Passing IMF tests necessary, but not sufficient
"Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it."
TO say that the details of Dr Pauline McKenzie's letter to the Daily Observer last Tuesday are frightening is an understatement. Once again we see another example where our Government is falling down on the job disgracefully. Yes, Yes, I heard the arguments about IMF, resource constraints and tight fiscal space, and the rest of the formulised explanations for the rotten state of everything in Jamaica. But things have been rotten, very rotten, in our land for a long, long, long time, and far too many of us are prepared to behave like statutes in relation to the travails of this country. Case in point, too many of us have bought into the view that we must continue to pay taxes like subjects through all our orifices, but get substantially nothing for it. It is the brave people like Dr McKenzie who speak out against inept governance which encourages continued hope.
"In a state of utter shock, I saw Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson on TV during a tour of Bellevue Hospital defending his stewardship of the public health sector. He boasted of attending many international conferences and being involved in global conversations about universal health care.
I urge Dr Ferguson to wake up and smell the coffee. No amount of PR can mask the realities in Jamaica's health sector. The Bellevue Hospital is in a state of crisis and an incredible injustice is being meted out to a vulnerable and often neglected group of Jamaicans. The minister is clearly operating in the clouds and doesn't seem to yet have an appreciation of the problems besetting the entire public health system.
Just recently the Victoria Jubilee Hospital, the largest maternity hospital in the English-speaking Caribbean, ran out of water; leading many of its employees to protest in disgust. This reflects on you as minister. Just around the same time, the University Hospital of the West Indies pointed out that several of their operating theatres will have to be shut down because of air-condition problems. This, Dr Ferguson, reflects on you as minister.
And, on top of these, there are cases everywhere of elevators breaking down; sterilisation services not being available; a major shortage of intravenous fluids; doctors, nurses and other health professionals getting their salaries and allowances short; not enough beds at some hospitals; lax security arrangements; management failings; overworked doctors and nurses; and on and on it goes.
Dr Ferguson clearly cannot manage and must do the honourable thing and let the government quickly find someone who can "tun dem hand mek fashion."
Dr Pauline McKenzie - Jamaica Healthcare Workers Caucus
Just what is working in Jamaica? This is a question every Jamaican needs to be asking his/her member of parliament, councillor, straight up to the level of prime minister. Our prime minister says she is "working, working, working". Where is the result of all the work? Moreover, for whom is the prime minister working? Are you seeing and feeling the benefits?
Last Sunday, Barbara Gayle, justice coordinator at The Gleaner, brought to our attention another horrific story, this time of Ryan Wilson, who was locked up by the state for nine years for a crime he could not have committed.
"Ryan Wilson, 25, of Grant's Pen, St Andrew, was arrested in 2005 and charged with the murder of Jamaica AIDS Support coordinator, 30-year-old Lenford 'Steve' Harvey.
But, on the day of his arrest, Wilson told the police that he could not have been involved in the killing because he was in custody at the Constant Spring Police Station at the time that Harvey was murdered.
Investigators failed to check the station diary to determine if Wilson was indeed in custody at the time, and charged him along with Dwayne Owen, Andrew West and the lone female, Chevaughn Gibson, for the crime.
Over the next seven years, several lawyers represented Wilson before attorney-at-law Ernest Davis was assigned by the court two years ago to represent him.
Davis told The Sunday Gleaner that, while interviewing Wilson some time this year, the young man again insisted that he was innocent because he was in custody at the time of the murder.
"I began to do my investigation, and so I went to the Constant Spring Police Station and requested that the station diary for 2005 be checked to verify what my client told me," explained Davis.
He said he was told the diary could not be found, but he made several visits to the station in the hope that it was found.
Two months ago, the police reported that the station diary was found and it was verified that Wilson was telling the truth.
Davis brought the matter to the attention of the prosecutor in the case and Wilson was freed last Monday when he appeared with his three co-accused before Justice Lloyd Hibbert in the Home Circuit Court."
Ryan Wilson, like Roderick Cunningham who I wrote about last week, is looked on and treated by the powers that be - the new plantation owners and house slaves who have replaced the white colonials - as denizens not citizens of Jamaica.
While Wilson will more than likely win a civil judgement against the Government, it may take him 10 years, and that is being optimistic, before he collects a single farthing of monetary compensation. In the meantime, his life has been destroyed. Without doubt his family has been shamed, his girlfriend at the time of arrest would have long moved, on and he will be treated like a pariah especially when he goes looking for a job - since most in our society will treat him like a recently graduated jailbird. Practically, Wilson's life is over.
Our justice system needs immediate intervention and help. Weeks after the Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn documented the understaffed and under-resourced justice system, we have yet to hear a single word from Justice Minister Mark Golding as to when we will see the urgent improvements needed.
Shockingly, when the prime minister spoke at a recent public gathering after weeks of now familiar hibernation, she did not find it important to speak to the injustice meted out to Ryan Wilson, or Roderick Cunningham who, after six years of tribulation and literal trials, was found not guilty for shooting at agents of the S tate and awarded a measly $3 million. Cunningham was shot like a dog and is now physically, psychologically and emotionally maimed, thanks to elements of Jamaica's police and army. What has Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, a self-confessed lover of the poor and vulnerable, done or is doing about the conditions in Jamaica that caused Wilson's and Cunningham's lives to be smashed to pieces?
Last week the Sunday Observer carried a story which informed us that more than 7,000 of Jamaica's professionals, doubtless some of our best and brightest, have left our shores for supposedly greener pastures in North America since 2008. On average, we are told some 1,000 of our best minds are leaving each year because there are not enough opportunities to live a decent life in Jamaica. There is a state of 'opportunitylessness' [my coinage] in Jamaica. Amidst this brain drain - some in government circles are telling us that - it is a good thing that many of Jamaica's best are leaving since they will send back remittances. What rubbish? We spend millions of taxpayer dollars to train and equip people only to export them to the developed countries of the world. This kind of reverse thinking is akin to when Dr Omar Davies, as finance minister, was pursuing a foolish policy of sapping up liquidity all over the world as a method of protecting, so we were told, the integrity of the Jamaican dollar. It does not make sense.
Our country is in deep, deep crisis.
I wonder seriously if our present set of leaders have the answers to the problems of Jamaica. This year, close to 38,000 youngsters will leave high schools. Most of them are ill equipped to access post-secondary training and will most likely join the ranks of the unemployed. Add to the high school 'graduates,' hundreds from local university and college graduates who have qualifications in hand but cannot get employment.
The Statistical Institute of Jamaica figures from last April do not give great encouragement, especially with the unemployment, rate at 15.3 per cent, a 12-year high. Among the young people between the ages of 14 and 24 years old - unemployment is at 35.2 per cent. Shockingly, over 44.1 per cent of females, the breadwinners for most Jamaica families, were not employed up to October of last year. These realities exist in the midst of runaway devaluation - which is ratcheting up basic food prices, fuels and electricity costs.
While passing IMF tests are necessary, it is not sufficient. More of us need to adopt the attitude of that demonstrator in Fraserwood, St Mary, who last week in the midst of the absence of water, the cause of the demonstration, said: "The next time the politicians come to us for out votes whether in local or general elections they need to come with their résumé for the constituency".
It is time we as a population rebut political slogans, sophistry, false humility, and cranial deficiency and focus on solutions. As Mark Twain said, our loyalty must be to country first and to government [political party and whichever other groups, my insert], when they deserves it.
Jamaica is teetering on the edge.
"The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help." Ronald Regan
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org