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Signs don't look good for the PP
I would like the People’s Partnership Government to get more than one term but this is highly unlikely as the signs are that it will either disintegrate within three years or lose the next general election if it remains intact. Accordingly, for what it is worth, I have decided with some reservation to add my little two cents as follows: n The PP must understand that it would have won the May 24, 2010, general election without the PR bells and whistles. From the outset, I knew that it would win and may have even done better had its leaders understood where they stood in terms of public opinion. However, the communication approach that helped them win the election is completely different from what they need to stay in power. They rely too heavily on the mass media. They continue to take people out of the media where they would be more helpful and make them part of the management of government institutions. At the same time, each minister wants to have his/her own PR and this is not co-ordinated. There is not enough face-to-face communication.
The media help set the political agenda but do not change deeply-rooted beliefs and attitudes. Even in an election situation, a handshake is worth more than a billboard.
• People judge a government by its actions and not its communication. The actions of this Government sometimes seem helter-skelter and contradictory. One of the lessons in life is that you cannot please everyone.
• There is information overload and overkill, too many voices competing with one another in the same marketplace of public opinion. Even worse, one of the research findings on public opinion is that when people don’t hear what they want to hear from official sources, they gravitate to who will tell them what they want to hear. Already, people are going back to the PNM or leaving what they believe is the “bacchanal” that is the PP.
• The best message is one that is reinforced in all the media at the same time. Dissonance creates uncertainty and right now there is too much dissonance in the public’s mind.
• Even the Prime Minister (Kamla Persad-Bissessar) will find that she and her ministers are talking too much, too many speeches. Unless the information is new, don’t talk. The worse thing is for people to ask, “Why are you telling me all this?” Or, “How many times they say the same thing?”
• The maverick ministers seem to be competing with each other (it reminds me of the days of Eric Williams)—what I call the “Indian wedding” syndrome. Long ago, when the wedding procession took off from the house, every car competed to get behind the wedding car and there were a lot of accidents along the way. This seems to be the case right now and it will get worse.
• The Government does not seem to have a definite course of action or plan to which it is committed. Communication cannot take place in a vacuum without an action plan to support same, otherwise communication will be about personalities and not about policies.
• The people who benefit from any government intervention (bridge, house, road, whatever) are the people who should be featured and not just the ministers. Let them say how good the Government is. When you beat your own chest and become over-exposed, people turn off because you have turned them off.
• Communication should be used as a means of changing the environment to get something you want or value. There are only two ways of getting what you want through communication. One is by compliance and you cannot get compliance from your own kids anymore. The other is by negotiation. However, that requires looking at the big picture, knowing what you want and knowing, more than anything else, what the other person wants. If communication is not “win-win,” if one of the parties feel they have been screwed in the negotiations, they’re going to get you somewhere down the road.
• There is a point at which you have to stop blaming your predecessor and that has just about expired with this Government. The way I see it, the PM looks like she will soon have to reshuffle her Cabinet. It is clear that based on his handling thus far of the Clico Bailout, the Public Service negotiations and the outstanding monies owed to contractors, her Minister of Finance (Winston Dookeran) is already (from both the internal and external perspective) a failure. Several other ministers are almost as bad. In fact, the naked ambitions of some of them are scaring the population.
• Clearly, the honeymoon is over but fortunately the bride is still beautiful in the eyes of many citizens, but the bloom is fading fast. The biggest danger now is that many of the core supporters of the UNC, COP and the other parties that form the PP are beginning to feel marginalised. The fact is that unless some kind of stocktaking is done and a plan emerges, the PP is doomed to at most five years but right now it looks like three before it splinters and, like Humpty Dumpty, cannot be put together again. The one final problem, and it is the one that I believe will destroy the PP’s and the PM’s popularity, is the PM herself. One recalls the ATM and aid with strings errors. Then there were her public utterances to the Clico policyholders that they could “take it or leave it” and that the “Government is giving them a hand-out.” Fortunately, to her credit, she did some quick damage control by setting up the Bharath-led inter-ministerial committee so the fallout was temporarily contained.
However, the explanations and apologies don’t always help. She therefore needs to understand before it’s too late that you can’t unring a bell, perception is reality, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and the buck stops with the Prime Minister.
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