What does it take to dismiss an official? Whose health is more important?

Back in May, I wrote about a certain leadership problem in Jamaican politics that was clear as day. At that time, how the PM positioned herself to address accountability of executive appointees was hard to understand. In a post entitled ‘Beware what you ask for: an insight into Jamaican leadership and thoughts on accountability‘, I wrote this about the PM’s actions (or lack of them): ‘Maybe, I’m mistaken, but they seemed to suggest that the frequent mishaps were somehow a good reason to absolve a manager from blame. I’ve struggled to fathom what logic was at play there…‘. We were looking at what justification was given for not acting on clear management failings at NSWMA. Jokingly, we could call this the ‘She didn’t start the fire’ defence. 

The health minister has been overseeing a portfolio that seems to be categorized by failures, even crises. Some of these failings appear to be the results of some simple human failings: eg, people not acting in line with established procedures. Some seem to reflect systemic failings, such as poor inventory controls, and approaches to communication that seem geared towards denial, evasion, and defence. Some failings seem to be a combination of these. What compounds these failings is a pervasive unwillingness to tell the nation what is, or went, wrong, why it went wrong, and what then will be done to avoid repetition. Instead, we get a form of bluster or downright refusal to share the truth. The most baffling instance of this seems to be the results of recent audits of health facilities. The minister refuses to share its details, instead telling people to be content with a summary. You can’t fix things without knowing the devilish details. As a dentist, the minister can easily understand how inadequate it is to know that a patient’s mouth hurts, than that the pain is in a tooth, or in the gums, is recent, or long-standing. But, somehow, the big problems of health facilities cannot be detailed? 

What has been bothersome is that the PM burdened us with a fulsome defence of her health minister by telling us that he “had done nothing wrong” during what many saw as the mismanagement of the chik-V crisis. The outbreak of that virus crippled people and the economy. Remember, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica estimated approximately J$6 billion and 13 million man hours were lost because of the virus. But, Dr. Ferguson was given a ‘clean bill of health’. Not even a hint that mistakes were made? Let’s call this the ‘doing nothing wrong’ defence. It’s akin to keeping your nose clean. It shouldn’t have been used, then, but it was. 

But, it’s clear that if nothing wrong was done, little right was done. As I noted before, the correct questions were not being posed of the person managing the portfolio. 

It seems to be hard for the PM to call to public account those whose policy decisions and actions show clear failings. It’s not just the health portfolio. I talked about how good leaders ‘feel the moment’. Numbness seems more evident than feeling, in this regard and others. That numbness is especially troublesome when dealing with the sensitive matter of people’s health. 

While we ponder this, we have to figure out why the highest level of political leadership has certain difficulties? To me, it boils down to some simple questions. First, can the country handle the truth? Second, are politicians capable to, and willing to, share the truth? Third, if the truth is shared, what should be done next? 

The clear impression is that the government doesn’t believe people can handle the truth. Which means, that less than the truth must be shared, varying from nothing at all to some downright untruths. 

Politicians show constantly that the have problems being truthful, consistently.

What should be done with the truth is to find ways to fix problems.  

It’s my view that the last point drives much else. Fixing problems is not currently a prime objective of many in government. Instead, being safe and sound in posts trumps much else. 

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

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