A letter in yesterday’s edition of Kaieteur News headlined ‘A vigorous investigation is also needed into mismanagement, overspending at DPI’ written by ‘Loyal but frustrated DPI Staffers’ has been brought to my attention.
The letter raises three specific issues:
1. The role of the Editor-in-Chief
2. The hosting of staff training and morale building events
3. DPI publications
The Department of Public Information editorial team substantively comprises the Editor-in-Chief (EiC), an Assignment and Special Projects Editor, a News Editor and a Sub-Editor.
The role of the EiC, is not to micro-manage and assume sub-editing functions and laboriously and painstaking go through each of the dozens of the daily articles and scripts for grammatical and spelling mistakes, correct these and then approve for dissemination. This is impractical, inefficient and unheard of in this modern, real-time communication environment. Such a system would result in DPI literally distributing days-old content.
This ‘system’ however, is what obtained under a previous dispensation. From the evidence in the letter, it appears as though some staff members prefer the old, outdated system of no substantive editorial team and a singular, almighty EiC.
To operate optimally, fluidly and effectively DPI requires a competent and dynamic cadre of Communication Officers, supported by an editorial team (not a singular almighty EiC).
Under my leadership DPI has strived to achieve this and we have made some not insignificant gains. Change is not always a process eagerly embraced and there has been both latent and outright resistance in this regard. I acknowledge that there is considerable work to be done to further improve quality and an enhanced work ethic.
Staff training and retreat
Prior to the merger of DPI and GINA, as incoming Director, I held one-on-one discussions with almost every staff member. Among other things the issues of staff development, training and staff morale were lamented as sore points by the vast majority of staff members.
It is true that DPI has held training and staff development retreats at various venues. We have received feedback from several staff members who related positive experience and are thankful for the opportunities to grow and develop.
What appears to be the vexing issue raised in the letter relating to a particular staff event is that certain members of staff were desirous of the event being hosted at a popular and exclusive resort.
It came to my attention that certain staff members who were advised of DPI’s budget cap for such events sought to negotiate (without DPI’s knowledge or permission) a ‘side arrangement’.
The ‘side arrangement’ was that should the resort management provide DPI with severely discounted rates, they (the staff members) would, in an ‘under-the-table-quid-pro-quo’ personally ensure the use of DPI equipment, resources and platforms to provide promotion and publicity to the resort.
When information on this ‘side arrangement’ came to my attention I was uncomfortable with it and caused it to be discontinued. The event was held elsewhere, at a less glamorous facility, much to the chagrin and resistance of certain staff members who were intent on their choice of venue.
DPI produces seven newspapers – Hinterland Highlights, Rupununi Roundup, Berbice Bulletin, Linden Ledger, Essequibo Express, West Side Diary and Bartica Buzz.
President David Granger and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo are on public record as having spoken to and written on the issue of the public’s right to information.
In February, this year, at the launch of Radio Aishalton, His Excellency said, “[y]our government is concerned that as far as the delivery of public information services is concerned, just like public health and public education, you should not be wanting for public information… you have a right to public information.”
DPI is tasked with fulfilling this mandate.
In addition to the newspapers, six radio stations have been established by this government at Aishalton, Mabaruma, Bartica, Lethem, Orealla and Mahdia. These serve as a critical link in ensuring that citizens who were previously locked out from accessing information are no longer denied their right to be informed.
On a monthly basis television programmes are also packaged on DVDs and distributed (along with the newspapers) throughout our hinterland regions. This is done at some cost as it involves transportation over land for long distances to remote villages, by water and in some instances by air. This is the Guyanese reality. DPI is constantly seeking cost-effective means of distributing content across Guyana and are grateful to private individuals, Toshaos, airlines, boat operators and Members of Parliament who have provided distribution support.
We had received consistent complaints, particularly from Berbice, the Essequibo Coast, Linden and Bartica that while the daily newspapers were reaching them that news and developments in those areas were not being featured. There was a gap which DPI is aiming to fill with monthly publications (which augment the dailies and are not in competition with them as we do not seek advertising nor sell the newspaper) so that residents in these areas can have a sense of what is happening in their neighbourhoods and surrounding areas.
It is a fallacy that each of these newspapers is a ‘new production’ which requires completely new content. These newspapers are mainly a collection of DPI material which relate to those specific areas. There is limited bespoke content produced for these newspapers.
Further still DPI engages the services of various freelancers in the regions who provide articles for these publications. Any notion that the need to provide content for these publications is burdensome to the Communication Officers is disingenuous and false.
Finally, the Department of Public Information is a budget agency under the Office of the Prime Minister. DPI is subject to an annual audit by the Auditor General’s Office. We have and will continue to fully comply in this regard. DPI budget is subject to scrutiny and approval in the National Assembly. I can reveal that DPI has not sought any supplementary sums to execute its operations and is being managed within budget and with strict adherence to all procurement regulations and guidelines.
It is not my intention or inclination to engage in speculation as to the motive and intended purpose of the ‘copycat complaint letter’ or to pursue any pointless and petty witch-hunt. I am both confident in and comfortable with leaving those who wish to read the letter to form their own conclusions.
Director of Public Information
Department of Public Information
Office of the Prime Minister