Presidential Facebook page can promote good governance
Published On February 2, 2014 » 2376 Views» By Administrator Times » Features
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Public relations forumPRESIDENT Michael Sata’s establishment of a Presidential facebook where citizens and other interest groups from all walks of life can interact with him is a brilliant idea that, if well managed, can promote effective two-way communication process between State House and the electorate.

In the process, such a communication system, if well utilised, can lead to good governance and sustainable national development of our country.

It is gratifying that almost two years and some months after the Patriotic Front (PF) government came to power, President Sata has created a forum where his office can interact with the electorate on issues that positively and negatively affect the socio-cultural, economic, political and legal issues of our country.

It is from such a background that one can argue that President Sata has already joined the few gallant world leaders who want to promote openness, dialogue, good governance and sustainable national development of their respective countries.

President Sata will always be remembered for his innovative ideas such as creation of new districts in almost all provinces and the massive infrastructure development projects running throughout the country; especially on improving road network and the newly born idea of re-introduction industrial Development Corporation (IDC).

President Sata has taken another lead in broadening open-door communication policy by allowing about 13 million Zambians to freely communicate with him at any time.

Soon after 2011 tripartite elections where PF became victorious in the stated elections,

Godfrey Simwinga Chitalu and this writer met in town to discuss how best PF government and President Sata could promote interaction between State House and the electorate to promote dialogue and good governance.

One of the tools that was discussed was a special phone-in forum with State House which could be recorded for further presidential scrutiny.

Facebook was one of those tools which we also thought could help the president to share views with various citizens.

Such a forum can enhance effective two-way communication between State House and the people of Zambia; especially on various critical national issues that affect our society.

What is interesting about the creation of Presidential facebook is that President Sata has broadened the news media as a public sphere to include State House where most of the willing people will throw their ideas on this Presidential facebook.

It is such sharing of information and issues between State House and majority citizens that can help President Sata and other national political leaders to adequately and accurately understand what the people of Zambia feel about certain issues for our government to respond favourably to such views; and allocate national resources to community felt needs’ related developmental projects.

This was so in the wake that some people feel that successful presidents in the past weren’t told the truth about what Zambians want; and for what reasons.

Former president Rupiah Banda confessed that he wasn’t properly advised on certain issues that negatively affected citizens while he was republican president.

This led to the downfall of the movement of Multi-party Democracy (MMD) despite putting up a costly aggressive political campaign in 2011 tripartite elections.

To avoid a repeat of such a development; especially on a popularly elected government like PF, Godfrey and this writer felt that such a forum would enhance sound understanding of issues on the ground; and in the process facilitate favourable responses from the government where possible.

But as we were discussing the possibility of State House creating such a forum, a lot of issues cropped in.

Issues that arose in our discussion included how such a forum could enhance good governance.

But it was also realised that such a facility could also be abused both by some citizens and some managers of the same medium of communication.

Abuse of such a forum could include cases like those of which some social media and some online publications who might bring in evil minds to promote their hidden motives; instead of offering constructive suggestions or criticism to President Sata with a view to enhance good governance and sustainable national development.

Instead of using such a forum for constructive dialogue with State House, some people can feel that this is a chance for unnecessary confrontation with State House; and President Sata in particular.

This can be unproductive; and abuse of such a forum.

Such a forum is supposed to promote love between Zambians and their government. This can further promote unity of purpose in sustainable national development processes.

But some managers of such a facilitate can also be subjective or unprofessional.

They can unnecessarily sieve certain information that can be perceived to be unnecessary to the President.

Censoring and editing what some citizens communicate with State House is part of what managers of such communication do before such information reaches the president. But such censoring and editing can also disadvantage the president and his leadership in knowing the truth about the situation on the ground.

The creation of such a forum equips President Sata not to fall in the same trap which MMD’s Rupiah Banda fell into just because he wasn’t told the truth about the situation on the ground.

So the issue becomes: ‘How objective, honest, factual and fair would the managers of such a forum be to ensure that what citizens and other interest groups relay to President Sata reaches him in its accurate form to achieve the purpose of such a forum?

Now that such a forum is established one can ask: ‘Which possible citizens would be interacting with State House on such a forum? Could it be opposition political leaders, civil society organisations (CSOs), traditional leaders, ruling party political party cadres, ordinary citizens, the enlightened elite who could be think-tanks of this country or all the above mentioned?

The other issue that comes when one learns of such a fantastic tool in interacting with our republican president is how citizens without access to facebook will participate in such courtesy from our republican president?

Moreover, how will the illiterate participate in such an interaction with our president?

Can some citizens communicate to our president on facebook in a local language in case they are not conversant with English language?

Therefore, President Sata’s facebook does not make other existing means of communication between the president and the electorate redundant; but it just adds to such means of communication to increase effective two-way communication process between our republican president and the electorate.

This means that the other old means of communication between the president and the electorate should still be functional. In fact, the more functional the old means of communicate are; the more effective the presidential facebook will be because certain issues could be cross-checked through other means of communication.

One of the issues that also emerged in our discussion just after 2011 tripartite elections was the capacity of State House to handle such a volume of information from various citizens and interest groups.

This writer remembers Godfrey mentioning some personalities at State House whose jobs include receiving such information and sieving it for the attention of other senior officers and later to the president.

But it was still felt that in such a situation, because of the expected huge volume of diverse and probably conflicting information and the busy schedule of the president, State House would need special officers to peruse, classify, analyse, interpret, accurately and objectively summarise such information from various electorate for President Sata’s attention.

It is from such possible opportunities, abuse or doubting questions and complexity of the whole exercise that one feels that the presidential facebook should be handled professionally and fairly from a good capacity of staff for it to achieve the desired purpose.

Therefore, while the idea is brilliant and welcome, it needs further considerations and development in terms of staffing, approaches and inclusiveness.

This means that our Republican President should further be advised on how best such a tool can be used to achieve the intended purpose.

Similarly, individual and collective citizens and all interest groups such as opposition leaders and their political parties, CSOs, managers of such a forum etc should use such a golden opportunity to enhance love for one another, unity of purpose and good governance for sustainable development of our country.

[The author is a PR Trainer and Consultant.]

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