20 July 2011
Mr Jimmy Manyi, CEO of GCIS,
Deputy CEOs, Messieurs Phumla Williams, Nebo Legoabe and Mr Vusi Mona,
Members of the Management Committee and staff.
Thank you for inviting me to come share my views with you during your Annual Strategic Planning Session for the 2012 to 2017 period. I am glad to see that GCIS is forward looking and does its work ahead of time. I have also been looking forward to a session where I can interact with yourselves on specific issues and hear your collective view on how to take communication to another level.
As you might all be aware, after my appointment to the Presidency I came to meet with the Management of GCIS to outline my views in general about how GCIS should conduct its business. This was at the broad level and it helped me to understand what GCIS is doing and where it is with its work. Today I will not deal with broad issues but try to deal with specific issues some of which I have been observed.
Firstly, as your leadership might have shared with you, it was not an easy process for Cabinet to adopt the communication strategy which was approved recently. Cabinet and its committees had robust and frank discussions which helped to shape the final product we have today. This I think is a good lesson and an experience we must draw lessons from. I would like you to interrogate this strategy and see how best we can improve communication in government.
Constitutionally, the people of South Africa have a right to information about government and should be able to provide feedback. Access to information is a right, not a privilege, and the responsibility lies with this organisation to help ensure that government fulfils this mandate.
As GCIS, you must be able to ask these questions, are we doing what the Constitution obliges on us? Are the public funds invested in this organisation by Government properly spent and are we making a difference in our people’s lives? In the Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Department, we are expected to drive departments to perform and make sure they turn inputs into outputs which should ultimately lead to outcomes we have set ourselves. The impact of our communication should translate into citizens taking action independently in some cases, while in others it must assist them to make informed decisions. It should encourage our people to want to buy services from Government with confidence and no hesitation.
I am now turning to some of my observations and concerns which are shared both by my colleagues in Cabinet and the ruling party. It is very clear that GCIS is not driving the communication agenda; I know that we have prepared a communication strategy as approved by Cabinet to address this aspect, but results are not yet as forthcoming. Government has decided to focus on five priorities namely Health, Education, job creation, crime and corruption as well as rural development. If you were to approach ordinary South Africans and ask them what these priorities are, will they be able to give them to us and know what efforts and progress we are making in addressing them? I must confess I have my own doubts.
There is a general observation that GCIS is leaving communication only to dedicated communicators, instead of making it part and parcel of what we all should as a joint effort on daily basis. Let me add, communication is a two way process sending and receiving, which includes ensuring that a message has been received the way it was intended. The introduction of the Public Sector Magazine will improve internal communication of Government, but a lot still remains to be done.
We have thousands of public servants who are not fully aware of the strategic direction of Government programmes, so please, let us make it our business that everyone is pulling in the same direction. The agenda of Government is almost non-existent in the public discourse, we rarely hear of public lectures on Government work and yet every day we hear of these lectures critical of Government work and its approaches.
Government stories, both informed and ill-informed, dominate media headlines without Government defending the state. This has made us to be reactive rather than be proactive. My observation is that we are failing to drive communication even where wehave control, for example in Parliament. The Opposition is defining the agenda for us through Parliamentary questions and we are always late to provide strategic responses or to guide the Executive on how to put the right message across. Parliament is a strategic platform and we must find ways to implement what we committed ourselves to do and turn the situation around.
The GCIS committed to Cabinet that it will take this role, but I ask the question, why even after Cabinet approved the strategy, for example, the story of hiring cars by the Executive was covered in a manner in which it was? Could we have done something differently? What is GCIS doing to alert the Executive about trends in questions so that Ministers are not embarrassed about an issue they do not know about?
Are the DGs also sensitised about the Parliamentary questions. And does GCIS have a structure that daily monitor’s Parliamentary questions and motions from the Opposition that would enable Government to react timeously and in a coherent manner? Colleagues, GCIS is expected to provide leadership in communication and coordinate the communication on behalf of Government. The question we should be constantly asking ourselves, as we go about our daily routine, are we fulfilling our mandate and meeting the expectations of both the executive and the public. There is a growing expectation that we must lead from the front, particularly on planned communication to influence the agenda. There is lot of work done by Government and it does not get to be covered or massively communicated to our people.
The GCIS has provincial offices and Thusong Service Centers which are meant to facilitate communication at both provincial and local government levels. However, why for an example, are there so many queries from the Presidential Hotlines which could have been addressed at local level? Are we applying the wrong strategies or dont we understand our target audience? What role our playing to provide communication leadership to municipalities.
