … as long as such individuals are ethical and professional.  When people are hired simply because they are party ‘groupies’, they will become nothing but a source of embarrassment to the government and a pain to the nation.
This ChikV issue, the sad story of the man who died on the floor of the Spanish Town Hospital, the late arrival of provisions for meals at the St. Ann’s Bay hospital, the absence of elected representatives in crises, result from gaps in governance.  

Serious brain-drain 

Meanwhile, there is a serious brain-drain now happening as people become victims of this ‘conspiracy of mediocrity’, mostly in the public sector but elsewhere as well. There are workplaces where excellence is not welcome, and where integrity is the enemy.  Managers who require certain standards of work are deemed ‘miserable’ and workers who try to deliver results are regarded as fools.  In this conspiracy of mediocrity, you can carry on your private business on other people’s time with other people’s utilities and office supplies.  Clearly, you must hound anyone who has a different set of values out of your organisation.  Hence the many one-way tickets being bought by some of our best and brightest.
Government ministers who know better should keep a keen eye on the leaders in their organizations and allied agencies.  As friendly governments and agencies hear the cries of other states in dire need, Jamaica may start showing herself undeserving of all the attention that has been lavished on her.  Think about this:  Father Holung’s Brothers of the Poor ride around in the back of trucks and they are the ones being called by government representatives to take in persons found sick and dying in the streets.  Those representatives calling the Brothers are riding around in late model SUVs.  Something is very wrong with that picture.
This agonizing ChikV is a metaphor for the pain and suffering that is being felt by humble Jamaicans, barely surviving on the margins of poverty. They deserve some hope that our leaders will do right by them, bringing our nation to a healthy state.

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