Deliver, or else!
Holness, Tufton can’t drop the ball as folks want resultsSunday, March 07, 2021
I hate to say, I told you so, but the deluge of criticisms that was recently dumped on this Andrew Holness-led Administration regarding the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of its present management of the COVID-19 crisis was visible in the shaking of the political tea leaves from many weeks ago. In fact, on December 20, 2020 I said, among other things, in my The Agenda piece: “The Andrew Holness-led Administration will have to pull out all the stops to ensure that vaccination starts as early as possible in 2021. Folks here are watching the mass vaccination of Americans, Canadians and Britons in real time. Doubtless they will also be hearing about the reductions in cases of infections and deaths that are anticipated as vaccination is ramped up in the coming days and weeks.
“In the absence of a publicly disclosed specific timeline for the arrival and distribution of the life-saving medicine on our shores I don't think our citizens will sit in quietude, especially if the number of novel coronavirus infections, and especially the death rate, begin to skyrocket in 2021.”
Human nature is universal, there is little doubt about that.
Recall that on February 2, 2020 Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of health and wellness, speaking in the House of Representatives, told the country that the Government had been advised by the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility that the country was set to receive between 146,400 and up to 249,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines by mid-to-late February.
This announcement, in the midst of an exponential spread, understandably triggered a mighty increase in optimism. Those expectations quickly started to evaporate when the Administration missed both targets. Given the myriad challenges that have beset the COVAX facility, the Holness Administration should have adopted an ultra-cautious approach, and maybe even waited until the actual shipment was nigh, in Caribbean waters, before the drums of vaccine arrival were beaten.
I anticipate that some government official is going to retort, “Things don't work that way.” To them, I say, we are approaching 450 COVID-19-related deaths, folks want results.
Citizens, not subjects
On the subject of results, I think our elected politicians need to constantly remind themselves that, in our western-styled liberal democracy a Government — Opposition included — acts are done in the name of the citizens. The citizenry, therefore, has not just a right, but a civic duty to remain vigilant and to criticise the Government regarding the management of public affairs. Elected and selected individuals who gleefully accept the power, perks, responsibilities, and obligations of public office should not feel inordinately irritated when citizens do their jobs.
Recall this: 'Tufton hurt by COVID-19 negative talk'. ( Jamaica Observer, September 27, 2020)
The news item said, among other things: “Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has expressed disappointment and hurt regarding comments from critics who believe the Government's response to the [novel coronavirus] pandemic is politicking.
“ 'I'm almost emotional about it because it is simply not the case. I've been hearing the comments on radio and in the media space where persons, in some instances who should know better, assert that somehow, having gone to a general election and... being re-elected, somehow, we have hidden information or we have dropped the ball and we are no longer sensitive because we have now been re-elected,' Dr Tufton told the Jamaica Observer in a round-table interview last week.”
Of course, blood runs through Tufton's veins just like the rest of us. I get that. At the same time, I also recognise that when one decides to take on the mantle of a political representative, “yuh back haffi well broad,” as we say in local parlance. Political pillorying is par for the course.
I think some in the Administration are far too quick to take offence when criticisms, often justified, are levied. Instead of petty annoyance, maybe a more productive response would be to diligently examine many of the criticisms. They are usually a treasure trove of valuable information.
The assertions about mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis last September, for example, were harbingers. The warnings needed to have been interpreted, among other things, on two levels: Firstly, as conscientious citizens of different ilk honestly saying, “Hey, pull up your socks!” And, secondly, as famished political sharks circulating hoping for signs of blood.
The ravenous beasts found plenty of blood in the noticeable falling-off in the frequency of communication with the public from Tufton's ministry during the period of exponential spread which started near the end of January 2021.
In the infrequent appearance of Prime Minister Holness at the COVID-19 battlefront — infrequent compared to pre-September 3, 2020 — the starving political sharks found a ruptured vein which delivered a rich flow. Now, they have also found a willing source of the precious red liquid in the missed dates for the promised arrival of the vaccine.
On Wednesday the country was told that the promised Thursday arrival of 50,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, donated by the Government of India, had been delayed until tomorrow. This is more blood in the water for esurient sharks.
I think the Administration should treat the recent criticisms of its management of the COVID-19 crisis as teachable political moments. Going forward, the arduous task of clawing back needlessly squandered political capital caused by preventable missteps and recent gaps in the management of the crisis must be matched by meticulous and conscientious delivery of the promises — or, as the Administration likes to term them, “commitments” — made heretofore.
