By Omar Bah
A US-based Gambian criminologist and specialist on law enforcement and national security crisis, has urged the government to take its communication strategy seriously to avoid losing respect, especially, in the international community.
Modou Lamin Faye said this while analysing recent flurry of clarifications and retracting of comments by government officials including President Barrow and Defense Minister Seringe Modou Njie.
Last month, the government had to come up with a statement attempting to clarify comments made by the president on audit’s reports during a Star TV interview.
This week the ministry of defence erroneously accused the media of misquoting the minister during a parliamentary deliberation.
Also, in November 2021, the government erroneously accused Senegalese journalist Pape Ale Niang of falsely reporting allegations against President Barrow and his minister of tourism and threatened that the president intend to take the matter to court. It turned out that Mr Niang never wrote any such article.
Commenting about all these communication blunders, Mr Faye explained: “At a time when trust in the government is at a historic low, and a myriad of challenges continue to overwhelm the country, it is imperative for government agencies and ministries to revamp their strategic communications approach.”
He said the government’s level of inconsistency and lack of direction is worrying and needs to be addressed urgently.
“How can a president or minister say something today and another thing tomorrow? You cannot operate like this and expect that your citizens or international partners will take you seriously. Whatever communication it is, citizens expect honest and useful communications from their government,” Faye said.
He said governments often succeed or fail because of the way they communicate their policy objectives with the wider citizenry.
“When it comes to communicating policy objectives, governments should prioritise and only communicate when it is necessary and genuine. Consistency is prudent. No serious government will make backtracking on its statements a norm. That is unacceptable,” he said.
Barrow’s audit comments
Faye observed that in that Star FM interview the president could just say that audit reports are opinion based and stop there. “That would be correct. But saying they are mere opinions and that auditors could be biased, is misguided. He could have avoided that line.
However, the president is right that audit reports are formal opinions that sheds light on financial statements of a department, organisation, or company and can be used as a starting point for an investigation. The auditors will make their findings and pass that information to inhouse investigators, who would then open an investigation. The investigators would conduct a thorough investigation (which could take months or years) and gather digital/physical evidence to find whoever is responsible. If the evidence gathered leads to someone or a group of people misusing/abusing public or company funds, then it will be forwarded to the prosecution’s office for actions,” Faye said.
The prosecutor, he added, would then decide if there were enough evidence to take the case to trial and if there is sufficient evidence that he/she could prove the case in court beyond a reasonable doubt, the case will be forwarded to court, and the defendant (s) will be given a chance to defend themselves.
“It is as simple as that. But what this government need is a good communication strategy. And again, I don’t understand why people, especially the auditors themselves, who are supposed to be educating the public about their job description by the way, are making this a big deal and creating unwarranted controversy when it is true that their report is a formal opinion. We need to stop rushing and mixing investigations with personal feelings or politics.,” he concluded.