I’m no Mark Wignall. But I’m predicting that if the prime minister does not immediately fire her minister of health, the PNP will soon be voted out of office. In his column published last Thursday, Wignall prophesied, “It is more likelihood than possibility that after the next election, the people of this country will still get to call Portia our prime minister.”
It depends on what she does about Dr Fenton Ferguson. The ill-fated dentist is an ominous symbol of all that is wrong with the present PNP government: incompetent, arrogant, stubborn, hard-ears. Why is Fenton Ferguson still minister of health? After all of his errors of judgement and his repeated failure to protect the health of the nation! Why is the prime minister still upholding him?
Last Wednesday, one of my friends asked if I’d heard what Ferguson said about the dead babies. My cynical answer was, “That is not him did kill them?” I cannot forget the prime minister’s ill-considered response to repeated calls for the removal of Jennifer Edwards from her post as executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority.
As the fires raged at the Riverton dump, this is what the prime minister said in a bumbling interview on CVM TV: “I’m sure she wouldn’t set the fire. If she had set the fire, she would be gone! But I’m sure because she wasn’t there; she was nowhere near there until when they heard that the place was on fire. So I don’t know why anyone would be calling for her head to roll.”
Well, Fenton Ferguson has definitely set several fires and his head has not rolled. The most deadly conflagration was his mishandling of the chik-V epidemic. No notice given to unsuspecting victims about the impending disaster, despite the many warnings issued by the Pan American Health Organization. Total denial of the true scale of the epidemic. And no serious attempt to count all the deaths resulting from the impact of chik-V on chronic illnesses.
Refusing to listen to the clamour of voices demanding the resignation of the minister of health, the prime minister unilaterally declared that Dr Ferguson had done nothing wrong. But what he had done right? Given the widespread trauma caused by the chik-V epidemic, Ferguson himself should have had the decency to resign. But he knew he had the backing of his prime minister.
I wonder if this is how she justified her decision to stand by him: I’m sure my minister of health is not a mosquito. And he did not bite anybody. If he had bitten anybody, he would be gone! But I’m sure because he wasn’t there; he was nowhere near where people were getting bitten. And he even wanted an infected mosquito to bite him, so he could feel the pain of those who had been batter-bruised by chik-V. So I don’t know why anyone would be calling for his head to roll.
Dr Ferguson has now set off another firestorm with his incomprehensible ejaculation that premature babies are “not babies in the real sense”. I use the word ejaculation here to mean something said hastily without any thought. Not the act of discharging semen.
But Dr Ferguson was addressing Parliament. He should not have been ejaculating. He ought to have carefully considered his words. I know that Dr Ferguson is neither an obstetrician nor a gynaecologist. He’s a dentist. He’s an expert on the oral cavity. So he really should be much more cautious about how he opens his mouth. The discharge can be nastily explosive.
The minister’s lunatic claim that premature babies are “not babies in the real sense” is a reckless attempt to evade responsibility for the disgraceful condition of our hospitals. His cowardly line of defence is to blame the innocent victims. It’s the babies who caused their own death. It is true that the compromised immune system of premature babies makes them vulnerable to disease. But this is precisely why they need to be given high-quality medical care.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
Dr Ferguson’s apology for his public ejaculation is an insult to the intelligence of the Jamaican people. He simply repeats the fact that premature babies are susceptible to infection. But he admits no responsibility for the failure of the hospital system to protect these babies. It’s business as usual, masquerading as an apology.
And, what is even worse, all that the prime minister expects of Dr Ferguson is this: “I hope that the Ministry of Health and the minister will look at the present system to see what needs to be done to ensure that what happened will never, ever happen again.” Another excuse for failure.
Last Sunday, after witnessing the brilliant trial of Governor Eyre in Morant Bay, I set out for Bath Fountain. On the way, I passed Dr Ferguson’s constituency office. And I had a revelation. The minister of health has survived disaster after disaster because he has access to a regular supply of ‘oil of Portia can’t fire me’.
Fun and joke aside, no oil from St Thomas is more powerful than the collective will of the Jamaican people. In theory, we have the right to choose our leaders. We can vote. But for who? The real tragedy of our times is that our politicians are certainly not public servants in the real sense.