Recall these headlines:
'Health ministry plans to roll out COVID vaccine in four phases' ( Jamaica Observer, March 2, 2021)
'Vaccine galore — Gov't lands deal to receive 1.8 million doses next month' ( The Gleaner, March 1, 2021)
'No favouritism in vaccine distribution, says Holness' ( Loop Jamaica, March 1, 2021)
'Government promises efficiency, transparency and equity in COVID vaccination roll-out' ( The Gleaner, February 28, 2021)
Failure to fulfil any and/or all of these commitments will have serious short-, medium-, and possibly long-term negative political implications — think consequences — for the Holness Administration and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
If the Administration were to negligently blunder, stumble, or stagger at the mentioned promises, I think very unpleasant political reverberations would disturb the foundations of 20 Belmont Road — and do so long before the next local government elections are held.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness was given a second mandate a little over six months ago. It was a historic trouncing of the Dr Peter Phillips-led People's National Party (PNP). A resounding triumph could quickly turn out to be a double-edged sword if justified expectations of seismic improvements in many key areas of governance are allowed to falter, fail, and then capsize.
Successive administrations have become accustomed to sleeping at the wheel. Gladly, there is now a critical mass of voters no longer willing to turn a blind eye to wayward excuses.
Struldbrugs is the name for people/things in Gulliver's Travels who grow old and decrepit, but never die. When I saw this headline 'Access denied — Transparency advocates surprised at State's refusal to disclose tax, police commissioners' contracts' in The Sunday Gleaner of February 28, 2021, the word struldbrug, and its meaning/origin came to my mind.
I was simply flabbergasted when I read this: “A Sunday Gleaner request for the employment contracts of the police and tax commissioners has been denied, shocking some civil society advocates who are insisting that the holders of the two key public positions cannot benefit from oft-used privacy shield.
“The request was among four made under the Access to Information (ATI) Act on February 11 to the Office of the Services Commissions (OSC), which responded 13 days later, advising that the applications were refused.
“ 'This office is restrained from providing the information you requested,' read the letter, citing Section 22 (1) of the ATI Act, which allows an authority to block access to an official document if it involves 'unreasonable disclosure' of a person's private affairs.”
How can the salary of public officials be secret? Obviously certain things in this country grow old and decrepit, but never die. It should be automatic — no exceptions — that once an individual is paid from the public purse his/her salary is available for public attention.
Again, I don't believe that some who are in charge of public affairs in this country fully understand that Jamaicans are citizens and not subjects. Government has an obligation to open its books to its citizens who have hired it to conduct public business.
Last Wednesday's The Gleaner noted, among other things: “Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the employment contracts of the police and tax commissioners should be made public. However, he said there may be 'legal hurdles' that have to be surmounted before the documents for Major General Antony Anderson and Ainsley Powell can be shared.”
This explanation sounds antithetical to the Administration's commitment to transparency and probity.
Recall that, in his swearing-in speech on September 7, 2020 at King's House, Prime Minister Holness said, among other things: “We know that a large number of Jamaicans are not satisfied with the integrity, dignity, and efficiency of their State and Government. We, therefore, see the strong correlation between the success of our economic and social programme and the trust of the public. We commit to make Government of the highest integrity, dignity, and efficiency.” ( Jamaica Information Service, September 8, 2020)
I am convinced that the value of commitments can only be correctly judged from measurable results and not from appearances, theories, and or flowery words. The country is watching, Mr Prime Minister!
In a previous article I argued that we need a new ambition for Government in our country. This Holness Administration, in my humble view, is the best hope of achieving that objective. I sincerely hope I am proved right.
There are so many negatives around us they clouds out, almost entirely, the positives that are happening. Yes, there are only a few positives, but a big one is the new social pension programme to be implemented shortly.
On February 4, 2020, this newspaper reported that Minister of Education, Youth and Information Fayval Williams announced that “Cabinet had given approval for the implementation of a new Social Pension Programme by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, which will target elderly people 75 years and older.”
The Jamaica Observer report also noted that: “These individuals should not be in receipt of a pension or any other retirement income, old-age or disability benefit.
“To qualify for this new pension programme the individual should not be a resident in a Government institutionalised care facility, should not be in receipt of social assistance through PATH [Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education], Poor Relief, or the National Insurance Scheme,” the minister noted.
“She pointed out that the new pension programme will provide $3,400 per month to each beneficiary and index benefit levels to half of the minimum pension under the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).”
Some folks might not recognise it, but we do have some aged folks who just cannot help themselves socially, economically, and otherwise.
Right away, some are going to say, “But $3,400 cyaan buy nutten.” Well, I invite those individuals to try to buy something with zero dollars.
The plan is a good start. Ultimately we need to govern the country so that we can significantly reduce the number of Jamaicans who will need this kind of assistance.
Some of my readers have been asking me to give a comment on the abortion issue that has been raging in the public square. My position is, except in cases of a medical emergency, a pregnancy the result of a rape or incest, or there is a foetal anomaly, abortions should be prohibited.
I absolutely don't agree with a suggestion that parliamentarians should carry out some kind of secret ballot to decide whether to repeal legislation which makes abortion illegal.
Some time ago there was a suggestion that abortion and a number of other long-standing contentious issues needed to be decided in a grand referendum. I think the sooner we carry out that process the better. Were we to hold a referendum, I suspect the debates would still rage on, such is life.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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