Those are not my words; they belong to the editorial board of The National, Dubai, United Arab Emirate (UAE). The editorial is quoted in full below. It is a comment on a development: the Cabinet of the UAE has just approved the setting up of a Government Communication Office as part of its modernization agenda. The editorial points out why this is a major development. I draw attention to the editorial because it is an eloquent statement about one of the under-appreciated issues in the governance reform agenda...the vital importance of a government's ability to engage in two-way communication with its own citizens, and why this is one of the reasons why the nature of the public sphere in a country has consequences for the governance outcomes that we seek. About all this, more later. Here is The National:
Communication is key to good government (source http://www.thenational.ae)
"The business of governance is not an easy one. Studies must be commissioned, deliberations held, decisions made, resources allocated, results monitored, feedback gathered, policies adjusted. In this age of unprecedented economic growth and ambitious government modernisation, the UAE has fared well in terms of governance. The World Bank itself ranks our country first for government effectiveness in the Arab world.
There is another facet to good government performance: the ability of a central government to engage and communicate important information to its citizens and other key audiences in a timely and dynamic manner. Coordinated and proactive strategic communication strategies often determine the fate of government initiatives. And proper handling of information goes a long way in shaping the public awareness and perception of government planning and performance.
At this level, progress is needed. Until now, the Federal Government has lacked a central communications office to provide, confirm or deny information at short notice. The difficulty of reaching Government officials means that incomplete information sometimes circulates. In this new media age, where the news cycle often overtakes normal operating procedures, this is a glaring deficiency.
So far, the media has had to rely on official statements and ad hoc press conferences to report major Government announcements that deserve greater scrutiny. This has complicated the media’s work and led to delayed clarifications on important matters. For instance, two weeks ago, reacting to the global financial crisis, the Government announced that it would guarantee all deposits in national banks. The next day a further announcement followed, declaring that deposits in foreign banks with “significant operations in the UAE” would also be guaranteed, lifting the unease and uncertainty that had seized some banks and their clients overnight.
Another such example is the minimal coverage that the publication of the 2008 federal budget received because it was communicated through a simple press release that did not provide journalists with the opportunity to inquire further. The federal budget is the reflection of the Government’s national priorities and thereby warrants a better-designed communication exposure.
This is why the recent announcement by the Cabinet of the creation of a federal-level Government Communications Office is promising news. This office will be headed by an official spokesperson and will facilitate the media’s interaction with federal-level government agencies. By centralising media inquiries and working with the public relations offices at the various agencies, it will open doors on short notice and allow journalists to delve further into the Government’s thinking. As we report in our pages today, this announcement has been welcomed by UAE-based journalists for good reason.
This new office will be part of the modernisation agenda pursued by federal and emirate-level agencies. This effort to streamline the bureaucracy, improve its performance, train its staff in the proper communication skills, is meant to improve the lives not just of the media, but of all UAE citizens and residents, as well as creating a business and tourism-friendly environment. The UAE is well on its way."
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