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As I opened my creaky kitchen door last night, I could hear her voice blasting from our old TV. I hugged nani and moved closer to the wall-divider. I don’t usually watch the news these days but I couldn’t help it. There was a flash of her face on screen and she continued to speak about grand and petty corruption in Guyana. If the TV wasn’t duct-taped to the wall-divider it would have crashed to the floor in disbelief. What the f**k was Minister of Public Telecommunications Cathy Hughes trying to communicate?
I wish I could tell you that I listened in disbelief as she committed a massive public communication mistake. But sadly, with only a few exceptions, not very many of our public officials excel at effective, meaningful and strategic communication. It’s very easy to learn the mechanics of speaking well publicly but it’s difficult to inspire positive change with a well delivered speech. To inspire change, a speaker must be well grounded in both their individual and collective purpose and have a very clear vision of where they’re headed.
The Coalition government has taken some hits for corruption and in recent months, questions have been raised about a Ministry of the Presidency contract awarded to a private video production company with which Minister Hughes is closely linked. Allegations of corruption are an occupational hazard for public officials. Any response to such accusations should be framed in a manner which does not appear to defy the principles of the Code of Conduct for public officials. Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson has successfully done this.
In her communication, which responded generally to allegations of corruption against Government, Minister Hughes said we forget that corruption is a culture in Guyana and that it exists not just in government but across our society. She continued to deliver remarks which came across as if she’s attacking the “small man”, accusing him. When the message is framed is this way, it allows room for the listener to infer that the public shouldn’t point fingers at government when they too are guilty of corruption.
If I were Minister Hughes, I would have made the key message about government’s commitment to work on corruption (something she seems to mention only in passing). What has or is government doing to address corruption in Guyana? Is it part of a bigger plan? What is this plan? How far have we progressed with taking the necessary actions to shift this culture of corruption we so easily reference? These are important answers to provide, as honestly as she is able to as a public official.
Guyanese have not forgotten. We know that corruption is a big issue and we are worried about it now that our country is an oil producer. We are not stupid. We know that grand corruption creates the sort of political, economic and other conditions that breed petty corruption. I advise the next public official who speaks about corruption to keep these things in mind.
To even remotely suggest that corruption at the level of Government can be compared to corruption at the level of a policeman taking a bribe is foolish. Let’s examine the police bribery situation a little closer. Why does the police man feel the need to take a bribe? Would a well compensated police force reduce the cases of bribe taking? What drives this behaviour? So you see, it’s not as simple as it may appear.
Featured Image: Corruption Watch
This article contains the personal views of the author and is in no way connected with any institution or group with which she may be affiliated.
A note from the Author:
Given the custom by party loyalists to misrepresent and misuse any type of political commentary to support their own positions, I feel that it is necessary to borrow the following from Thomas Paine (an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary) with whose work I became acquainted as a student of History at the University of Guyana:
Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the Doctrine itself, not the Woman. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That she is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and principle.
Craig Village, East Bank Demerara, May 18, 2019
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