Let’s have harmony on official information

Col-Shaban-Bantariza-1

In a democracy, government has three arms, but it is the executive that is most seen and felt by the citizenry.

The executive rubs shoulders with each one of us when demanding us to meet all sorts of official and private obligations such paying taxes, when arresting suspected offenders of the law or defaulters on our civil and domestic obligations such as negligence or failure to care for our offspring, etc.

The village chief enforcing sanitation, the CID officer arresting some suspect, the local authority enforcing payment of a license, all these keep us interacting with the state. And this is necessitated by community life which is lived and regulated to avoid extremism and ensure a smooth road to people’s socio-economic and political collective destiny.

This inevitable daily contact between the state and the people is bound to generate both positive and negative relations, which is human. And when these relations develop, is it in order for each of us, both in and out of the state, to make ‘uncoordinated’ public statements on the contradictions, basing on our often-uninformed opinions and perceptions?

And when contradiction in fact and opinion emerges between different state actors on official conduct of those below them, what should be our fallback position? This is not to say that official explanations and positions are infallible! Certainly not!

But controversy does not nullify official positions either. It is a question of who the public should hold credible, or accountable, by nature of his/her authority or responsibility to the public.

The latest case in point is a conflict between the police and Col Kizza Besigye’s political activists along Entebbe road recently. Many free citizens and officials made their views known, some with indignation that some police officers caned Col Besigye’s political activists.

But trouble is that some senior political and state actors came out with their views and feelings, with indignation, and even others in condemnation of police action, only for the inspector general of police to come out with an operational and legal position justifying some of the police conduct.

He argued that charging at rowdy crowds with batons, sticks in this case, was one of the authorized, non-lethal means and tactics usable by police in crowd control and management. And he actually applauded his commanders for having ably cleared the Entebbe highway, and kept traffic uninterrupted by Besigye’s political activists and supporters.

As to whether you agree with the IGP or not, it is your democratic right. But what takes the people aback is when senior government officials and the media make public statements condemning police, without coordinating with those in police command to find out why officers used these methods.

Why coordinate? It’s unhelpful when cacophonous voices come from the same establishment about a matter that should attract a common voice, common facts, and common positions. Less than that, the public begins to wonder who is telling the truth, who is authoritative, and who is in charge.

Whereas several government agencies have a minimum amount and level of independence, and independence of action, in the interest of cohesion and harmony of the state, we have an obligation to coordinate our public actions and statements!

Indeed, if I could extrapolate, the recent emphasis on effective government communication by the president to his ministers and government officers may mean that he is tired of this kind of disjointedness from his government communicators and officers, creating room for speculation and opinions to replace facts, thus damaging the government image.

Adding my voice to what the IGP clarified as the authorized use of non-lethal means in public order management and crowd control, which include batons, the Americans and Europeans have recently introduced another non-lethal weapon called the taser gun, which is targeted at suspects who resist arrest.

This taser gun uses minimal electric current to temporarily neutralize a suspect, for about five seconds after every shot, to allow police officers arrest a suspect without violence. I am sure if the police here acquired and used this weapon, some people would rise up and claim that the force is using terrorist weapons on innocent citizens!

Fortunately, the new minister for information and communications technology and national guidance, the substantive government spokesperson, has already started on the process to harmonize all government data and communicators. Soon, none of us should again say that he/she had no accurate information and/or position on any official matter. So, help him, God!

by Col Shaban Bantariza

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