In my interaction with GCIS management, I appealed that these offices should play a role in assisting the Presidential Hotline to respond to queries. It would come very handy if GCIS can re-evaluate progress made so far and check what needs to be improved upon. The hotline continues to receive calls from thousands of South Africans and the challenge is in addressing all their queries within reasonable time frames. Furthermore, I cannot let the service delivery protests go unmentioned. What role does the provincial offices and Thusong Centre staff plays in assisting government to avert service delivery protests? Are they not also part of Government and therefore required to alert Government about impending implosions?
The other aspect which I think Government needs to improve on is with regard to stakeholder management. There are many NGOs and interested parties who are challengeing Government on one issue or the other in the public discourse, but Government is not engaging them. Should we continue to interact with them through the media knowing very well that their voices are in most cases more trusted than that of government? Is that an indication that the gap between government and them is widening. We have a number of so-called experts and opinion makers who are always analysing issues. They are given the last word after the executive has put a matter in the public discourse. Should it not be the role of GCIS to create such platforms for the Executive to engage?
Colleagues; me raising these issues in the manner I am doing should not be interpreted to mean GCIS does not do any good work that is appreciated. There is a lot of commendable efforts, but there is still a lot that needs to be done. We also need to make sure that our people are informed and influenced to look at Government as a service they can buy as first preference. The executive welcomes the doubling of Vukuzenzele as a monthly publication. We think it’s good to increase the swiftness in which we communicate directly with our people. If we could also think creatively on how we can increase the pages given the demand for information out there. This does not however take away the responsibility to ensure that principals communicate directly with citizens on services they are providing to them.
We also appreciate and welcome the introduction of the Public Sector Magazine and other related publications. We also acknowledge that the magazine may have budgetary constraints which affect the number of copies for circulation.
The educational radio dramas you have aired each year around the State of the Nation Address and other public programmes have been of a commendable quality and very welcome by all. I urge you to creatively think of how best we can also reach Government functionaries throughout the public service. We need to build a cadre ship of the public service who interprets his or her work as a service rather than a job. These cadres should also be turned into information agents to complement our communication in the public space.
Colleagues, you will realise that I did not dwell too much on the contested media terrain, but it is important to accept that the media will not take everything Government says and splash it in their pages. We need to, while those tasked to work with the media do their jobs, also create and find new platforms to reach our people who overwhelmingly voted this Government into office. We need a communication system which is proactive, responsive and defining the country’s agenda. I am fully aware that GCIS does not have the power or control over what happens in other departments, but it has the stature to influence what happens in those departments.
I will be interested to hear what GCIS does to influence the type of communicator who is hired in the departments. Why are we not part of the process and selection of capable communicators who will drive this communication agenda? Why given our authority and influence only interacting with communicators and not include DGs on matter pertaining to taking communication seriously. Again, I am aware that communication is the last budget to be allocated but, given that reality, what do we do with the little we have to show and that given a better budget we can do more. Have we built a compelling case for DGs and the executive to allocate more money to communication, both in deeds and outputs? Is GCIS using its strategic influence to mend and make sure that good understanding and relations exist between communicators and their principals? I believe this will go a long way in encouraging good and proactive communication.
Lastly, there is this scary terrain for those of us in the old school called social media. I am told that statics show a dramatic shift towards social media even from the old guard. I wish to ask to what extent is GCIS as a communication organisation using social media to drive the agenda and speak to our people directly. The radio studios we have are not adequately used and the community media is receptive to our communication. I can say so because personally I have not been invited to participate even if the programme is driven by yourselves. Should we not shift our budget more towards communication we have control of and communication that goes directly to our people? Let us get onto the radios, let us be on TV, and let us be on Twitter, Facebook and on Government emails to drive our agenda. Let us write more opinion pieces, letters to the editor and let us manage parliament and use it to our advantage given the control we have. I hope that you can honestly interrogate these issues and find workable solutions which can change the agenda. Myself and the Minister remain available to assist, and where required we will get other members of the executive to make themselves available.
In conclusion, I wish you a good and fruitful workshop and I will be waiting for feedback by Mr Manyi, and a clear strategy on how we are going to make the change. This change should not only be within the organisation, it must be outward looking in government as a whole and externally.
Also keep up the good work in the management of your finances and continued clean audits you receive every year. As you continue with your deliberations, I urge you to do so with openness and robustness expected of master communicators. I wish you a fruitful few days away from the real world.
I also urge to use this opportunity for team building and emerge unified behind a common goal to deliver.
I thank you