By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
In every country, there exists an avenue like that, staffed by level-headed professionals—be they political scientists, information and communication experts, or seasoned writers (could be practising or retired journalists) who know the value of communication and government-public interactions.
The President has his own Press Secretary who does all the press work. We are even not talking about speech writers. They work behind-the-scene and are recognized as such.
Now, let’s consider the status of the Press Secretary. Almost all the leaders of Ghana, except the late Atta Mills and the incumbent John Mahama, had Press Secretaries. Even Jerry Rawlings had Press Secretaries who were available to manage information for the sake of the Executive.
I remember very well in those days when I was at the Osu Castle on a number of occasions to cover events for the Ghana News Agency (whenever Divine Koblah, the resident Castle Correspondent, or Bright Blewu, who occasionally took over, were out). Indeed, Elvis Aryeh, who was Rawlings’ Press Secretary, would do all he could to facilitate the work of the Castle Press Corps—and there was a strong bond which encouraged information gathering and dissemination.
Of course, Kwasi Opoku Acheampong (writer of the Daily Graphic’s column, “Shoes are Repairing Here”) had been the Press Secretary too, but I didn’t get to work with him.
The communication of official information from the Presidency was done by the Ministry of Information in a well-coordinated manner as to leave no one in doubt on what Rawlings’ government was all about. Frequent changes were made in that portfolio but there was no confusion regarding the management of information for the government’s sake.
Even under the late General Acheampong, the Ministry of Information did its work by ramming the objectionable “Union Government” idea down the throats of Ghanaians. There was no confusion in the management of information for the government’s sake.
Ex-President Kufuor retained the position of Press Secretary, which ensured that information dissemination from the Presidency went on unimpeded. There was much consistency in what went on.
That was the situation until ex-President Mills took over and re-designated the information management apparatus as “Communications Directorate at the Presidency”, putting into office Koku Anyidoho, who would quickly turn himself into a potentate and reduce communications work to a wordy warfare with political opponents. Not only that. He turned the dagger on his own government’s functionaries and NDC functionaries too, making the communication work of government a bizarre adventure in authorized hooliganism.
Take, for instance, how that bulldozing changed the fate of Mahama Ayariga (who had been ex-President Mills’s spokesman on the campaign trail and all the way to the seat of government). The turf war between Anyidoho and him led to the latter’s re-posting to allow Anyidoho the large territory of influence that he needed to operate like the hippopotamus that he had turned himself into, goring anybody he suspected of “growing wings” to threaten his status.
Information management became a bull-fight in which the “babies with sharp teeth” (thanks to Rawlings’ qualification of them) took vantage points on the terrain to tear apart anybody in sight in the mistaken belief that by so doing, they would be promoting the government’s interests. They failed woefully. Information management to “sell” a government isn’t done that way.
Come the turn of President Mahama and rapid changes were made to the Communications Directorate, retaining the shell and filling it with new wine. Nothing positive has happened to change the dynamics. The government’s communication team is in disarray, each member speaking with forked tongues—saying one thing and contradicting it in one breath or creating room for other members of the team to reduce everything to absurdity. It’s all a comical scenario of flip-flop, flim-flammery. Plop!!
In effect, lack of coordination of efforts and inexperience have combined to detract from anything coming from the government’s communication team. Everything has now ground to a screeching halt and nothing seems to be working well. The impression is that the government is confused.
Certainly, there is the mad rush by the various functionaries at the Communications Directorate of the Presidency and their counterparts at the Ministry of Information and Media Relations to outdo each other in information mismanagement. It’s ridiculous that the government should shackle itself with these two parallel institutions and create conditions for needless contradictions.
Now, the major problem is the calibre of people entrusted with such responsibilities. Obviously, they don’t have the requisite professional qualification or academic grounding in communication studies or public relations. They are where they are because of the “job-for-the-boys” syndrome that our weak democracy has engendered. It’s all about politically motivated appointments so that somebody can make ends meet or campaign vigorously for the benefit of the party, not the country!!
Otherwise, what on earth will justify the appointment of non-communication experts like Mahama Ayariga and Murtala Mohammed to the Ministry of Information and Media Relations? Or all those so-called Presidential Staffers at in the Communications Directorate at the Presidency?
Clearly, the President needs to stand firm to use his own credentials as a communications expert to build a strong team to do his press work. Of course, he will need to rely on those who can use diplomacy, not sharp tongues and misplaced youthful exuberance.
I urge President Mahama to use the services of experienced people who can re-shape his communications directorate and imbue it with the finesse that it needs to serve his government’s purposes. Tact, diplomacy, and diligence matter most.
A namby-pamby communications directorate filled with staff who configure themselves as “pit-bulls” will not work in the interest of the government. Sadly enough, that has been the situation to date!
I hope that the appointment of Mr. Malor will lead to a complete rebuilding of the existing structure at the Presidency so communication management can be improved for the government’s good and, ultimately, to help improve governance for our country’s good.
It is not as if getting an efficient communication team is all the President needs to retain public goodwill or to claw back lost confidence in his ability to tackle the challenges drawing back the country’s growth and development. The government itself has the bounden duty to perform well so it will not waste its time and resources beefing up a communication team to sell it.
By the time the dust settles, the good thing should have sold itself to warrant its mandate being renewed at Election 2016. The evidence of its performance is all it needs, not official horn-blowers to tire themselves with their cacophonous renditions that will only irritate the people all the more!
Communicating information on government business is useful only if it supports the evidence that will persuade the people of what the government has used their mandate to accomplish.
I shall return…