On the night of Tuesday, September 14, 2021, a video of Minister Floyd Green, then Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, went viral. The video captured scenes of a birthday party which was held either that day (September 14) or the previous day, both of which were designated “No Movement” Days here in Jamaica as part of the government’s attempt to curb the number of new cases and deaths from the deadly COVID-19 virus.
Six shocking things stood out for me in that video:
- The attendees at the party were mostly senior public servants who served as heads or deputy heads of government agencies;
- The party was held at a seemingly upscale location / hotel, the home of none of them;
- There were several people around a table sitting shoulder to shoulder and not wearing masks;
- They were drinking champagne and dining finely;
- They mocked the government and its efforts to curb the virus offering a toast to “no movement day”;
- Their body language reflected disdain and glee and suggested that they were living in a society quite different from that of the rest of us.
These six things reflect, in my view, the smug self-satisfaction these government officials feel arise from their place of privilege in the society and an apparent sense of entitlement and being above the law by which they are psychologically governed. Their body language reminded me of scenes from movies in which aristocratic rules gather with their associates at exotic locations popping expensive cigars and wine while hunger and starvation wreak havoc on their citizens. The laughter and frolic were sickening.
By mid-day September 15, Floyd Green, the 39-year-old minister had resigned. Earlier that day, Nationwide News Network, a radio station viewed by many as aligned to the Government, reported that the Prime Minister was “livid” having seen the video. In the wake of Green’s resignation there have been mixed views on whether he should have resigned / been asked to resign and how quickly he should be returned to the Cabinet.
I am of the firm view that Green ought to have resigned.
His conduct amounted to violating the very rules he, as a cabinet minister, made for the society and he did so mockingly and irreverently. He, as his statement conceded, breached the trust placed in him and set a poor example for the rest of the society, and for those reasons could not remain in office. Prime Minister Andrew Holness, at the time of is formal statement about the resignation, indicated that he is looking at areas in which Green may be redeployed.
In my opinion, every offender deserves a second chance, but if the Prime Minister hurriedly returns Green to public office, he would have reinforced the behaviour, not frowned on it, and the report of him being livid would be nothing more than a PR show.
In the wake of Green’s resignation, a petition has been mounted “demanding” that he be reinstated. One of the public officials who was prominent at the birthday party and who voiced the toast to “no movement day”, and who has resigned from public offices to which he was appointed, has gone on social media thanking people for their “outpouring of support”. Both the demand for reinstatement and the boast about outpouring of support, smack of an entitlement mentality and both suggest that these public officials are victims and have been wronged.
This entitlement mentality which Green has ostensibly rejected by his resignation and public statement, appears engrained in many members of the ruling party. The very decision to hold the party on a “no movement” was the most abrasive and flagrant display of that mentality and what flowed from that in the disdainful conduct of sipping wine and toasting, were frighteningly firm expressions which proclaimed the belief of being special and above the law.
The conduct and the mentality which inform these expressions are not isolated to the attendees of that party.
Pattern of Conduct
Since the pandemic began, there have been several instances of violation of the provisions, rules, and laws by both members of the ruling (elite) class, and members of the working class (peasantry) in Jamaica. The difference is that when members of the working class violate the laws they are arrested and charged but not so members of the ruling class, for the very most part.
A few examples will suffice.
- There was a yacht party on a small island off the mainland at a location called the Pedro Cays, in violation of provisions governing gatherings and visits to beaches. The offenders were members of the ruling class. The police became aware of their breaches but merely encouraged them to go home and made no arrests. Contrast that with truckloads of working-class citizens, who were returning from the beach, being arrested for being on the road at 3:00pm one Sunday afternoon in violation of a curfew which started at 3:00pm.
- One of Jamaica’s most ‘upscale’ communities is a place called Cherry Gardens and there are credible reports that not only have residents in that community held in violation of public orders, but there are reports that may go to the marinas in the parish of Portland where they have yacht parties.
- There is an annual event called mochofest which is held each summer in Jamaica. This fest involves parties being held at multiple locations over a two-week period. The entrance fees and price of food and drinks at these events mean that only the rich or the aspiring and sacrificial middle class can afford them. In June 2021, the then prevailing provisions of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) stipulated that such events could not be lawfully held, yet the event was staged at some locations, having been advertised on the website of the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), a government agency. When it became public that the event was held, managers from one location were charged with violations of the DRMA, but charges were later dropped. The Prime Minister ordered an ‘investigation’ into who gave permission for the event to be advertised by JTB. To date nothing has been heard of that investigation.
- The third wave of COVID-19 began just before the mochafest and despite the increase in the number of cases the government opened the economy and permitted the resumption of large gatherings. One such large gathering was the Dream Weekend fest, a mega gathering of affluent and affluent-looking people largely not wearing masks. There has also been other smaller gathering in downtown locations, with some arrests, while generally the elite have met openly and faced no consequences.
It is within this context of lax rules for the powerful and privileged that we must place the party held / attended by Minister Green and his associates and aides. In short, they were doing what they believed was okay and that which others like them had done without facing consequences. Thus, they brayed and giggled and toasted and then someone, perhaps without evil intent, drunk with arrogance and self-absorption shared the damning video.
The Central Issue: Accountability
To the extent that the conduct of Green was a violation which warranted resignation the question arises whether others, other than those at this event should resign for their misdeeds. The central issue here is that there needs to be accountability, and public officials ought to be held accountable for their actions or lack of actions.
This question of accountability for actions or inaction requires that we consider other government officials. In the context of this pandemic the one who comes most readily under the searchlight is the Minister of Health. Under his watch, the oxygen supplies at hospitals across Jamaica ran low or were completely depleted on the weekend of August 27, 2021. In Jordan, a similar thing occurred, and that country’s Health Minister was asked to resign.
I am of the view that Jamaica’s health minister should also resign.
But a cover-up is worse than the “crime”. What is most curious is the fact that the number of covid-related deaths which the government reported as occurring on Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th (while oxygen was in short supply) were among the lowest when compared to the ten days preceding that weekend and several days after. I am of the firm opinion that the number of deaths reported by the Ministry is inaccurate and this inaccuracy is not due to an error but deliberate falsification. I, therefore, call on the government to permit each hospital to release the fatality reports for the period along with the patients’ docket notes to back up its claim about the number of deaths. If there is inaccuracy (due either to careless accounting or deliberate falsification) then the Minister of Health ought to resign as confidence in his competence would have been worsened by false information.