The good, the bad, and the ugly (November 24)

Good

Resignation of the Board of JADCO. They’ve shown many ways to present themselves and Jamaican athletes in a bad light.

The Planning Institute of Jamaica reported that, after six consecutive quarterly declines, the economy rebounded showing a marginal increase in real GDP of 0.6 per cent; “primarily due to improved weather conditions and the strengthening of productive activities within most industries”. The rebound has to start somewhere.

Bad

The Statistical Institute of Jamaica repoted that the rate of inflation (Consumer Price Index, All Jamaica) was 0.8 per cent for the month of October 2013.This gives an annual point-to-point rate of 10.3 per cent. This increase was mainly due to 20 percent upward movement in the cost of water and sewerage. Electricity, gas and other fuels also rose by 2.9 per cent.

Ugly

Pride of place goes to the little tempest that brewed when an RJR reporter and the PM’s security detail could not see eye to eye about questions to the PM, after a project dedication ceremony. The problem between the two sides are not hard to fix. If the PM and her Office want to engage the media, then it would be easy to set up some general rules that both find acceptable. After all, politics is the art of the possible.

Kick JADCO in the pants?

An interesting little skirmish is going on right under our noses. One of the local papers has been putting forward a proposal, quite openly and quite cogently, that a major public organization should dismiss its Board. The Gleaner thinks JADCO has fallen down on the job: “…they have managed the recent affairs of the agency incompetently…”, the Gleaner Editorial stated boldly today. The Observer has had a similar point, but I feel that the Gleaner has been more strident.

I’m interested in how things work out here. I’m also of the view that JADCO has done a poor job of managing the country’s affairs as a drug testing agency, by what it has done, what it has not done, what it has said, and more evidently by what it has not said. I don’t mind standing up and saying that JADCO is a good example of how not to manage public relations.

Times have changed and what is clear is that JADCO does not see that open and fluid communication is part of its remit. Informing and clarifying in anticipation of requests seem to have been beyond its remit. It has a public face that is blank.

What’s interesting to me is whether any change will be made, and if it is, how the government will spin it. They could say something like, “…in light of public discontent..” or “…time for a change and a breath of fresh air…”, or “…new directions from the Board are needed to coincide with the arrival of a new Executive Director…” Many options are there. WIll the government want to suggest that its decision in independent, or that it’s reflective of a concern that public confidence needs to be bolstered by a change.

What’s been funny to watch has been how the image of the athletes has been tainted by an institution that should help keep the image pristine. That seems to have been the case by the suspicion JADCO has allowed to surround what it’s been doing. The athletes can fess up, but the drug testing agent seems hard pressed to do the same.

We know that there are many hands washing many backs in terms of how public power is wielded, so I would not necessarily expect to hear any self-criticism from JADCO except of the most minor kind. I would also be surprised if the JAAA stood up and made its voice heard clearly. So, maybe the athletes need to make sure that people understand how they are all being held to ransom by an agency they do not control.

Of course, nothing may happen–though, I’d wager that wont be the case. I’m not a gambler but maybe a little wager on this one would be a good payer.

JADCO being dragged kicking and screaming into transparency?

A popular phrase in Jamaica nowadays is ‘Waggonist’, i.e. someone who likes to be on the band wagon, a ‘Johnny come lately’, someone along for the ride, or all of the preceding. So, the recent excitement about singer Tessanne Chin’s performance on NBC’s The Voice, has many jumping on the stage to applaud Ms. Chin, though they have been missing for much of her career. But, that’s very much in human behaviour.

But, Jamaica is also a country where one could say that it has to be dragged kicking and screaming (DKAS). Part of maturing as a country and a society that seems to elude some of us is the need to do things in a timely manner and to do them openly, understanding that impressions come often from nothing more than impressions in the absence of facts to the contrary. Almost anyone may say that defeating foot-dragging can’t be part of the “soon come” culture; it’s almost a contradiction in terms. What I find interesting is that ‘they’ (meaning the persons charged with ‘doing’) don’t see the damage that is done by delay and cloudiness.

We have a number of items of news in recent months that fall very much into the DKAS frame. The one that irks me, greatly, is the fiasco unfolding about the country’s anti-doping activities.

The country has proudly been showing the world for several years, mainly since the 2008 Olympics, that it has a formula for producing some stunning sprinters. It’s not just the recent successes of Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser and Asafa Powell, or the longer term successes of  Veronica Campbell-Brown, but a long line of elite sprinters. It’s not really a surprise to locals, who know the long and great tradition that has been there in track and field for decades. Not surprisingly, the little island of some 3 million people did not seem to many outsiders the place that would dominate any international sport for a few years just on natural ability. In an era where so-called ‘performance enhancing drugs’ have been prominent, suspicion would fall naturally on those seeming to rise suddenly.

Jamaica has an organisation to test its athletes for illegal drugs, JADCO (Jamaica Anti Doping Commission). But, it has not been good at leading and getting out to the public at home or abroad a clear picture of what it does and what it needs to do. Instead, it has allowed others to dictate the story. Its previous Executive Director, Ms. Renee Anne Shirley, exposed in August what seemed to be grave weaknesses and a near breakdown in testing; she did this in a series of letters and an interview with an US sports channel. Response? JADCO did little to put its side of the story out to the public. There were mutterings that Ms. Shirley was disgruntled and somehow had ‘an axe to grind’. Irrelevant! Was she telling the truth? That should have been JADCO’s focus. Tell the nation and the world what it had been doing.

Jamaican athletes have been under the spotlight all summer, both for great performances on the track during the World Championships, and because several star athletes have returned positive tests. One, Veronica Campbell-Brown, had her case determined with a ‘public warning’ last week; others, including Asafa Powell, are awaiting judgements. That’s a good enough set of circumstances for us to want to know that our sprinting goods are really good. On the edge of that, reports also emerged of a national football player being guilty of using banned substances–and subsequently given a 9 month ban and a national team doctor getting a 4 year ban for his role.

It’s not enough to know that our top athletes are tested, seemingly unceasingly, in international competitions. We need to know that the process is done at home, too, and is rigorous.

Fast forward three months. We read that the international governing body, WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) will mount an ‘extraordinary’ audit on Jamaica’s testing regime. We also read that the Chairman of JADCO, Dr. Herb Elliott said that Ms. Shirley was “demented”. If that remark was made, what business does the Chairman have saying that about a former employee? Is the woman telling the truth? Mad people are not necessarily liars. His organisation has not put out the public figures to challenge Ms. Shirley’s contention. According to press reports, when asked Dr. Elliott said he may have figures “tomorrow”. Aha! Soon come! It’s not ready yet. This is three months spent doing what to confirm or deny a detailed set of statements by a former JADCO executive.KickingAndScreamingFuller

I don’t want to get into the internal politics of JADCO, just whether it seems to have any idea what it needs to do to convince the public that it is in charge of testing our athletes at home.

Today’s Gleaner calls for the resignation en bloc of the JADCO board. It’s hard to disagree with that proposal, if only to put in its place some people who seem to understand the need to communicate clearly and openly and in timely manner.

An expert in the dope testing world commented on the radio yesterday that whatever has happened to Jamaican athletes, the program is not dirty and does not have systematic doping: he mentioned that a total of ONLY 20 Jamaican athletes had ever returned positive tests. If that’s the case, why is that not part of what JADCO tells the world.

The whole JADCO affair is a bit strange, not least because it’s situated within The Office of the Prime Minister, which gives its relative silence a somewhat different tinge. Is it the national political wish that we be fed a diet of silence?