Those who fail to plan...fail
Of vaccines, oxygen and the budgetSunday, March 21, 2021
Hours after the country was reminded that hospitals were bursting at the seams, supplies of medical-grade oxygen were dangerously low at many public health facilities, we had passed 31,000 novel coronavirus infections, recorded 806 new cases, seven additional deaths increasing the tally to 492, the minister of health and wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton, tells the country that Jamaica is still doing “fairly well”.
Tufton reasoned that, while there had been a rise in hospitalisations, our death rate was 1.6 per cent of total infections, which he said was below the global average of 2.2 per cent. It seems Dr Tufton just does not get it!
The healthy credit which the Andrew Holness-led Administration amassed during the initial months after the contagious novel coronavirus landed on our shores is all but depleted. The Administration would do well to literally act as if it is starting from scratch.
It has a very uphill task to win back squandered political capital, bruise confidences, injured trusts, and meet mighty large expectations, which multiply with each passing day. That is the reality!
“It's one vial — 10 doses. It is not a case with multiple vials and multiple doses,” Tufton told The Gleaner. These comments, as reported last Thursday, irrespective of context, did not qualify as a shining moment of empathy for the hundreds of Jamaicans who are suffering with the novel coronavirus either.
The accounts of breaches in the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination programme hit many raw nerves in our very low trust environment.
Minister Tufton said: “[A] lapse led to persons who were not registered receiving the COVID-19 vaccines. The persons were given the leftover vaccines from vials that were already open, the minister indicated.” ( Loop Jamaica, March 15, 2021)
Tufton's description was like political sialoquent in the midst of media reports which adumbrated episodes of skipping of the queue by friends, connected people, and well-to-do individuals at different sites. This sort of cock up merely helps to further cement a most troubling cultural opinion: “ A so di ting set.” I spoke about its dangers previously.
Folks who decided to play by the rules, understandably, felt that they had been shafted. Only days before the botched vaccination roll-out Prime Minister Andrew Holness had assured the people of the country that the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines would be free of corruption.
Said Holness: “Regardless of who you are in the society, once the rule is set, you will abide by the rules.” He went on: “I'm committed that the distribution of the vaccines does not fall in this category of nationally important goods to be distributed, where people break the lines [and], because of connections, they get.” ( Loop Jamaica, March 15, 2021)
In my The Agenda piece on October 18, 2020 I noted, among other things: “Proactive implementation of workable strategies to prevent or at least significantly minimise the inevitable problems that accompany the distribution of scarce resources is crucial...
“We cannot close our eyes to the reality that our society is tightly divided along social, economic, and political lines, wherein those who have ready access to especially high-valued and/or scarce resources are often the very well-connected. Those who reggae legend Bob Marley said 'nuh have no friend in high society' often end up getting the very short end of this stick”.
The Administration has to focus on repairing the holes. This is best done, in my view, by first owning mistakes. Relying on euphemisms, as a crutch, and political gobbledygook, like an antiquated timepiece, will not help to restore an iota of squandered political capital. The gaps in the present management of the COVID-19 crisis must be plugged.
The Opposition People's National Party (PNP) has quickly realised that holes are appearing in the dam. Doubtless for this and other obvious reasons they have called for the auditor general to probe reports of breaches in the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
Throwing rocks at those who are pointing to the holes in the dam is not smart, either. In fact, it is those who remain silent while the holes get bigger who must be feared.
It's a planning problem
I previously noted in this space that, for decades, we in this country have been operating along a trajectory of crisis response. We have a bamboo fire approach to tackling our nation's problems.
I also opined that this flaw was evident in our pronounced inability to consistently implement successful policies and programmes on a timely basis. Perhaps, only those who live in a uniquely secure bubble would not have taken notice of the manifestation of the mentioned malady in reports about the shortage of medical-grade oxygen across the country over the last six weeks.
Things can indeed deteriorate very fast when knee-jerk reactions are the modus operandi of far too many who are critical cogs in the operational wheel of our governance and government structures.
I will say a bit more on that score in an upcoming piece.
Now, since the start of this month reports about patients at several public hospitals not being able to get medical-grade oxygen started to mushroom. And last Sunday there was that exposť by The Gleaner that centred on the frightening state of affairs at Cornwall Regional Hospital.
Stick a pin, as we say in local parlance, did we not see the shortage of medical-grade oxygen as an inevitable, given what happened in hospitals in America, Italy, and especially in some Latin America?
Public pronouncements from the Ministry of Health and Wellness from as far back as March 2020 show that officialdom knew that the exponential spread of the novel coronavirus was going to happen here.
Consider this: “The Government is projecting that as many as 1.1 million people, mainly the elderly with existing health conditions, could be affected should the coronavirus reach Jamaica's shores. Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton made the projections during the National Disaster Risk Management Council's meeting at Jamaica House, yesterday.
