Bio’s Media Performance… PR Disaster For New Direction

After three years in governance, President Julius Maada Bio has made appearances on local and international media to showcase his government’s achievements. The President’s move is to endear the New Direction to the people of Sierra Leone as well as the international community for a second-coming. In his attempt to carve a positive image for the New Direction Government on the media, the President was embroiled in major communication blunders.

The blunders, no doubt, would hunt the New Direction Government in the near future. The President’s recent appearance on a US-based media agency, Cable News Network (CNN), constituted one of the biggest nightmares for the New Direction Government.

Bio’s interview with CNN hinged on major governance issues particularly corruption and accountability. Two key characters in the Bio administration came under the spotlight in respect of issues bordering on graft.

Former Chief Minister, now Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor David Francis and First Lady, Fatima Bio’s corruption formed the basis of the CNN interview.

When President Bio was confronted with the question of holding accountable the Minister of Foreign Affairs and his wife for corruption, his response is one that has generated tough feedback from the public.

The President responded to the question that the two personalities would be held accountable either in a court of law or a commission of inquiry. The President’s response is doubtful, and the doubt lies in his apparent failure to immediately bring the two to justice.

Appearances on media institutions whether to defend or condemn any policy of government is a form of political communication.

‘At The Heart Of Change,’ a document authored by PANOS Institute says political communication is not about lies and spinning. It is a question of truth, objectivity and balance. Spinning it says corrupts the language of public communication. Handling political communication is a job for PR professionals.

The job requires experts in communication to navigate the bumps and rocks along the PR terrain. Political communication is intricate and complex implying that it is only an expert in the field that can effectively handle the intricacies and complexities.

In Public relations discourse, it is permissible to expose the Chief Executive to the mike.

But, the exposure must be done only after thorough paper work and advice. Had President got professional advice, he would have deferred the CNN interview to a future date. No media law or code of ethics compels a political authority to talk to the media especially the highest order.

Suffice it to say that he would have appeared before the US-based agency after the Chief Minister and the First Lady would have been either cleared of the allegations or otherwise if, at all, an investigation is on-going. It is safe to say the President would have been a comfortable man with CNN if either of the two legal actions would have been completed.

President Julius Maada Bio appeared before CNN at a time his wife, Fatima Bio is being investigated by the country’s anti-graft agency, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). Recent media reports indicate that ACC was under pressure from the international community to investigate the First Lady for alleged misappropriation of funds.

The Pressure came after a US-based media agency, Africanist Press published acts of corruption in the Office of First Lady. Africanist Press publications indicated that over Le30Bn was spent on foreign travels by the First Lady. The publication further notes that Madam Fatima Bio siphoned funds meant for the ‘Hands Off Our Girls’ campaign.

The sum, the publications noted, ran into Millions of United Dollars.

The ‘Hands Off Our Girls’ is an initiative of the First Lady to curb the alarming rate of sexual penetration into which the country was recently trapped. Mrs Bio’s investigation is presumably on-going at the ACC.

Unlike other investigations undertaken by the ACC,  the public is little informed about the investigation of the President’s wife. The purported on-going investigation should have warranted the President to put a temporal hold on the media interview.

Investigation, by all indications, is apparently long overdue. A normal procedure of Corruption investigation has been flouted. The two personalities whose hands were allegedly on the loot still remain on their seats.

Since the New Direction took over state governance, the fight against corruption has always been a tough one. Those public officers who face investigations for corruption are usually set aside during investigation.

They come back only after they have been cleared. For some, even if they come back, they come back with another assignment. It is a completely different situation for the First Lady. She was never set aside since the investigation began.

Before President Bio’s big blunders in media appearances, First Lady, Madam Fatima Bio had also previously blundered during an interview she granted with the BBC stringer in Sierra Leone.

When she was questioned about procurement processes and other management issues about her office, she referred most of those to the Office of the President. The notion that Office of the First Lady exists to the pleasure of the President does not hold sway.

But, questions relating to specific management issues in the Office could not be answered by the President. The Press Secretary, Keketoma Sandi and the Minister of Information, Mohamed Rado Swarray abandoned the First Lady in the interview.

None could respond to BBC questions about the alleged financial improprieties of the First Lady. In the face of spiralling allegations, First Lady took on her critics on social media platforms.

The situation boomeranged putting the First Lady at the centre of an unpopular attention.

Mrs Bio’s exchanges with her critics on social media particularly facebook were hot and temperamental. The exchanges led to an arbitrary dismissal of an employee at Union Trust Bank, a notable commercial bank in Sierra Leone.

It was also a PR disaster for the Office of the First Lady. Her media team could not help.

Question came up about the relevance of a media team in the Office of First Lady. Similar questions have also been asked for President Bio’s elaborate communication strategists. Public opinion holds that New Direction’s communication strategists are not strategic. The allegation remains in force to date. Their negligence to communicate has turned the President into an Information Minister.

A politician, despite their years in politics, may find it extremely difficult to come to terms with the intricacies of political communication.

Although Sierra Leone has structures for humbling suspected criminals in court, the overshadowing personality of the President may be a setback for state functionaries to hold accountable his wife and a man considered to be the most important minister.

The setback is more of a setback since the President has overtly failed to publicly condemn the actions of the two.

The President’s failure to stop those closer to him from corrupt acts, threw in big doubt the President’s statement: ‘The Last Commission of Inquiry.’

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