McKenzie urges funeral directors to improve life of the business
Funeral directors have been charged by Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie to take a stand and restore dignity to the funeral process as he said the absence of dignity, among other factors, had been negatively contributing to the decline of what was once considered a sacred and revered business.
McKenzie was speaking at the Meadowrest Memorial Gardens’ annual appreciation function for funeral directors at the Knutsford Court Hotel last week. Funeral directors from across the island were feted at the recognition ceremony which saw them receiving awards in categories such as “Business Quality” and “Most Business” for 2016.
However, McKenzie, who was the guest speaker at the function, while acknowledging the “good work” done by funeral directors present, also spoke to several of the ills that continue to undermine the operators and employees of funeral homes across the island.
The minister stated that apart from a mechanic, a funeral home is one of two businesses that impact the lives of all Jamaicans.
“It impacts so much on the lives of Jamaicans, and I speak now in the capacity of Member of Parliament for West Kingston where 98 per cent of all funeral homes in Jamaica are. So I am speaking from a position of knowledge and I am also speaking from a position of concern,” McKenzie told attendees.
“While you are not in the business of getting rid of persons who want to make a livelihood, I ask those of you who have gone through the rigours of the proper training and have invested in a significant and meaningful way in the business to take stock and reflect; ask yourselves whether or not the business has improved or the business has deteriorated,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie noted that last year he spent over $3.5 million to help with burial arrangements for his constituents, which, according to him, “is a lot of money to be spent for funeral support”, and also draws attention to the fact that the business is “so wide open.
“When you go to these homes that are used to conduct autopsies, you see these people line up ... all 50 hearse on Orange Street, minivan and truck waiting for the conclusion of the autopsy, and you find somebody walk up to you and offer you a package. That is how the business go,” he related.
He recounted a recent situation where he was asked for assistance for a funeral, where the invoice received for the funeral was $575,000.
“Now here is a man who couldn’t even afford the hospital bill, because if he had $500,000 probably he’d be alive today. But when an undertaker sits down and pencils an invoice for half a million dollars, ask yourself the question: has the business improved or has the business deteriorated over the last 20 years?” the local government minister questioned.
He highlighted that while some are unsuspecting customers, others revel in some of the recent offerings being put forward by members of the industry such as glass caskets and special chariots.
He pointed out that currently, there is no dignity for dead people and gone are the days where professionals in the industry take pride in putting away the people who come to them for business.
“And when I go to funerals now and I can look and see everything inside I am worrying, I am concerned … well, you are in it for the purpose of commerce, but it is no longer a sacred business. it has now become vulgar, it has now become inconsiderate, it has now become selfish and most importantly, the service is poor,” McKenzie said.
He shared his experience of being amazed at the quality of service provided by the funeral home which had responsibility for the burial of mother of Minister of Culture, Gender Affairs, Entertainment and Sport Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange in Toronto a few weeks ago, and said that the profession locally needs to return to its core values.
“Here in Jamaica…if you can’t find the $10,000 the body not going to come. We need now to raise the standards of the service. Those of you who have invested need to take a stand. you can’t allow your profession, your trade to be dragged through the mud, to be the centre of the worst kind of criticism as people have some bad things to say about some undertakers,” McKenzie implored.
He said that the State also has a responsibility and must share the blame equally for the state of the funeral industry in the country, as there is the lack of proper morgue facilities, as well as the lack of necessary and important regulations to govern the sector.
He noted that there are limited powers under the Public Health Regulations Act that can be used to bring some semblance of order to the business.
“The Government has a responsibility, and I’ve been speaking with (Health) Minister Tufton on the matter of the regulations and there is a commitment to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Local Government. I know Minister Tufton has had discussions with members of the trade, but whilst the regulations are important, there needs to be in-house cleaning,” McKenzie stated.