I heard my first Christmas radio commercial last week. Jingle bells and all. I was quite shocked. It is, after all, still October, last time I checked! It has been around ten days since I last wrote, and the past ten days have been, shall we say, a rather rough ride for some of our political leaders. Waters are turbulent; it seems that, as I suggested last week, some things were lurking there, under the surface. Two in particular…
- Storm #1: The bacterial infections and resulting loss of many small premature babies at the neonatal intensive care units at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) in Kingston and the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay has created a firestorm in the media and among the public. At the center of it is our hapless Minister of Health Fenton Ferguson. At this point, he looks hopelessly out of his depth; every time he opens his mouth he puts his foot in it, inflaming the public further (not to mention the Jamaican Twittersphere, where cries of distress and #FireFenton are regularly heard). It’s a long and slowly unfolding story of what appears to be plain official incompetence, non-communication, a lack of transparency and accountability – and an element of – is it nonchalance? I don’t know what to call it. It seems, almost, callousness. How on earth did our leaders reach this point?
- It is hard to give a blow by blow account (this would take up several blog posts). But up to the time of writing, nineteen babies out of 42 infected have died as a result of two bacteria (klebsiella and serratia – the former apparently proving harder to eradicate) since June in the two hospitals (twelve in UHWI and nine at Cornwall). Two babies are now infected at St. Ann’s Bay Hospital. The Gleaner and Nationwide News Network have been especially diligent in seeking to establish timelines (who knew what and when?) and digging up details. Minister Ferguson’s performance in the Lower House today was inept, to say the least. When asked if the infections were reported in an audit of the health sector (which the Ministry has kept close to its chest) he said he would “have to check.” That was a “yes or no” question, Minister! Also, inexplicably, he referred to the premature babies as “not babies in the real sense.” This is absolutely shocking to me – and many others. I cannot imagine how the parents grieving the loss of their children – or those now waiting to give birth – must feel. This is what I mean by nonchalance. Oh, and for the record, I agree with my fellow blogger Kate Chappell (herself a new mother) over the use of the hashtag #DeadBabiesScandal. It’s insensitive.
In light of all the above – and much more that has transpired in the past few days – I believe the Minister should step down – along with his Permanent Secretary Dr. Kevin Harvey and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marion Bullock Ducasse, both of whom have lost all credibility. Chief Executive Officer Dr. Cecil White and Senior Director of Medical Services, Professor Trevor McCartney resigned from UHWI on Monday.As for our Prime Minister (you may well ask) – in all this, “Mama P,” who adores children, has been silent as a mouse – much to the chagrin of many Jamaicans. Today in Parliament she finally roused herself, and spent about a minute and a half expressing her regret at the deaths of so many small Jamaican citizens. She also expressed the “hope” that the Ministry would get its act together (“hope”? What about “I have given instructions…“?) She will not be firing Minister Ferguson, by the way. But a special monitoring unit is to be set up.
Storm (in a teacup?) #2 – and red herrings with the cup of tea: Last time I mentioned the debate over the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) moving to the Upper House. Well, now. A ridiculous situation developed last week, involving Senate President Floyd Morris and Opposition Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte, with Senator A.J. Nicholson contriving to make things worse. It’s not the first time the President and Senator Malahoo Forte have tangled in the Upper House, and I wonder if this is a question of two strong personalities rubbing each other up the wrong way. A tit for tat argument began over a letter the Senator claimed to be in possession of that discussed the possibility of the UK Privy Council traveling to Jamaica to hear cases. Be that as it may, the matter degenerated into near-farce very quickly, with the Senate President et al showing CCTV footage of Senator Marlene not taking a bathroom break at a press briefing. There was the letter, the Senator’s handbag, her departure to the restroom, and a “feminine item.” Does that sound absurd? Yes, that’s because it is! Justice Minister Mark Golding rather pompously (and strangely) called the affair “Jamaica’s Lettergate” (referring to Watergate, and I can see no correlation there). Now Senator Golding says he hopes the Senators will put it all behind them (or in the words of a recent overseas visitor, “move on”).
- Storm #1 is a very serious matter, that raises issues of good governance and has already directly affected the lives of Jamaicans. I believe it has caused considerable damage to the Simpson Miller administration; and it is not at all clear that the infections are quite under control. Storm #2 is a display of childishness and political point-scoring that has descended to sheer silliness. Let’s get on with the CCJ debate, please.
