The Internet is waking to a six-minute clip on Facebook with TVJ’s Dionne Jackson Miller doing her job. The journalist tuned in via the web to ask the Prime Minister of Jamaica about his Government’s Covid-19 response. This is the first press conference since Andrew Holness issued a lock down on St. Catherine. This was no Spice-Tufton interview, these were four serious questions covering:
- Was this lack of foresight caused by deficiencies in the technical recommendations or did Cabinet override the recommendations made?
- Who are you adding to your team who has more experience in logistics and planning so that we don’t experience anything like this going forward?
- Your Minister of Education in the Ministry says online school starts Wednesday. Given the widespread problems accessing internet at home, when is the Government planning to acknowledge that this term has been lost?
- How many of the new cases were symptomatic?
The questions were fair and balanced. Let’s talk about it.
The issue with the Government’s lockdown of St. Catherine centers around the chaos that ensued on the streets. There are many videos which were circulated online with long lines and others showing clear instances of little or no respect for social distancing. Instead of adhering to the Prime Minister’s call to “tan a yu yard,” St. Catherine residents ran to the supermarkets and other places to access food and other supplies; like Western Union and places that process remittances.
Was this lack of foresight caused by deficiencies in the technical recommendations or did Cabinet override the recommendations made?
Question one is spot on, to ascertain whether there are clear gaps in the technocrats sitting at the table making these decisions or did the politicians suggest the chaos that ensued.
Who are you adding to your team who has more experience in logistics and planning so that we don’t experience anything like this going forward?
To understand the validity of this question, it would be wise to watch the video below. It is an interview with former Prime Minister of UK, Tony Blair on Sky News sharing his way forward for governments as they navigate Covid-19. He offers excellent solutions on how Governments can build teams to address Covid-19 and which countries in his opinion are handling the pandemic well. It is important to note that countries who struggle to manage this first wave, may be slow to inject life and growth in their national economies.
Therefore, this question to pull from the Prime Minister (Holness) on the makeup of his team is a fair question.
Your Minister of Education in the Ministry says online school starts Wednesday. Given the widespread problems accessing internet at home, when is the Government planning to acknowledge that this term has been lost?
Another excellent question by Dionne Jackson Miller on the challenges within the education system. It is sad that Covid-19 has forced Governments to accept online education. Jamaica has struggled to implement Tablets in Schools and this tweet below adds the context. Government says it can deliver, while MP Robinson doesn’t believe in the timing.
How many of the new cases were symptomatic?
Another fair question.
How did PM Holness Respond?
If you are Team Andrew Holness, you will love this response. And the PM can be viewed in this moment as decisive, strong and leading on Jamaica’s Covid-19 response. I have tweeted before that if the Prime Minister is given the latitude to speak, he becomes very honest. His tone more decisive and incredulous when he is to appear more empathetic. The fact is many Jamaicans who live on less than four days supply of food will not rush to the supermarkets to stock up. That is the reality. Instead, the Prime Minister used the time to attack fake news, which is not the biggest issue. St. Catherine is home to 520,000 Jamaicans and Portmore is the largest dormitory community in the English speaking Caribbean. Locking down St. Catherine would need daily press briefings, and constant reassuring the residents that the Government was doing all it can do to monitor the chaotic situation. The Mayor of Portmore, also described the lockdown as chaotic.
The reconfiguration of the society the Prime Minister alludes to is at the heart of the issue. Jamaicans are not only consuming local news. They know what is happening throughout the world. Before the PM made it mandatory to wear masks in public, Jamaicans took that lead. The Government has to be patient with the Jamaican people. Yes, there are those who will break the established rules. However, for the most part, Jamaicans want to come out post-Covid-19 alive, safe in the arms of their relatives.
While the Government has zero intentions to block Jamaicans from accessing food, medicine and money from remittances, Andrew Holness must navigate the how. How does Government reduce the shock, while implement the open lockdown scenario they have created. The Easter weekend measures were good and well executed.
If the response requires us to be smart, the PM should show unity in Government by partnering with local Government and Members of Parliament to shoulder the responsibility of national preparedness.
The Prime Minister needs to show more empathy and more understanding of the issues on the ground. These are stressful times for our PM. In the last few days, Holness toured St. Catherine without the Health Minister and top officials who could bring insight and strategy to the national response. That is not smart leadership.
The national response has to partner with local government, private sector and Members of Parliament. One message, unified in saving lives.
What do you make of his response?