TALKING POINTS (Thom Khanje) –The other day when Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe presented to Parliament a preliminary audit report on the so called K92 billion fraud under the first DPP regime, public anger swelled when it was revealed that it was actually K577 billion which was unaccounted for.
Social media and public places were awash with talk against the government. Demonstrations were being planned and the opposition parties had sharpened their knives to skin the government alive over this.
Many people joined calls baying for the DPP government’s blood.
It took two newspaper articles, the first a front page in The Daily Times and another an inside article but with a powerful graph in The Nation which showed that actually, most of the unaccounted for monies went missing in 2013 while Joyce Banda’s Peoples Party was in power.
It was the newspaper articles that changed the twist of the story. The opposition parties and critic of the government were muted. I told somebody that the DPP government was saved from the jaws of complete collapse by the newspapers. Otherwise, the story could probably have been different by now.
This incident demonstrated how poor the DPP regime is when it comes to communications, information and public relations management.
Considering that the government had this report several weeks before it was presented in Parliament, why did they fail to pick the aspect which was brought out by The Daily Times and The Nation and use it to their advantage?
And why was the government refusing to release such a report which was somehow in its favour considering what many people were expecting from it?
It’s even doubtful anybody in government actually read this report before it became public because if they did, they should have been able to analyse and see only seen by newspaper reporters later.
This is just one example of how this government is suffering because of its inability to effectively communicate with the people.
So bad is the situation that even people in Thyolo and Phalombe, which are supposed to be strongholds of the DPP, have started showing signs of frustration as they are probably not sure about what is happening in the country.
The Malawi Savings Bank (MSB) saga is another classic example of how the government is looking bad for doing something good as a result of poor communication to the public.
The sale of MSB is something that had support from experts, professional groupings and even development partners such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Even the courts ruled in favour of the government when some employees of MSB tried to challenge it legally.
But the government has completely failed to sale the idea to the people and convince the majority that the move is actually good for the country. The government now looks bad in the eyes of many people in the country because the opposition has used the same to make the move look suspicious and questionable while gaining mileage for themselves.
There are challenges in this country but there are also several positive things taking place which many people cannot appreciate at the moment because nobody is talking about them.
Instead, what the people are hearing about are the negatives which the opposition parties and critics of the government are successfully spreading to the people through effective communication and use of the media.
It’s probably high time the president takes a critical look at how his government communicates with the people and see whether there are ways of improving things.
While the president wants to be different from Joyce Banda by not travelling around the country holding rallies every day, it’s probably also important for him to once in a while travel to the districts and communicate directly with the people about what is government is doing. Not many would fault the president if he were to hold one or two public rallies every month around the country.
Doing something good is one thing and effectively communicating the same to the people is something else altogether. You can do all the good things in the world but if no one sees that, it’s as good as not doing it at all.
This is even more important in politics where not everyone is happy when you do good things and register achievements. This is where “beating one’s own drum” is a must. Unless you talk about your achievements, nobody will.
Strategic and systematic public communications, and not just State House press releases, are part and parcel of national governance. And unless this government learned to take that seriously, uncertainty will continue to be the order of the day as critics will use the same to create instability and make people feel insecure. #ThumbsDown to the government.