These two matters have generated dozens of news stories and dominated the national dialogue for the past ten days. What else has there been? I may have to catch up in the next few days; but I know the teachers and police are still unhappy regarding their pay, and there is something to say about proposed “oversight” of the Office of Utilities Regulation. Meanwhile, I have to hand out a few bouquets….
- To our MP Julian Robinson, who organized a Town Hall Meeting with Minister of Finance Peter Phillips in our neighborhood last week. I understand that the Minister was honest and straight forward and did not try to “pretty things up” or score political points. He is making an effort to reach out in different ways to explain economic issues to the public. This is a good thing.
To reporter/producer for the excellent “Live at Seven” program Yolande Gyles Levy (and of course, its ever-cynical and caustic presenter Simon Crosskill). Their program this evening focused on gender-based violence (and the fact that there is still only one shelter that can house just about eight women in the entire island!) A recorded interview with me was interspersed with shocking video footage of men beating abusing women (in public). If you missed it, the program is posted on the CVM TV website here: http://www.cvmtv.com/videos.php?type=live7#clip=1391242. Last week, I wrote in my regular Gleaner blog on the topic: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2997
- Kudos to another young reporter, Abka Fitz-Henley of Nationwide News Network, whose determined and fearless reporting – fired by regular tweets (he has built a huge fan club on Twitter) is to be admired. Abka has set a new standard in investigative reporting in Jamaica, and I applaud him.
- To the winners of BirdsCaribbean’s Photographic Competition (the first, and it was highly successful). You can find the stunning photos online at http://www.birdscaribbean.org/2015/10/winners-of-birdscaribbean-photo-contest-2015/. Special congrats to Jamaican conservationist Wendy Lee for her photograph of two participants in the Kingston conference hand-feeding the Red-Billed Streamertail at the Rocklands Sanctuary during a field trip.
- Remember “Cool Runnings”? Well, U.S. bobsledder Jazmine Fenlator has announced her intention to represent Jamaica as a part of the country’s first-ever women’s team at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. 30-year-old Jazmine has a Jamaican father and has to obtain citizenship first. This is a wonderful move! I wish her and the women’s team when it is formed the very best of luck.
Special shoutout to another interesting sporting team of Jamaican heritage in the UK! I bumped into them recently on Twitter. Meet the Reggae Rollers, seen here with Jamaican Ambassador to the United Kingdom Aloun N’Dombet Assamba. What sport do they play? That dear old English sport of lawn bowls – a gentle pastime, played mostly in summer, but also requiring a great deal of skill. “Big ups” to Andrew Newell (@Jabowlsplayer) and the team!
Last but not least, the Jamaica Fulbright Alumni Association is now on Twitter (@FulbrightJa). It will hold its Annual General Meeting on Thursday, November 5 at 5:00 p.m. So alumni, get involved!
The police say murders are up 24% over last year, bringing the total to 1,016 between January 1 and October 24. Murders have increased by 133% so far this year in the parish of Westmoreland (where Portia Simpson Miller presided over a weekend political rally, declaring “Westmoreland is PNP country.”) 54 children have been murdered this year (38 boys and 16 girls). Security officials continue to insist that the steep rise in murders in western Jamaica is due to the “lotto scam,” but it seems to also be an inability to resolve disputes among family members, neighbors and friends; and the sheer stress of living. Economic factors in general cannot be overlooked. My deepest condolences to those who are mourning the deaths of the following Jamaicans.
Wayne Morris (“Moonie British), Molynes Road, Kingston
Archer Sawyer, 56, Bridgeport, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Daytona Housing Scheme, Greater Portmore, St. Catherine
Taxi driver, Carey Park, Trelawny
Rynaldo Phillips, 19, Osbourne Store, Clarendon
Joshua Bacham, 21,Osbourne Store, Clarendon
Jason Elliott, Clarendon
Norma Henry Coleman, 61, Mandeville, Manchester
Chantel Bailey, 21, Porto Bello, St. James
Audley Gilling, 51, Rent Land District, Mount Carey, St. James
Akeem Lawson, Long Bay, St. James (killed by police)
Odell Allen, 23,Long Bay, St. James (killed by police)
Romaria Richardson, 21, Mount Salem, St. James (killed by police)
Omar Patterson, 22, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland
Orett Hill, 33, Little London, Westmoreland
Dennis Barnes, 58, Galloway, Westmoreland