Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ recent Cabinet reshuffle has sparked plenty of debate and has divided opinion.
Having Dr Christopher Tufton remain in the health portfolio should not make too many people upset.
Since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began, Tufton has been the face of the Ministry of Health and has presided over policy and execution. This is not a case where you can change horses midstream.
In the words of former Tottenham Hotspur manager and England midfielder, Glenn Hoddle: “You have to put a good jockey on a good horse. It doesn’t guarantee you win the race, but you’re giving yourself the best chance.”
The outbreak of the Omicron variant has made it apparent that the virus will still remain with us for some time. It has already claimed over 5.5 million lives across the world with 2,568 of those from Jamaica.
COVID is the singular most important health crisis facing humankind today and it will require a unique set of skills to confront it.
The Jamaica Observer’s Editor-at-Large, H.G. Helps has questioned the reappointment of Dr Tufton at the Ministry of Health. He holds the view that a qualified medical doctor should be at the helm, one better equipped to understand the technicalities of what has to be done.
There is credence here but this portfolio at this particular time in history needs more than medical expertise.
It needs communication, management and administration.
World War II redefined the world with Germany under Hitler threatening to upend the status quo and establish a new order.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt were not gifted military professionals who could come up with the answers to repel the invading Germans. That was left to the likes of General George C. Patton and General Bernard Montgomery.
Churchill and Roosevelt were great communicators able to galvanise their respective countries and speak to each country’s national characteristics.
Tufton obtained a doctorate in Business Administration from Manchester Business School and it seems that was a portend to what fate would hold in store for his political career.
He has done a commendable job communicating what has to be done in Jamaica and has not bewildered citizens with medical jargon. He has an affable nature and is always willing to engage questions and queries. His level of transparency has been one of the few positives to come out of the management of the pandemic crisis.
It must be said that all governments across the world have been tested and placed under considerable strain by this virus, including Jamaica. In fact Jamaica has done well bar opening up prematurely last summer to facilitate the entertainment industry.
Tufton’s ability to communicate and allay fears has been a fillip to the government because the last thing it needed was a nerdy science boffin unable to connect with the mass of Jamaicans.
There are many people who are phenomenally bright, on top of their game but lack brevity and the ability to convey succinctly.
It is said that the internet has democratized the information age and that everyone can now have their say. It has also being the purveyor of misinformation the likes of which the world has never seen and this in part has led to the inability to form a unitary approach in fighting COVID.
Tufton is patently aware of this and it is here that we see clearly his circle of competence.
The Minister of Health earlier acutely observed: “ Communication in today’s modern world has to contend and compete with what I classify as (noise)…some may call it distractions.
“We no longer live in a world where you get your information from traditional sources. In fact, it is non-traditional sources that normally set the trend in how information is passed on.”
The government’s greatest mission and challenge is to get as many Jamaicans as possible vaccinated. It looks unlikely now that over 60 per cent of the population would have received two doses by March which is weeks away.
The reticence and obstinacy levelled at taking the vaccine is due to an uneducated, misinformed public and demonstrates the widening chasm between first and third world.
Who best can placate and convince Jamaicans to protect themselves and their loved ones?
Who best enjoys their goodwill and favourability?
Poll after poll over the last few years sees Tufton scoring well here. Last September, a Don Anderson-RJR/Gleaner poll had him as the best performing minister, though his rating fell from 59 per cent to 33 per cent.
The same poll revealed the Government’s favourability rating fell to 38 per cent from 57 per cent in July of 2020.
The COVID era will write Chris Tufton’s name in history and he may very well be cited as one of Jamaica’s finest crisis managers. It’s a head scratcher pointing to a better performing Jamaican government minister over the last quarter of a century.
Other countries have not fared as well as Jamaica with the COVID virus.
There are those who say the shin has rubbed off the ball since those heady days before the general election. But with the prolonged COVID pandemic, its impact on education, a contracting economy and escalating crimes and murders this is to be expected…somewhat.
Prime Minister Holness has no doubt made the calculus as to who best other than himself can get the message out to get vaccinated and ensure heath facilities are able to cope.
Who best can be Jamaica’s white knight, able to command attention and persuade people? Who is believable during this time of crisis? Who has the credibility and the steady hand on the tiller?
Tufton continued: “We have to ensure that our presentation is equally as good as our message. I am not afraid to say that information being produced from official channels is sometimes amateurish, while those from anti-vax campaigns are often more appealing than the information disseminated by the official channels. We must pay more attention to the optics of the message as well as the content.”