Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Parliamentary staff should do better in public relations

This (Wednesday) morning, I went back to Parliament buildings after a fairly long hiatus. The House is scheduled to end its recess next week. Precisely, on Tuesday. The place was fairly empty, as some of the employees are still on leave. But as someone who spends most of his time in there, I think I should share what I can only interpret as a "culture shock" for an "ordinary" citizen who was making a maiden visit to Parliament.

At the gate, I said a big hi to the orderly. He replied with a huge smile and ushered me in. He knows me. And also, I was wearing the official badge.

But that was not the case for a lady from the Ministry of Water, moments after she passed the friendly orderly at the gate. She had a really rough morning within the ornate edifice. And she was not amused.

Her bosses at her ministry wanted a tittle-tattle with the MPs at Parliament’s Old Chambers, and she came so early to make sure everything went on well.

But when she arrived, she literary got lost. Her idea was to make the meeting venue ready; put the refreshments in place and basically do all that “logistic work”.

Her efforts hit a snag.

“I asked around and I was directed to the Clerk’s office. When I went there, it was locked,” I overheard the lady complain. “In the offices that I visited, they just told me point-blank: We were just recalled yesterday and as you can see, we are still on holiday mood. Can you imagine that? How does this place work? This is Parliament of the Republic of Kenya. It ought to be much better.”

Then, she said, she went to the Sergeant-at-arms and right there, she came face to face with the infamous macho face of the august House.

Denied access

The fellow told her that he was waiting for a memo before granting her access to any of Parliament’s facilities. The tone of the orderlies seems to have been condescending, because, as she narrated her frustrations, she didn’t have very flattering words for the people who made her life difficult.

“Even the cleaners seemed not to know where some of the offices are,” the rattled lady went on.

She fumbled her way around Parliament and somehow landed at the catering unit, where a bespectacled man took her around and helped her find a way through.

“You should have seen the way they treated even one of their own. I mean, this is Kenya and we are all Kenyans, why are they treating me as a foreigner?” she posed to her listener. “You know, if a person comes and asks for directions, it is only wise to direct the person. It is the African thing to do. We help each other. We are not this aloof. I mean, where do these people live?”

Annoying bureaucracy

Now, this very unflattering rant coming from a lady early in the morning in Kenya’s legislative core, weeks after my colleague at the Sunday Nation, Murithi Mutiga praised the rest of us Kenyans --for having that ever-present ‘shoulder to lean on’-- is perhaps a reflection that people are different.

Or maybe, the folks at Parliament are a little crabby about shedding off the drab cloth of annoying bureaucracy. Or maybe, they are so used to covering their backs that even a simple help with directions is very herculean.

But the woman’s rant aside; there seems to be a real problem when it comes to Public Relations –forget the text-book banner, magazine, guided-tour stuff, I mean the actual touch with the wananchi, the taxpayers and the voters.

My understanding is that Parliament was aware that the Ministry of Water was scheduled to have its presentation in Parliament with MPs.
Just that, should make Parliament have a linkman with the ministry to ensure everything runs well.

But then, before I blame the staff in Parliament, it is possible that the lady from the ministry was into last-minute working that’s typical in some public offices. And then, she came to Parliament and was given a taste of her own medicine.

Sometimes, the elders muse in Kiswahili that ‘Mtenda akitendewa huona kaonewa’, but well, it could just be a case of “bad things” happening to “good people.”

But the bottom-line, is that it is courteous to help one another. If you can’t help, it pays to say so respectfully. In all honesty, how does lumping your anger on a stranger help solve your problems? Right, you got it off your chest. So?