Minister for Energy January Makamba has ordered the disbanding of the Tanzania Electric Supply Company’s (Tanesco) public relations unit for “failure to properly engage the public” on various matters, specifically, power cuts.
Mr Makamba, an eloquent and media-savvy politician, complained that it was wrong to expect him, the minister, to perform the functions of the spokesperson of Tanesco.
It was telling that Mr Makamba had to give the order in a very public manner, when inspecting an electricity installment in Njiro, a suburb of Arusha city, on January 27. If the public relations unit, also known as the communication unit, was inept the issue could have been dealt with internally, far away from TV cameras.
It is known that Tanesco has serious, decades-long public relations issues. The public generally views the power utility negatively. The company’s past corporate plans have mentioned this and suggested the way forward.
Unfavourable corporate image
Of late, a Swot analysis contained in Tanesco’s Corporate Business Plan (2016/17) identified an unfavourable corporate image to the public as a weakness.
To deal with the weakness, the plan suggested that the management should conduct staff training; put clear and measurable KPI’s (key performance indicators); provide adequate resources; and conduct independent annual consumer satisfaction surveys.
Whether this was done satisfactorily it remains to be seen. And even as it is not fair to let the burden of speaking for Tanesco fall on the Minister for Energy, disbanding the unit responsible for speaking for Tanesco seems somehow extreme and defeats the purpose.
For it is nay impossible for the communications team to communicate adequately with the public over Tanesco’s sporadic power cuts and at the same time rescue Tanesco’s negative public image.
The power utility’s supply and distribution issues seem to be beyond repair. Is it a secret that most of Tanesco’s power cuts are not scheduled?
For example, whenever it rains the power is cut because the lines can’t handle the rain. Sometimes it takes 15 minutes from the assembling of the clouds to the actual rain.
No public relations experts, from anywhere in the world, can keep up with such kinds of erratic power cuts, taking into account the fact that the weather is highly unpredictable.
It is understandable that the minister’s decision could have been prompted by apparent incompetency by the team. But if there is anything for Mr Makamba to consider it is that the management structure of government corporations is also mainly to blame for public relations failures.
The attitude of senior officials towards their public relations colleagues (some of them former journalists) is most often unhealthy.
Sometimes what is regarded as “incompetence” is a result of the complete lack of cooperation from the top management. As a result, the unit remains redundant, apart from the occasional roles of drafting press releases or arranging press conferences.
Thus personnel in the communication teams are sometimes relegated to the roles of assistants, doing menial jobs or running errands. In many instances, the management does not allocate adequate budgets to the communication units to implement communication strategies.
Since communication units were established a couple of years ago in government ministries, agencies and departments individuals in communication teams have had to struggle for recognition and respect.
The failure to understand the importance of public relations by many of these entities has been one of the biggest reasons why the government uses more time and energy than necessary to explain its past achievements during election campaigns to the point of sounding defensive.
Most of the good information that could very well be made public remains beyond the reach of the communication team. Journalists could attest to the fact that it is a waste of time to call government public relations employees when they seek information.
They always do not have sufficient information. Their services are mainly needed during emergencies when they are expected to perform ‘fire-fighting’ duties.
It should be understood that the failure of any organization to communicate with the public is the main responsibility of the person in charge of the organization; whether it is the CEO, the managing director or the director-general in organizations, public or private.
Maintaining a good public image of the company is a managerial function. It is not solely the responsibility of the public relations team. The CEO who wants his organization to communicate effectively with the public will do everything possible to enable and facilitate the public relations team.
This should not only end up with providing an adequate budget to the communication team for the implementation of the communication strategy and outreach programmes.
It should also include making the communication team a fully-fledged department and the communication manager a part of the management committee, enjoying full rights, privileges and responsibilities as other management committee members.
Here the communication manager will not only be in a position to know whatever goes on in the organization, to help him formulate the right messages to the public. He or she will also be able to advise the management committee on communication and public relations issues.
That way the input of the communication team could easily be integrated into all projects and strategies of the company right from the beginning. The most important of all these strategies would be how to respond to emergencies.
This is because the crisis communication strategy is one of the most important strategies for any company, especially the power utility, and for it to be as viable and workable the CEO must have a tight close working relationship with the communication team.
Damas Kanyabwoya is a veteran journalist and a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam. He’s available at email@example.com. These are the writer’s own opinions and it does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.