So Communication Is Still A Problem In Government? The Case Of The Reopening Of Schools

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Many times in some of my articles on the governance system of the country, I maintain that the issue of coordination in terms of communication by the government remains a major problem, as the lack of coordinated communication to create a situation of misinformation to the population, thereby putting them in a state of confusion on some of the decisions or actions taken by their leaders because of conflicting poorly coordinated information on a particular issue to the people.

The situation within the government can be likened to the anecdote of what one expects with ‘many cooks spoil the broth’ in the kitchen. Sometimes, it is simply phrased as, “too many cooks spoil the food”, meaning that because very individual cooks do everything individually, instead of preparing the meal collectively, the prepared food would not produce the desired result or piquancy, as expected.

In the case of communication to the people by their leaders, if care is not taken in how the leaders go about communication or the way and manner in which the leaders communicate with the people, then, communicasti9on has not then taken place. Communication is such that even the words or phraseology employed, if it is not done properly, then, communication has not taken place because the receiovber0 for whom a piece of communication is intended, if they do not really understand that piece of communication, then, communication has not taken place.

Today I am raising the issue of poor or uncoordinated communication by the government which should function as a unit on information coming from the very government on the actual date for the reopening of schools. It is a known fact that because of the outbreak of the Ebola virus in the country, led to the closure of schools. However, as gains were observed in the fight against the virus, the government announced that normal academic activities would begin the first week this month. But because of numerous appeals and in the wake of appeal from the Legislature, which opted for March 2, the government re-adjusted the initial reopening date to February 2.

Interestingly, few days to the re-opening date, as previously stated by the government, it was announced yesterday on the national radio- the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS) that the Education Ministry has now announced that schools would not reopen on March 2, and not February 16, as was announced. In keeping with the News Judgment, the newsroom of LBS was ethically right for making this a part of its major headlines yesterday morning, in that, it has a greater news value because the issue of the reopening of school has been something of public interest controversy. There is no gainsaying that the reopening of schools is a matter of public concern and so whenever there is any information on this matter parents and guardians are interested.

Sadly to note, minutes after a sense of relief, I received a call from the Ministry of Education, contrary to the LBS news cast that the February 16 date, which is next Monday for the reopening of school, as previously announced still stands and that we ignore the LBS news cast. As I speak to you now, there is an announcement on this matter in your box, “the official of the Education Ministry said. Surely to say, had this been on a different radio, then, there would have been reason to say this is not true. But to come from the government or state-owned radio, it gives it a strong level of believability that no one wants to doubt it, as it would be said that it came from the government radio.”

In the first announcement on the issue yesterday, the Education Ministry said, “The public is hereby informed that due to numerous appeals from school administrators, parents and other stakeholders, the commencement of classes have now been scheduled for Monday, March 2, 2015. Meanwhile, school authorities are urged to complete all outstanding orientation activities for teachers and students including Refresher and Ebola Training workshops. All schools are urged to honor the liberal school uniform policy of the Ministry.”

Later in another announcement on the same matter, the Ministry said, “The Ministry of Education wishes to reiterate that the official date for the commencement of classes for all schools remains February 16, 2015. School authorities are advised to adhere to the Protocols for Safe School Environment.” The first announcement was signed by J. ShannorGoe, Acting Director of Communications and approved by Atty. Ramses T. Kumbuyah, Deputy Minister for Administration and the second announcement was signed by J. MaximeBleetahn, Director of Communications and approved by Atty. Ramses T. Kumbuyah, Deputy Minister for Administration.

For me, it is embarrassing that the government would make an announcement on such a crucial matter and later somersault. Clearly, this indicates that the communication system is saturated or fraught with lack of coordination, thereby sending the wrong signal or information to the public. Such a situation has the propensity to make as a laughingstock or to bring it to public ridicule or disgrace.

Noticeably, this was what took place recently in the matter involving Henry Costa, a media practitioner who was arrested by the government. Initially it was learnt that he and others were arrested for violating the curfew. But later it was gathered from police that he was “wanted” by the joint security in connection with the deportation of a Lebanese fellow, Sam Fawaz. The arrest of this man sparked out reaction with the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), believing that this was a media-related issue, a press release then called on the government to release him and stop harassing journalists.

Again, the PUL’s reaction, along with those of some members of the public was the result of government’s poor communication system. As I said in my article on the issue last Tuesday, the way and manner in which the government handled this situation brought the kind of reaction. Again, as I said, if Costa was wanted by the joint security matter and he refused to submit, there should have been public notice, or notice by publication, as it is normally done, but the way it was done made it fishy.

Once more, the government needs to review its modus operandi on the issue of information dissemination to the public in a way and manner to avoid any misinformation or confusion in the message the government intends to send to the public. On the Ebola issue, the Information Ministry did well by being the major clearing house, as those connected with the fight were invited and provided avenues to interact with the media. But on this issue of Costa the government blundered and only created undue publicity as this made major headlines in major newspapers. Also, on the issue of the reopening of schools, the government again, committed “administrative suicide” and has made itself a laughingstock.

Until this government realizes that communication is crucial to the smooth running of any government, I Rest My case.