By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Folks, in one of my opinion pieces welcoming President Mahama to office as the substantive President of Ghana at the end of Election 2012, I made it clear that he could help our democracy grow better if he used his communication skills to advantage. In that sense, I suggested that he should adopt a weekly radio address approach to make his administration more proactive and relevant to the people in terms of public policy and government’s handling of affairs.
I based my arguments on the fact that a President who knew how to use “communication” to share information with the public stood a good chance of remaining connected with the people. I said also that in our kind of situation, using the weekly radio address to throw light on the government’s activities could help him deflate political opponents and make his government visible. It would also ensure that questions nagging the citizens would be factored into such weekly radio addresses and answered.
Lo and behold, nothing of the sort has been institutionalized to date, which makes me wonder why President Mahama won’t take advantage of his communication skills to improve government-citizen relations.
Instead, an erratic, knee-jerk approach was adopted, using the sterile “Meet-the-Press” approach, which ended up embarrassing the government instead. That measure ended in smoke.
When a former Deputy Information Minister (Murtala Mohammed) dragged such press encounters to the premises of the Flagstaff House, I condemned him as not knowing how to do the government’s communication business. I haven’t changed my position ever since, more so when that approach fizzled out without doing anything good for the government.
The void couldn’t be filled by the reactive approach by the Minister of Communication or other government functionaries responding to allegations bandied about and seeking to undo the harm done the government by its opponents.
Many significant happenings have occurred to damage the government’s interests, but no comprehensive line of action is in place to improve the communication situation.
Now, it is the turn of President Mahama to face the press and answer questions. This once-in-a-while approach to the communication task won’t solve problems. It won’t register as much as would any other one, especially the weekly radio address, do.
By way of example, let us say that this practice is the norm in the United States, where the President speaks to the people every week to explain his government’s activities or to touch on pertinent issues affecting the interest of the country and its people. It is one laudable move to keep the people informed and to connect with them. Such a move ensures that public discourse remains vibrant. Once the people get to know what is at stake, they will debate it and offer suggestions to improve governance.
I am thrilled by the fact that the opposition also gets the chance to respond to the President’s address, puncturing holes in it whenever possible, and giving the citizens the other side of the coin to see. That is how democracy should work. An informed citizenry will definitely sympathize with the government, even if they are dissatisfied with goings-on. Once they know what is at stake, they will be more inclined toward the government than toeing the line of its detractors bent on damaging it with their empty rhetoric and political mischief.
Again, the White House also holds daily briefings for the press corps to ask searching questions and issues clarified for public benefit. It is not so in Ghana, but could have been so had President Mahama risen above the pack!!.
That was the approach that I wanted him to adopt; but unfortunately, he failed to do so and became comfortable with the status quo ante. Meeting the press occasionally to answer questions won’t redound to his government’s image. There is too much already in the public sphere that his government will find difficult eroding.
Will President Mahama take advantage of his own communication skills to make the difference in this period leading to Election 2016? The weekly radio address can help. Try it, Mr. President!!
I shall return…
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