Gambling with the Health of a Nation

 

 

As Jamaica continues to grapple with the effects of the Chikungunya Virus (ChikV), the Government has declared that it is in preparation mode for Ebola.

(A news report on the economic effects of ChikV can be found here).

At the same time, the Jamaican Government is grappling with the rapid decline of trust in its competence to address matters  of public health. You see, as more and more citizens fall victim to the debilitating effects of ChikV, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this is not a virus for which the Government adequately prepared the nation. Despite Health Minister, Dr. Fenton Ferguson’s attempts to convince us otherwise, we just weren’t ready. Hardly any public awareness adverts. No major emphasis on cleanup and prevention. Instead, we were caught off guard, and all our efforts seemed to have been reactive. In his own address to the nation on September 28, 2014, despite boasting about telling us that the Government has been preparing for the introduction of ChikV for two years (according to this Jamaica Observer report), the first meeting with all the major stakeholders together didn’t take place until shortly before his address, on September 25, 2014.

Public sentiment called for the Minister to be held accountable for his obvious mishandling of the matter. Prime Minister Simpson Miller disagreed. According to her, there is no reason for him to be fired…yet. Here’s why:

“I personally believe that Dr. Ferguson tried his very best, and…he’s one of the hardest working Ministers as well in a number of areas. If you’re having a cleanup he’s present. If you’re having something and it has to do with something like ChikV, he would pop in and he would speak to it to you.” – PM Simpson Miller, October 10, 2014 (Listen to the clip here)

Pardon? So his qualifications to develop policies, measures and strategies to address the outbreak of this awful virus is centered around his ability to push a broom?

Well…let’s talk Ebola, then!

*gulp*

So now there is talk of Ebola preparedness. The Government -through Minister of Information, Sandrea Falconder – in its attempt to allay fears and minimize the panic and hysteria that is usually associated with news of the disease, says this:

“This is new to us. Dr. Harvey is not the biggest expert. He’s probably the best one we have here, but he has never been immersed in preparation or dealing with Ebola before. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re not perfect. What we don’t need is that when we make a little misstep, that it becomes the only story. And the importance of preparing our people for Ebola if it does come here gets lost in the hype and the sensationalism.” – Minister of Information, Sandrea Falconer, October 30, 2014 (Listen to the clip here)

*crickets*

Nope. No reason to panic…AT ALL. I mean, it’s just a little Ebola, we’ll make mistakes. Just try not to let that be the story. Minister Falconer told the nation that in their handling of this, they will (so definitive, too!) make mistakes. Perhaps she doesn’t realize that mistakes, depending on how grave, could be a matter of life and death. How on earth can she expect the nation to entrust its public health to an administration which, instead of reassuring its citizens that it is vigorously researching and pursuing best practices, gives a disclaimer to deflect blame if…no, make that WHEN (she did say “are going to make mistakes”) anything does go wrong?

The messaging is already horribly wrong. Minister Falconer needs to understand that a disclaimer saying “We are going to make mistakes” has NO PLACE in the Ebola response strategy!

But don’t panic. Dr. Ferguson is still Minister of Health, and “Dr. Harvey is not the biggest expert.”

#THINKJamaica

@MizDurie, @THINKJamaica

Roaming…and Wandering

 

 

“Poor show great.”

I’ve heard this term used before by our elders. A simplistic meaning is “one pretends to have a lifestyle that far exceeds one’s ability to sustain it.”

More and more I find myself using this term to describe Jamaica. Because how can we possibly explain a nation strapped for cash now having to pay Cabinet Ministers’ cell phone bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars? Or in one case, in excess of ONE MILLION DOLLARS? Hmmm? Caller? Hello????

And the excuse is that roaming rates are high when one travels. And data is expensive. And it’s all for Government business, etc etc etc.

Save it.

Because I can guarantee that if these Ministers had to use their OWN CELL PHONES and PAY THEIR OWN BILLS , greater effort would have been made to reduce costs. Why do they leave the roaming feature on all the time? Regular folks who travel – talk to me. Do you do that?

No, right? Because WE, as sensible people, know the potential cardiac arrest that can occur when our bills come at the end of the month. So what do we do? We either negotiate a suitable roaming plan for our trips. Or we put our phone on “Airplane mode” until we set aside time to check messages, return calls, send emails, etc…after which we PROMPTLY put our devices back on Airplane mode.

And we know the precious value, and milk the use, of FREE WI-FI.

I understand that their Ministerial duties are such that they should be accessible, but when traveling at tax-payers’ expense, they MUST give consideration to all measures to reasonably reduce the cost of travel BEFORE they take off.  A jus suh di ting set. Jamaica is not rich.

