OPINION: Making Communication Work for Parliament

By: Ibrahim E. Kasita

Parliament has come under attack over the planned welfare as the public becomes furious with legislators for what is viewed as inconsideration.

Close to sh200b from the treasury has been budgeted to cater for each of 427 legislators’ iPads, medicine cars and funeral services, on top of generous salary and allowances; free lunch; and gym.

The media exposed this unpopular scheme. Now, the public is furious with the MPs questioning the rationale of spending such huge sums of money on few well-to-do individuals. Yet, the public sector is facing acute budgetary constraints which have brought undesirable effect to the quality and quantity of service delivery.

To worsen matters, arrogant and inconsiderate utterances by some self-centered MPs in attempt to defend their welfare have fuelled mistrust and dented credibility of Parliament. Attempt to censure the media in covering Parliamentary proceedings is being mooted, but it will only serve to reverse democratic, transparent, and accountability mechanisms.

This negative trend, however, can be avoided.

Parliament needs to put communication for development (C4D) at the helm to enhance credibility with the public and ensure good governance. One of the most important tasks for Parliament all over the world is to create an effective link between the public and its representatives.

MPs must understand public critical needs. Similarly, the public must understand MPs desires and wants. But this calls for change in undesirous individual and social behaviours entrenched in our society today. For example, the belief that MPs are above citizens and deserve the best should change.


Similarly, the tendency of the public to hastily judge without evidence-backed with facts and correct analysis must end. C4D can help cause the desired behaviour and social change because it is a social process based on dialogue using a wide range of tools and methods.

It involves understanding people, their beliefs and values, the social and cultural norms that change their lives. It also involves engaging and listening to the public as they identify their problems, propose solution and act on them.

MPs and citizens are part of the two-way process for sharing ideas and knowledge using a range of communication tools and approaches that would empower them to take actions to improve their lives.

In other words, sustainable-long-term behavioural and social change is a result of participatory, human rights-based process of social transformation.

This is neither public relations nor corporate communication. C4D seeks change at different levels, including listening, building trust, sharing knowledge and skills, building policies, debating and learning for sustained and meaningful change.

This process helps shift political, social and support systems by giving voices to the public and providing them with the skills they need to advocate effectively for long-lasting changes.

One of the communication tools, for example, is the media. The media is an important gateway to inform the public and shapes their view and attitudes towards Parliament.

In the long-term, building partnerships with the media is key to keeping the public regularly informed about the importance of the work MPs do to earn what they believe is good for them. The media also plays an important role in advocating for continued and increased benefits and welfare for MPs.

Advocacy informs and motivates the public to create supportive environment to achieve the objectives and goals of Parliament.

In conclusion, C4D approaches to communication such as behaviour change, social change and advocacy might certainly help Parliament to enhance its credibility in the eyes of the public.

Instead of suppressing the media, Parliament should make communication work for the benefit of its image.

The writer is a Communication for Development Professional.

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