Information sharing: Government now operating in a more democratic environment

Joe Mucheru, CS, Ministry of ICT, Kenya [photo courtesy]
The Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) has commissioned a Task Force to study the status of Government communication function. The Task Force is expected to make recommendations on how to revamp and strengthen the institutional and operational foundations of information and Public Communications in Government.

The Task Force couldn’t have been commissioned at a more opportune time. The Government is now operating in a more democratic and open political environment than it did 20 years ago. It now operates under a constitutional order that states every citizen has the right of access to information held by the State; and that the State shall publish and publicise any important information affecting the nation.

In effect, this means the Government should continuously explain to the public the goals, decisions, actions and activities it undertakes. It should also give the reasoning behind the goals, decisions, actions and activities in a timely manner.

Communicating with the public implies a disposition to also listen to the public. It implies the Government should get feedback on the feelings, opinions and thoughts of the people regarding what it thinks about the goals, decisions, actions and activities.

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Chapter 10 of the Constitution demands that, so does good public administration. The Government would wish to know whether what it is doing and how it is doing it is not only understood, but approved or supported by the people. And if not approved, why?

State departments

Government should have established robust structures by which it communicates and interacts with the public or citizens by dint of Chapter 10 and 35 of the Constitution. It doesn’t have.

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It is known to all who interact with government that nearly all ministries have one communication official. Some of the state departments have no such personnel. The Ministry of ICT has about one communication professional at the county headquarters, serving all the Sub-counties within the county as some sub-counties don’t have anybody deployed there.

Government can best interact with its citizens when it has a strong organ facilitating its communication function. The government is the largest source of legitimate information concerning nearly everything affecting the citizens. One person in a ministry or a county cannot effectively feed the citizens with information.

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Government is also the only authority that has the authentic mandate of the people to address the inconveniences they face. It must have officers dedicated to creating links between government and the people by generating or packaging information that the people require to have an informed opinion on public affairs management. Governments hold millions of data. When a particular set of data generates public interest, communication professionals should process the information about the data and share it with the public.

Outsider perspective

Public Relations personnel work best when they are part of the policy making process. Decision making process is nothing but defining and solving problems. The presence or participation of the communication professionals in the decision making process creates room for the management to get “an outsider perspective” to the issue, risk and problem—which perspective the management cannot have if the person tasked with feeding the public with information does not sit in strategic meetings of a Ministry or a Department.

The Kenya School of Government should also provide opportunities for all Cabinet Secretaries and Principal Secretaries with a workshop to help them appreciate the role they play as the paramount information and public communication officials of their respective Ministries and State Departments.

As policy makers they are the most legitimate news sources; they have capacity to influence public opinion through mass media. They can do this well if they have the capacity to express themselves eloquently, with clarity and without ambiguity at the right time and in the right place.

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Those who appreciate the cardinal communication principles of clarity, simplicity and perspicuity attract the attention of journalists and have their news covered at all times. With this, they gain public understanding, empathy and support for the policies, programmes and initiatives they push—on behalf of government.

This is not enough. The policy makers should also have competent Public Relations officers who, apart from preparing Press Releases, also collect and collate what the public thinks about the policies, programmes and initiatives of government. The feedback collected gives an idea about the impact of the policies and programs on the lives of the people and also takes corrective measures to a policy measure or correct the impression by the public about the policy measure if it is founded on distorted information.

We look forward to the recommendation from the Task Force with bated breath.

Mr Musanga is a Communications and Literary topics commentator. [email protected] 

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Joe MucheruMinistry of InformationCommunication and Technology