“ 'We have been doing some modelling to determine if the virus gets here [and] what the likely implications would be in terms of its spread. There is an approach to doing that, [as] in public health an epidemiologist looks at the numbers, looks at other countries, and looks at their experiences.
“ 'Our own experienced Dr [Karen] Webster-Kerr [can be] asked questions later on, if we are uncertain, and then we come up with a model to show what the likely impact would be. The modelling is suggesting that if the virus comes to Jamaica, and follows the normal pattern of spread, as we have had in other SARS-type or influenza-type occurrences, we could see up to 1.1 to 1.7 million persons in the population being impacted by the virus,' Dr Tufton estimated.” ( Jamaica Observer, March 6, 2020)
More than a year after this public recognition, officialdom was in a mad rush only recently to import medical oxygen cylinders into the country. Why did they not do this eight months ago?
To me, the answer is clear. Too many in key positions of responsibility are trapped in the vortex of crisis management. I heard Minister Tufton on a radio programme saying it's problematic that we only have one local supplier of medical-grade oxygen. I hardly think that is the real fly in the ointment, Sir. Among other things, our consistent lack of demonstrated ability to think ahead and carry out proactive actions in accordance with best practices is like a millstone around our collective necks.
Here is another glaring example of the choking effect of the failure of our collective ability to think ahead. The recent false start with the online registration and scheduling of appointments for individuals who wish to receive the COVID-19 vaccine was blamed on “youthful exuberance”, by an official of the Ministry of Health and Wellness on a radio programme. I don't buy the explanation that some staff went on a frolic of their own and launched the site, minus the imprimatur of their bosses.
I find it curious, too, that people who claimed they registered on the quickly discarded site have noted on social media that they received the life-saving vaccine as a consequence of their registration on the said discarded site.
I hope tomorrow's promised re-launch will be very successful, because Tufton has bungled enough.
Last Tuesday Mark Golding did a very good job of reiterating the long-standing problems of this country in his maiden budget presentation as leader of the Opposition. I gave him a strong B+ there.
Said Golding, “Madam Speaker, despite the efforts made over many years, Jamaica is still plagued by high levels of income and wealth inequality. This inequality is manifest in the vast disparity of outcomes in the primary and secondary school systems, in the availability and standard of health care, in access to proper housing, basic amenities such as working [sewerage] systems, street lighting, garbage disposals and indeed access to justice.”
Golding seems to have a keen understanding of the systemic social and economic ills which retard the growth and development of Jamaica. He is not unique in that respect, of course.
His presentation, in my view, however, came to a screeching halt when he started to list a trailer load of promises for a future PNP Administration but did not provide a scintilla of insight as to where and/or how the resources would be garnered to fulfil his assurances.
He missed a glorious opportunity to score a major political goal. Opposition parties which say, 'wait until we win the general election then we will tell you where the resources will come from' clearly don't understand the proverbial saying: “Tom drunk, but Tom nuh Fool.”
A critical mass no longer falls prey to bait-and-switch political tactics. They are insisting that those who request their vote show them the money, now!
It is wonderful to say a major programme to improve inner-city housing will be launched, deplorable and dilapidated housing stock across the country will be upgraded, prioritisation of early childhood development will be enhanced, a comprehensive national programme for unattached youth will be rolled out, transformation of the financing of tertiary education will take place, the provision of broadband Internet as a basic utility, and paternity leave will all become realisations. But unless strong economic growth via investments, not borrowing, underpin these pledges of the PNP, then all that Golding promised is but fool's gold.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness concentrated on foundational infrastructural development across the country in his budget presentation last Thursday. I have said in this space previously that this is a critical ingredient/approach for our collective advancement. The successful actioning of the plans will, among other things, foster economic recovery.
I was very glad to hear that Jamaica will be able to fund many of the projects without resorting to large-scale borrowing. Holness gets it that if Jamaica is to realise her full social, economic, and political potentials we have to move away from stifling redistributive policies which bear no resemblance to our economic reality.
On July 19, 2020 I said as much in my The Agenda column: “Opportunitylessness cannot be remedied by mere redistribution of income. The [Michael] Manley Administration was obsessed with the redistribution of income, not its creation. His social policies and programmes, though well-intentioned, were not cost-effective, and could not be sustained without a thriving economy.”
I gave Holness an A for his continued lazer beam focus on tangible efforts to increase the size and quality of the national economic pie, instead of an envy-promoting approach rooted in a thinking that we should autocratically take from those who have earned their bread honestly.
The latter approach has not worked anywhere in the world.
I think Holness's presentation fell down badly, however, in the crucial area of institution-building. The oxygen of democracy is strong institutions. That is why, for example, the Global Competitiveness Report (GCR) published by the World Economic Forum identifies the strength of institutions as the first of its 12 pillars which determine the level of productivity, competitiveness, and prosperity earned by an economy. We have to build out foundational infrastructural development, alongside simultaneous improvements in institutions. Singapore found that out very early in the 1960s. The lessons are there, if we want to learn.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login