Seminar for public alienation practitioners

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. We have brought you here to dispel the illusions that some of you have about the jobs you need to carry out on behalf of the Government, your para-statal organisations or your private companies.

Now, what is this function you are employed to carry out for your organisations? Some call it “public relations”; others call it “communications”; but the more bombastic practitioners refer to themselves as “public awareness specialists/advisers/consultants/engineers.”

Engineers? Yes. If there can be financial “engineering”, why can there not be public awareness engineers? Some engineers produce mechanical or electrical services. There is no reason why anyone who generates a product that is needed in society can not similarly call himself an engineer. Doctors, for instance, could be renamed “biological/health engineers”. For they use tools in the same way electrical and mechanical engineers use tools.

But that is by the by. The function you are all required to perform is to stand between the public and your organisation.

The more subtle among you may notice that I have put the public first in defining your function. It is for a very good reason. You see, the public is the active element in the particular aspect of the relationship that is of interest to us. It is the public that reacts to services allegedly not provided; services that are allegedly over-priced; and services that are unrealistically expected to be provided.

In each instance, when the public attempts to complain in order to correct what it imagines to be wrong, it is your duty to act as if you were a military tank covered in impenetrable armour, absorb the tiny pellets thrown at you by the public by way of criticism, sink into the safety of the tank, and then return fire with such overwhelming force that the public will never dare to try to throw darts at your organisation again.

Once more, the more subtle of you will notice that I used a military metaphor just now. Yes – the relationship between your organisations and the public can be likened to war. The public is ruthless. If you don’t trample it under foot, it will cripple you by either not voting for you (if you are a government) or driving you into bankruptcy by refusing to buy your goods or services (if you are a company).

So, victory at all costs must be your objective.

People laughed when a certain practitioner of the profession was quoted as having revealed that the boss in his organisation had told them to tell the public that the boss had donated a “cow” for a certain purpose, when he had, in fact, only donated a guinea-fowl. I tell you that that practitioner was very good at his job. Adolph Hitler’s communications guru, Goebbels, proved through the near-Nazification of Europe in the 1930s, that the greater the untruth, the greater the chances were of people believing it.

The Nazis told Europe that people with blue eyes and blondish hair, and whose features were lean and looked tall and strong, would lead the world into a Reich of Efficiency and Invincibility that would last about three thousand years. And look what happened? Had it not been for American intervention in The Second World War, the Nazis might have won.

Okay – that was a deviation into extraneous territory. I want now to bring you down to earth here at home.

I recently came across one of the most ingenious exercises in “returning fire” against the public with overwhelming force that I have ever seen.

Now, you know that Dumsor is the biggest weapon faced by the government, as well as the companies that produce and distribute electricity. Everyone “laughs and cries” [apologies to Fela!] about Dumsor and its consequences.

How companies are being forced to lay people off because they are not provided with enough power to engage in production to their full capacity; how people who shop in bulk to avoid being caught in traffic jams can no longer do so because their freezers destroy their purchases of fresh produce — especially meat and fish — instead of preserving it; and how mobile phones cannot be used because there is little or no power to charge their batteries. Twelve hours of power on, and forty-eight hours off, if you’re not lucky. That is what many people are experiencing.

The guy I am talking about was clever enough to realise that the mobile phone issue was the most damaging, as far as the public was concerned. Because if you are suffering, you want to seek comfort from others. But if you cannot contact them, how do you get comforted by conversation?

So what do you think this PR man did? He turned the mobile phone from victim to attacker: it was, he claimed, the use of mobile phones that was causing a large part of the power shortages represented by Dumsor! Let me quote the man verbatim:

QUOTE: “Mobile phones consume 150 megawatts of electricity – VRA

“The charging of mobile phones in the country consumes 150 megawatts of electricity, which is equivalent to the capacity of the Bui Dam, Mr Sam Kwesi Fletcher, the Head of Corporate Communications at the Volta River Authority (VRA), has said.

He said charging a phone’s battery consumed 10 watts of electricity and while it normally took only two hours to charge a phone’s battery, many phone owners charged their phones throughout the night, bringing the energy consumption of the estimated 15 million mobile phones in the country to “150 million watts (or 150 megawatts) of electricity”.

Mr Fletcher was speaking at a meeting called by the Ghana Tourism Federation (GHATOF) in Accra to discuss the effects of the energy crisis on the tourism industry. Some of the members of the federation, especially the hoteliers, painted a harrowing picture of the financial crunch they were going through as a direct result of high electricity tariffs and irregular supply.

Mr Fletcher said much of the problem had to do with wastage. While from the supply side, that is, from the VRA, Sunon Asogli and Aboadze Thermal plants, ECG and GRIDCO, wastage accounts for 22 per cent, the stark reality is that consumers waste as much as 30 per cent of electricity. By the last count, there were 27 million mobile phone lines connected; that is, two million lines more than the 25 million population.

The effect of this increased domestic consumption, coupled with intensified industrialisation, is that while in the past one cargo of light crude, equivalent to 400,000 barrels, imported at a cost of US$60 million to produce electricity lasted 90 days, today that same quantity lasts only 20 days. So it is no exaggeration when we say that 98 per cent of VRA’s revenue goes to buy crude oil to produce electricity,” he stated.

(AT THIS POINT IN THE PROCEEDINGS, THERE WAS A LOUD NOISE AND THE HALL AT WHICH THE MEETING WAS BEING HELD WAS PLUNGED INTO DARKNESS. MY CORRESPONDENT MADE THIS COMMENT IN HIS NOTEBOOK:)

COMMENT: The guy was clever, wasn’t he? Do you see how he entangled everyone with obfuscations and figures – about the alleged wastage caused by mobile phones; the unsourced and undated figures relating to the importation of crude oil, and the cost? Plus the percentage of VRA’s revenue allegedly used in buying crude oil ( an unbelievable 98 percent)?

By the time an intelligent reader would have got his head round all the figures, he would have forgotten about mobile phones. I mean look – do we really import “light crude” to the tune of 400,000 barrels per cargo? Do all tankers have the same haulage capacity? Does it really cost $US 60 million to import 400,000 barrels of crude? Doesn’t the price of crude rise and fall on the world market? One cargo used to produce electricity to last 90 days but today, it only lasts fore 20 days? Ah?

Indeed, the guy had returned fire with overwhelming fire!

But a simple question to him is this: how do you separate the consumption of power through the charging of mobile phone batteries, from the other forms of power consumption in a household, when all the power the household consumes is usually accumulated and captured on a single electricity meter?

What is appalling the performance is that whether it was done for political purposes or not, it illustrates the point that a culture of OFFICIAL MENDACITY is growing in the country which, if not eradicated, will create such cynicism amongst the populace that the people will cease to believe anything ANY official ever says, whether the official is a politician or merely a bureaucrat.

Yet without trust and co-operation between the public and the producers of goods and services, the country will never achieve the progress that is desired, and to which the public would willingly contribute – if they were not alienated by the obfuscations constantly dished out to them by officials.

Letter From Afar Cameron Duodu

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