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Government very badly needs a PR machine to highlight the positives

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 24 February 2017 00:00

01When the BJP was getting a lot of bad press all over the world and particularly in the US, to counter the bad press, Lal Krishna Advani, then BJP President, decided to launch an overseas wing to educate American lawmakers, the American people and the Indian American community about the true principles of the BJP. Within a few months BJP developed a group of professionals as vocal advocates for the party’s interests across the globe. 

Good propaganda can serve to rally people behind a cause, but should not be at the cost of exaggerating, misrepresenting, or even lying about the issues in order to gain that support. So far the people’s mandate for political revival and equitable economic growth, good progress has been made in achieving international recognition and freedom of speech/thought. 

The Government has certainly created a suitable environment for people to speak and act freely. The Government has done very poorly, however, to remind the people as to what they have achieved in the last 24 months. However, the absence of consistent statements have affected the economic wellbeing of the people and very few in the Government seem to be doing anything to iron out those inconsistencies. As a result FDI and business confidence is slipping. The Government has the capacity to change this situation very quickly, by simply being more engaged with the public.

Current situation 

Therefore, as a result of poor communication, PR and too many spokespersons in the Government contradicting each other in the 02public domain, the public opinion the Government has created is that the Government is disjointed, divided on policy interventions, cannot execute their plans and the economy is badly performing. If some of these arguments are true, then they must be thrashed out in the public domain by the Government. 

Bandula Gunewardena says the rupee to the USD is now Rs. 151, when they left it was Rs. 131, interest rates for risk free deposits are in double digits and inflation is creeping up. We all know there has been a huge credit expansion, businesses generally borrow to expand. On the other hand, if the economy is so badly off as critics say, how come the private sector banks are reporting billions of profits, the two State banks are set to outshine their private sector peers and they have all seen huge credit growth?

Banks are the most important financial intermediary in the economy as they connect surplus and deficit economic agents and significantly contribute to the development of an economy through facilitation of business.

In January 2015, many expected the rainbow revolution of Sirisena and Ranil to revive the stock market. Yet, to the despair of many, the market failed to deliver as expected. Nearly 25 months have passed and the market momentum continues to be weak. It is often argued the stock market is the barometer for performance (past and future) of the corporate sector. There are over 100,000 companies in Sri Lanka, of which 275 or so are listed on our exchanges. 

The Prime Minister on various occasions has endorsed the importance of increasing stock market penetration among the middle class and rural sector. The Government undoubtedly wants to boost market operations. However the Government messages that get communicated by various spokespeople about tax policies, regulations and economic policies hinder the growth of the market.

The stock market has declined by over 5% for the current year. Therefore those responsible for managing the markets must look to adopting consistent business friendly policies to prevent the stock market falling down the precipice. Sentiment is key for market revival.

Right people

A popular web page recently said in an article, “The Rajapaksas were smart, they appointed people who were loyal to them and to the party. They would do anything to protect the Rajapaksa Government and these people would publicly at every forum defended the Government. That is why the Government held on for 10 years. Ironically the UNP has no one other than a handful.”

This is largely true, because some of the people appointed have no clue as what the vision of the Government even is or for that matter what is expected of them. While you need to appoint competent people to key positions, it is equally important to appoint people who have bought into the vision of the Government to implement and defend the Government’s vision. 

Government at least now should take stock of their people in key positions and make the changes that are desperately required to drive home their national agenda. People working contrary to the Government’s national agenda must be moved out and replaced with fully engaged people. 

It was Pope Francis who once said in an interview on television: “I look for Cardinals with both competence and passion to hold the key posts in the Vatican.” The Government could certainly take a cue from that when appointing key people to key positions.

The future

The victory of President Maithripala Sirisena at the presidential elections of January 2015 was due to two main reasons. Most of those who switched their allegiance away from the former Government did so on account of their rampant corruption and their getting away with whatever wrong they did.

The ability of the former Government leaders to champion the cause of Sinhalese nationalism was also high and remains so. It brought them electoral victory after victory. But at the presidential election, the issue of corruption and the fearlessness to break the law knowing no consequence would follow, trumped that of nationalism for a sufficient number of voters to give President Sirisena a narrow victory, largely due to the efforts of the public, who tirelessly changed the opinion of the public.

Unfortunately, today there is a sense of disillusionment with the Government despite there being progress in delivering freedom from fear and the space to protest and also the change of attitude of the international community for the better. However, the battle against corruption appears to be losing ground. Therefore those guilty must be weeded out from the system and the Government must focus on winning back the trust of the public by delivering a clear roadmap for the country that can and must be delivered. Key to this is a PR machine that can engage with the public on a regular basis to update them on the progress made and to expose the road blocks. 

The Government has the capacity to do it and they must do it like yesterday if they are to regain the true spirit of their 8 January victory.

(The writer is Thought Leader.)

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