One can appreciate the sense of frustration felt by the Georgetown City Council’s Public Relations Officer Debra Lewis over what, by her own admission in her letter to SN of November 19, is the customary “widespread criticism” inflicted upon the municipality every time it “seeks to employ a new revenue earning venture.” Frankly, though, this is not to the extent that we can make common cause with her in her protest over the position in which City Hall finds itself as far as its public image is concerned.
In the particular instance of the PRO, it must, admittedly, be more than a trifle frustrating to accept that the institution for which you work is almost always the target for a public dressing down over every conceivable initiative that it seeks to take, however well-intentioned or well-meaning it might be. Ms Lewis, presumably, is not the only City Hall employee who feels that way and it is, as well, altogether reasonable to assume that there are other employees of other institutions in Guyana who feel the same way too.
As a Public Relations Officer, however, Ms Lewis is bound to have some knowledge of the discipline of communication, including the area of audience behaviour, which is precisely why one finds her seeming surprise over the public opprobrium which now appears to permanently afflict City Hall to be a trifle pretentious.
Indeed, the wider issues that she raises in her letter, including those of “community consultations” in the process of selecting projects for execution and the costs associated with providing what she describes as the “core services” are tangential to her overarching expression of perplexity over the fact that City Hall continues to be under fire, however well-intentioned its motives might be. It seems she does not recognize that this happens when there is a complete or near complete loss of confidence in an institution.
One might argue that public criticism of City Hall might at least be attended by a disposition that seeks to provide it with a modicum of credit for those measures which, for want of a better expression, make sense. However, the human mind can be a ruthlessly focused and undiscriminating vehicle which is capable of making the sort of blanket judgements that might even appear decidedly unfair.
Whatever Ms Lewis’ views on whether or not there is any measure of fairness in the public judgement of City Hall, it is the reality that we must keep in focus. The reality is that as an institution charged with providing critical services to the capital, City Hall is perceived as being inexcusably incompetent. Arguably, there is no softer target in the whole of Guyana for public criticism.
The stigma is historical. It has to do with the public perception that the municipal administration is slovenly, wasteful, high-handed, lacking in vision, corrupt and possessed of the view that it is a law unto itself. As already mentioned, these judgements are nothing new though it has to be said that the new municipal administration has decidedly not done anything to alter that perception.
So that while one understands Ms Lewis’s view and one might even concede that in some respects public criticism is often underpinned by what, sometimes, is the irrationality of human nature, the travails of City Hall are by no means as perplexing as they are made out to be. Indeed, the PRO’s letter – assuming that it represents the collective view of the establishment – is reflective of an Ivory Tower affliction whereby City Hall appears blissfully unaware of the nature of human behaviour and the reasons for its own overwhelming unpopularity. City Hall simply has to stop believing that it has some sort of inalienable right to be gifted the prerogative of being able to receive public favour, no matter the extent of its delinquencies.