I repeat: JAMAICA IS NOT RICH.

For crying out loud, can we please stop pretending that we are?

Hence why I cannot fully appreciate Mr. Arnaldo Brown’s response. Good on him for acknowledging and taking responsibility, but he lost me at “I intend to put in place measures to ensure a reduction in the cost of these bills.”

“Intend”??? So should we take that as an admission that cost-saving measures were not considered before? Hmmm?

Eng up.

-@MizDurie, @THINKJamaica

Drinking the Sand

 

 

I’ve had this title in my drafts for over a month.

Politics in Jamaica is disheartening. And each time I approach these keys to give space to my discontent, I hold back. I ask myself “What’s the point?” every single time.

As I write I observe sentiments shared about a planned protest by the Opposition party, the JLP, against JUTC fare increases. Some support it, others don’t. Still other have no clue that there was a planned protest.

With regard to our social and political ills in general, I’ve seen people comment that they will never vote, or if they have voted before, they never will again. I’ve witnessed complaint after complaint on a myriad of things. Then, after they have run their usual course of nine days, it’s back to regular programming. Nothing to see here. Then, when it comes to taking action, there is always, ALWAYS an excuse.

People have the right to vote or not to vote. People have the right to protest or not to protest. But when it comes to making a change, what WILL we do? WHAT WILL WE DO? Will we continue to excuse incompetence, injustice, disrespect, nepotism, cronyism, and corruption? Why? If not, what ARE we doing to address this chronic disease that plagues Jamaican politics? What exactly are we willing to stand up for (or against)? And WILL we actually do it?

I’ve seen beautifully articulated arguments that pardon clearly ineffective and inept leadership on many of our social issues, and I’m reminded of that scene in “The American President” (I find myself quoting it way too frequently). The dialogue is between (fictional) President Andrew Shepherd and his Assistant on Domestic Policy, Lewis Rothschild:

 Lewis Rothschild: …People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.

President Andrew Shepherd: Lewis, we’ve had presidents who were beloved, who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference. 

We’re drinking the sand. There can’t be another explanation for the lethargic way in which we approach the diseased nature of politics that is affecting us. But I must ask: Are we drinking the sand because we’re thirsty? Or are we drinking the sand because we don’t know the difference?

And do we care enough to DO SOMETHING about it?

Will we keep drinking the sand?

THINK, Jamaica.

- @MizDurie, @THINKJamaica
#THINKJamaica
 

 

Batting for the Environment?

Photo by Max Earle (from The Jamaica Observer)
Photo by Max Earle (from The Jamaica Observer)

On Wednesday, July 23, 2014, The Jamaica Observer carried a story headlined “PM bats for Environment“.

Really?

(Quotes by PM Portia Simpson Miller appear in blue)

*****

“A healthy seabed is necessary and especially important for island states such as ours in the Caribbean which depend on the quality of the natural environment and derive much of their economic growth from the use of natural resources…”

*****

“Roger Clarke speaks of “food security” and says, rightly, that we have to produce a larger proportion of the food that we consume instead of importing it, using foreign exchange, which we are not earning. Part of that ‘production’ is our fisheries, which have seen extensive overfishing and precipitous decline of the catch…

“Seagrass beds, mangrove roots, gravel beds and shallow water allow the baby fish, shrimp, etc. to hide and have a moderate chance of avoiding being eaten by adult snappers, jacks, tarpon, grunts, snook, and many others…

“Now, what is to be the extent, and depth, of the proposed dredging of the Portland Bight Protected Area? The Jamaica Environment Trust and the others concerned about it don’t seem to know. Want to bet it would allow Chinamax-class ships with a requirement of about 27.5m (90ft) depth as I would deduce?”

– Howard Chin, “Dredge Elsewhere! Environmental Damage To Portland Bight Outweighs Economic Benefits” (Jamaica Gleaner, September 8, 2013)

*****

“In this the International Year of Small Island Developing States, and in anticipation of the Third International Conference to be held in Samoa in September, it is critical that the governance of the oceans and environmental protection be strengthened…” 

*****

“Environmentalists are up in arms over the Government’s decision to defer Jamaica’s application to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the Portland Bight Protected Area to be declared a biosphere reserve.

This follows confirmation Friday that the process which had been on track for Jamaica to become only the second country in the English-speaking Caribbean, after St Kitts, to establish a biosphere reserve was derailed by the State, for no good reason according to a number of persons intimately involved with the tedious eight to 10-year application process.

