Should Officials In The Executive Branch Be Critical Of That Branch? An Analysis From A Communication Perspective
By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
Since Mr. Chris Neyor, former president of the National oil company of Liberia (NOCAL) released what is referred to as “OPEN LETTER” to President Sirleaf in which he raised several issues against the President and some members of the First Family, there have been arguments in some quarters over the publication of the letter at this time. Some are in support of the timeliness of his letter, while others are against the timeliness of the letter.
For those in favor are arguing that this is the right time since Mr. Neyor is no longer in the government because by doing so while in government, he could have been reprimanded for such act in trying to bite the finger that fed him.
They pointed out that unlike the other two branches of government- The Judiciary and Legislative- the Executive is headed by only one person,(the President) and as such, the risks of removal, dismissal and replacement is one by that person who needs not to consult anyone.
As for the judiciary, the argument is that although there is a head (The Chief Justice), that head must get the approval or consensus of others; likewise, the Legislative Branch with 30 Senators and 93 members of the House of Representatives who must agree before actions are taken. A critical issue of this branch is that each chamber (Senate and House), has its own leadership, except for ceremony when the Speaker of the House presides.
Given this leadership structure in those branches, decision making is difficult, as compared to the Executive with only one person who has been constitutionally given the carte blanche to run that branch of government. The person, as head of that branch, without compulsion, may decide to consult or not to consult. This is discretionary.
Furthermore, they said that the presidency (not necessarily President Sirleaf) is like the octopus with many tentacles and may get involved in acts to frustrate such individual in whatever the person decides to do in the private sector.
Conversely, for those against the timeliness, they say that Mr. Neyor, who once served as Energy Advisor to the President and later head of NOCAL, being a qualified and competent person in his field of specialization, he should have done that while serving in the government to show his level of nationalism and that this would have also shown his love for the people of this country.
They contended that he could not have benefitted at that time and now come out to say those things, to project himself as ,”Mr. Clean.” As such they said he has no moral ground to speak out now, as he has done a disservice to the nation that is striving for accountability, financial probity, transparency, as well as equitable distribution of the resources of the country for the benefit of all.
Indeed, these kinds of arguments and interactions are necessary in upholding democratic tenets, instead of resorting to any violent act or any acts detrimental to moving the country forward.
Whatever the situation, I share the concerns of the two opposing groups, giving our political culture over the years. Those giving their views on this subject matter are doing so because of experience in the past, where to be critical of the Executive Branch in which one works, was a taboo or an abomination.
While I respect those groups for their views, I feel that what matters in this kind of situation of pointing out some ills or wrongs in the Executive is the way and manner in which one goes about in communicating it. That is, it relates to the aspect of communication. As it is said, “not what one says, but how one says it, that matters.”
In the field of communication, there is some aspect referred to as “paralanguage” which relates to how someone verbally says something. It has to do with the person’s tone. Also, the “choice of words” counts in communication. Likewise, “euphemism” is also necessary in dealing with certain issues because the words used could exacerbate the situation or lessen it.
“Euphemism,’ which is important in communication, whether it is verbal or nonverbal, is all about the “substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggests something unpleasant.” This is one of the problems I noticed in communication on such matter in our society. One does not have to be offensive, derogatory, or even insulting in being critical. But again, in the Liberian society, if one does not portray such indisciplined posture, one is not seen as “dealing” with the person.
Howbeit, I feel officials of government can pinpoint out the wrongs and ills, but with caution on how it is done. I believe the intent of such persons is not to make the government of which he or she is a part to “look bad,” but as a way to correct some mishaps or problems. And so in such a situation if this offends the leader and the leader decides to take action against the official, the public would always be the judge.
At the same time, the leader should also be prepared to accept these views being expressed in good faith, rather than seeing the masses being ‘anti’ to such person. If a leader encourages this, it would not be like in the case of an Emperor who was naked, but all of his subjects were afraid to tell him that he was naked, until he was disgraced in public, only because the leader was ingrained and saturated with intolerance.
Once more, I feel that people in the government, especially the Executive Branch can pinpoint ills and wrongs, but only by using the appropriate communication means to get such piece of communication out. It means we must make this part of our governance’s “Organizational Culture.
Organization Culture in public relations refers to the character of an organization, “its history, its approach to decision making, its way of treating employees, and its way of dealing with the word outside.” Another definition describes organizational culture as “the sum total of shared values, symbols, meanings, beliefs, assumptions, and expectations that organize and integrate a group of people who work together.”
Again, critical views should be encouraged to be able to correct some of the problems that have the propensity to retard progress.
Until our leaders realize that it is advisable or prudent for those in the Executive Branch to be constructively critical on the ills, mishaps and wrongs and that this should be part of the organizational culture of that branch, I REST MY CASE.
NB: Atty Wesseh is a part time teacher in the Mass Communication Department of the United Methodist University. He is also a lecturer of Effective Communication at the Liberia Institute for Public Administration (LIPA).