The bigger picture in the CRH debacle

doctorWith the recent scandal at the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH), the nation is up in arms. People are foaming at the mouth, rightly so, wondering why individuals —doctors and patients — were forced to occupy a hospital which was in such a bad condition.

People are incredulous and rightfully demand to know why the information (while made public) was not broadcast better. There is amongst all of this the demand that the relevant minister (in this case Dr Tufton) be reprimanded, fired even, for what looks like a shocking dereliction of duty.

Now it is true that as the Minister of Health this debacle is his remit.  It is also true that as minister he would have had first-hand information as to just how bad things were at CRH; however I feel that people who are calling for his head are failing to see a big picture and how this crisis could benefit us (the people) if used right.

The bigger picture in all of this is that of collective responsibility, one of the few good things which we have in our governance structure. Collective responsibility, or Cabinet collective responsibility, in simple terms means that while the individual minister may personally disagree with a Cabinet proposal, once it is taken they must all show collective unity on the issue. Collective responsibility is supposed to be one of the safeguards of this Westminster system and yet we see it constantly ignored, as seen in this issue (and countless others).

Collective responsibility means that instead of the PM going AWOL and leaving it to the object of the people’s hate, he would speak on the issue as he is not only a part of, but heads the Cabinet. It would mean that the Minister of Finance would speak on the matter, not only because everything passes through that ministry, but also because he is a part of the Cabinet.

The fact is that something of this nature would have been brought to the entire Cabinet’s notice (the papers show the Ministry of Health allocating funds from last year) and nothing was done. One is left to assume that they all agreed to just sit on the matter as none of them would be going there for treatment anytime soon.

This is a matter which is much bigger than Dr Tufton, as it strikes at the heart of one of the things so wrong in Jamaica. This is a matter quite frankly bigger than simply the JLP, as too often we have had ‘youthful exuberance’ and millions of dollars wasted on non-existent bridges from both green and orange.

Each time these things happen, the leaders and remainder of the Cabinet vanish and the minister is left as the scapegoat. That is a scenario begging for corruption. Either the entire Cabinet was privy to what was going on — in which case they all need to answer, starting with the PM — or Tufton was withholding critical information from his team members and we should be told of this gross infraction (unlikely, as the AG was in the loop).

Going after the health minister alone in this scenario would lead us down a path we recently trod with the Jubilee scandal. The then minister apologised, took his licks and was moved to a dead end ministry.

We saw this play out during the Patterson administration and we saw it during the Golding and Holness administrations. Nothing has changed for the better in those two decades. This is so, in my opinion, because the Cabinet (but mainly the PM) is safe in the knowledge that regardless of whatever happens, the relevant minister will fall on their sword to save the administration from the wrath and glare of the public (akin to throwing a dog off the scent).

There is no reason why they cannot or should not uphold something as crucial yet simple as this. It is, after all, not a concept alien to anyone in either of our two dominating parties both of which practice some variant of democratic centralism. Is it a case where party rules and norms trump that of governmental/Cabinet regulations?

That is what we are facing in the big picture and what must be fought against. We must not let our raw emotions rule us and go solely after Dr Tufton (though he does deserve special treatment).  We must ask the administration the tough questions. Who knew what, and when did they know it? We must demand not only the health minister fall on his sword but other high flying Cabinet members who must have or should have known.

To call for the fall of the administration is a bit too harsh, even for me.  Everyone should be given some scope to grow (or hang themselves). To insist that the minister be called to account and removed from his post is not too harsh, precedent has been set in Commonwealth nations (see the UK recently).

It is high time that our governing elites realize that they have responsibilities, and one of them is that they all must be on the same page as it relates to policy and actions taken. They must also realize that failure to live up to those responsibilities have real and serious consequences, for all of them. If we fail to hold them all to account now for this, then we can expect the next administration to continue along the same path, a path that is clearly leading nowhere.

 

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