The area takes in land earmarked to be co-opted as part of the port facility if Government goes ahead with plans to use the Goat Islands as part of the proposed logistics hub the Chinese Government is seeking to build in Jamaica…

“‘I am really quite disappointed that after all these years of putting in all of this effort; having all of the stakeholders at different levels agreeing that this was a good idea, that the Government just kind of went behind people’s back,’ the frustrated environmentalist told The Gleaner.”

- “Bight Betrayal – Environmentalists Angered As Gov’t Pulls Back On Biosphere Recognition For Portland Protected Area” (Jamaica Gleaner – January 6, 2014)

*****

“From aqua to deep azure, the ocean’s blues hold secrets and rich resources fathoms deep. It has fallen to mankind to protect, preserve and regulate this sacred resource. This is a phenomenal responsibility — one we in Jamaica take seriously,” 

*****

“The much-talked about Portland Bight marked its 15th anniversary as a declared protected area yesterday, observed globally as Earth Day.

But this could be its last year with protected status, given Government’s intention to transform the largely undisturbed Goat Islands into a large industrial site to facilitate trans-shipment. Other areas within Portland Bight are also earmarked for the logistics hub project.

That the country’s largest protected area could cease to exist has not escaped conservationists the world over and several organisations, including the Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the International Iguana Foundation, and the World Wildlife Fund, have petitioned the Government to relocate the site.

On the home front, organisations such as Coastal Area Management Foundation and Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) have been at the forefront of the lobby.

In the latest of those moves, JET announced yesterday that it has applied to the Supreme Court for a judicial review of the Certificate of Exemption issued by the Minister of Finance and Planning effectively barring the NGO from accessing requested information on the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Jamaica and China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), the Chinese contractor which will be building the planned Goat Islands port.”

“Portland Bight is 15!” (Jamaica Observer – Wednesday, April 23, 2014)

*****

Think, Jamaica.

- @MizDurie, @THINKJamaica

Here Lieth “Transparency”…

 

 

Editor’s note: This post was originally written and published to THINK Jamaica’s Facebook page on February 23, 2012.

*****

[Sigh] Where do I even begin?  [Takes deep breath] Okay, allow me to roll back the curtain of memories to January 5, 2012.  In her inaugural address, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller stated:

“My administration will not engage in a blame-game. We will present the facts to the Jamaican people, based on rigorous analysis. Our approach must be to right the wrongs and insist on accountability. Let us learn from our past, absorb the lessons and go forward. We only need to look back to confirm where we are coming from, and to correct our errors and weaknesses as we look to the future. That is the way of progress.”

 I highlight this portion of the PM’s speech because there is a matter addressed in today’s Jamaica Observer that I would like to bring to your attention.  The Jamaica Observer’s editorial in today’s paper makes for interesting reading. A number of NGO’s raised concerns about oversight and allegations of sexual abuse at Patricia House – a state-run treatment facility for drug addicts.  Though I do not know the full story behind the editorial, this section in particular raises some concern:

 “Asked for his comment on the matter, the health minister expressed surprise that the issue had been made public since he had met with the parties and the agreement was for media silence.”

 As per the Minister’s request, let us have a moment of silence….FOR TRANSPARENCY.

 (In my best Simpson-Miller voice) We will present the facts to the Jamaican people, based on rigorous analysis.”   What…why…HOW could the Minister POSSIBLY think that THAT stance (for silence) is acceptable?  Hmmm?  Anyone?  How?  So does this mean I was correct after all?  There actually IS a rhetoric of silence?

“…the agreement was for media silence.”  What in the world…?!  I fully agree with the Jamaica Observer on this.  I am insisting on accountability.  Mrs. Simpson Miller, in her inaugural address also stated, “The Jamaican people have sent a clear message. They want a more accountable and transparent government which consults them; and, they should expect nothing less”.  We ARE NOT expecting anything less.

 And to make matters worse, this follows a series of new developments that have joined forces in conspiring to kill our friend, “Transparency”.  By way of a Jamaica House briefing, “Jamaica House Live” took a bullet, so citizens will no longer be given the chance to speak one-on-one with the Prime Minister.  By way of Parliament, the Prime Minister’s “Question Time” was given a lethal dose of reality as Madame Prime Minister requires questions to be asked (“wholla”) seven days in advance of a response from her.  That’s right!  Because apparently pressing issues facing our country gives us seven days’ notice before attacking us (like the Riverton Landfill fire, or the spike in murders).

 Brethren and sistren, “Ashes to ashes…”

*****

- @MizDurie, @THINKJamaica