Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Ministry of Clarification

Thinking about the 'clarifications' we get every time something is announced I realised what an impossible job the recently-launched Official Spokesmen will have unless major structural changes are made.

I say "will have" because I assume they're not in place yet. We still have different people, some named, some anonymous 'senior official' or 'officials', giving out information on all sorts of things.

Recently we've had the ID card confusion, the swine H1N1 flu pork ban/no ban situation, overlapped by the property-related visa issue, which are typical of the problem.

Not only are different 'officials' giving different information, different government departments are giving conflicting information.

There often seems to be some confusion over which department has ultimate responsibility for the matter being discussed.

For example, the pork ban was announced by the General Secretariat of Municipalities while the rebuttal of it was announced by the Environment Agency.

The property-linked visa was announced by the Ministry of Interior and then the Department of Naturalisation & Residency held the press conference to 'clarify' it.

So we have a range of people in a number of departments/ministries offering their version of whatever it is that's just been announced.

It's a bit like visiting an Immigration office. If you get an answer you don't want from the first official you see you take another number, go to another queue, see a different official and get another answer. You repeat the process until you get the answer you wanted.

(Example: a Filipina friend met all the requirements to sponsor her husband but her application was rejected. The reason given was 'no reason, just rejected'.

She tried the take-a-new-ticket approach but met the same response, at which point she'd run out of time and had to get back to work.

She arranged for someone else to take her application in. Approved.)

But I digress.

It's not going to be easy to resolve the regular problem of conflicting statements, confusing announcements and ever-changing 'clarifications'. It won't happen unless we have a complete restructuring of the way things are currently done.

First we need an ultimate policy that nothing is announced until it's been thought through carefully, all the ramifications have been considered, all the detail worked out, and until it's been given final approval by the highest authority.

We need a 'who's in charge of policy' manual covering all the things on which there's a policy. For example, which government agency or ministry has ultimate authority over food imports and sale? That, and only that, agency should be making pronouncements about what may and may not be imported and sold.

We need clear lines of authority and responsibility established, and understood by everyone involved, for each issue.

We need huge investments in time and money on staff education - or product knowledge.

The media needs clear lines of communication to a single knowlegeable and authoritive source for the particular subject. Quotes from anonymous 'officials' whose mobile number they happen to have are unacceptable.

Take, for example, the property-related visa issue. If the Ministry of Interior is in charge of policy on it they need to set clear and detailed policy. They then fully brief their Official Spokesman who releases it to the public and answers any media questions. The media should know that this is the only person authorised to give the information.

It's hardly revolutionary, it's simply the way good businesses operate. But it would be a major restructuring as far as government is concerned.

I guess it'd be easier to have a Ministry of Clarification.


Anonymous said...

This is a good one "Minstry of Clarification" the last thing you need for people with arabic culture.

It all depends on the hirarcy and wether one is talking from a nationwide level (agreed by all and no one has a 2nd say about it and it applies to all in the country as a whole), fedral level or local emirate level... keep these three hats infront of you and pick from among them depending on the topic sensitivity.

Sometimes the three hats also don't work and then I can not suggest anything else.

elisabeth said...

I really like your blog, well done.

Seabee said...

Thank you Elisabeth :-)

Catalin said...

I think all the points you've made are valid, but I would take a guess that this will never get done. Just the other day I heard on the radio that the government has announced that two committees were established to deal with the swine flu in case it shows up here. One committee to set policy, the other one to make sure the policy is implemented. Hardly one line of communication... (the story about the 2 committees here:

Emjay said...

Also needed is a Ministry of Communication. Just to get th edifferent ministries to talk to each other.

That way, we wont have the RTA clos off half a lane of a two lane road, and then have the Municipality send in Road Cleaning machines at 7:30 AM effectively blocking a busy thoroughfare at a peak time. (Any one exiting The Gardens / Discovery Gardens by the alternate route towards Dubai knows what I am talking about)

Seabee said...

Catalin, they not only have two committees they also allow people not on the committees to interfere.

Emjay, many mornings in peak traffic times I wonder why lanes are blocked by cleaning trucks and the trucks parked by gardeners removing grass clippings. Wouldn't it help the traffic flow if they started outside peak times - but then what do I know, I'm not a traffic expert.

Dave said...

I suspect we will also need a Ministry of Reclarifications for further interpretation of the Clarification Spokesman.........

Or have I just been in Dubai too long??

Rose in Dubai said...

And a ministry of misunderstandings to clarify the misunderstandings that the ministry of reclarification has with the ministry of clarifications....

My head hurts

Elle said...

Seabee, I'm impressed that you can keep up with whose saying what.

Keefieboy said...

Bloody know-it-all Western expates telling 'em how to run their own country...

Seabee said...

Elle, keeping up with it is the easy part. Understanding what's going on is where I run into a wall.

Keefie I wouldn't have the temerity (where did that word come from?) to do that, merely thinking out loud.

By the way, it's not unique to the sandlands. I've just been watching the news from London about the gurkha fiasco. Ms Lumley had a meeting with the PM and she says he's promised to sort it all out, come up with a new proposal. That's after all sorts of U-turns, revisions, changes of policy - sounds familiar to me.

Emjay said...

Seabee, even if you did have the temerity (sic) and even if you were NOT a "Bloody know-it-all Western expates telling 'em how to run their own country...", its not like anyone's listening or taking (corrective?) action.

Emjay said...

Here's a joke to lighten your morning...
EXCLUSIVE: Dubai mulls low-income driving ban

Spear The Almighty said...

It boggles the mind...:)

Jan said...

Seebee - one major cause of many of the problems you repeatedly adumbrate on this blog with regard to the inefficieny etc. of much of the Dubai government bureaucracy is a lack of democratic accountability. Ultimately, the Dubai government has real accountability to only one man and thus no real incentive, save incurring his displeasure, to really try to sort these things out.

By the way, it's not unique to the sandlands. I've just been watching the news from London about the gurkha fiasco. Ms Lumley had a meeting with the PM and she says he's promised to sort it all out, come up with a new proposal. That's after all sorts of U-turns, revisions, changes of policy - sounds familiar to me.Actually, this example shows why in a democracy badly thought through and/or unpopular policies proposed by a government can be changed when such policies are popularly opposed with the support of the democratically appointed legislature! Do you really think Gordon Brown would have met Joanna Lumley had he not lost the Gurkha vote in the House of Commons last week?

Anonymous said...

Oh no. They are in place alright. They just don't answer their phones, or if they do, don't answer any questions, or get back to you in a month... And now, no one else will speak to the media as only spokespeople are allowed. It's painful. I don't see how they can say the system facilitates the flow of information, its done nothing but cut journos off from their sources and made it take WEEKS to get any info out of a ministry because it all has to be approved by one person. It was bad before, now its dire.