Writer: Kevin Chavera Course: Public Relations (Daystar University) Paper: PUBLIC RELATIONS AS PRACTISED BY THE KENYA NATIONAL ASSEMBLY. TABLE OF CONTENTS. 1. Introduction. 2. PR as management function. 3. Kenya Parliament and its publics 4. Mission, goals & objectives with regard to PR activities. 5. Crisis management and media relations. 6. PR and organizational change. 7. Research and Evaluation: public attitudes and public opinion. 8. Conclusion. PUBLIC RELATIONS AS PRACTISED IN THE KENYA NATIONAL ASSEMBLY. Introduction.
The Kenya National Assembly, also known as the Kenya Parliament, is an organization which consists of an assembly of the representatives of Kenya as a political nation and it is the supreme legislative authority. Its main functions are: (1) Representation of the people, (2) formulating, amending and repealing laws (legislation), and (3) overseeing the executive. It is headed by the Office of the Speaker and under him are various departments called Directorates; among them is the Directorate of Information and Research.
The Public Relations Office falls under this department and this paper will discuss the practice of PR in this organization. Under this various aspects will be tackled such as: communication, organizational change, crisis management, media relations, mission, goals, and objectives with regard to PR activities. 1. PR as a management function in the Kenya National Assembly. To gain insight into this area, an interview was conducted with a Public Relations Officer at Parliament, Mr. Japhet Muthomi. As mentioned earlier, the Public Relations Office falls under the Directorate of Information and Research.
It exists alongside the Library Department, Research Department, and ICT Department. According to Mr. Muthomi, it works hand in hand with the fully pledged Research Department in an effort towards researching, analyzing, affecting and re-evaluating the relationship between Parliament as an organization and its publics. 2. The Kenya Parliament and its publics. The Kenya Parliament has two main publics. The Members of Parliament (MPs) are the most important internal publics. The staff members of various departments also constitute the internal publics.
These departments include the Directorate of Legislature and Committee services, Directorate of Administration, among others. The external publics consist of the general Kenyan publics who include constituents represented by MPs, other government departments, such as ministries and parastatals, and finally the media. 3. The mission, goals and objectives of the Kenya National Assembly with regard to PR activities. The Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) has the primary responsibility of facilitating Members of Parliament to effectively and efficiently execute their responsibilities.
The PSC therefore formulated a strategic plan through the participation of all stakeholders. This strategic plan is a statement of the way forward in achieving of goals by the PSC and it was adopted also as a proactive tool to address the goals that that must be achieved in line with Vision 2030. According to the Parliamentary Service Commission Strategic Plan (2008-2018), the following are the vision, mission, and objectives of the Kenya National Assembly: Vision: to be a supreme, effective, efficient and self-sustaining parliament as a major participant in the process of good governance.
Mission: To facilitate Members of Parliament to efficiently and effectively fulfill their constitutional mandate in a representative system of government by upholding and ensuring the autonomy of Parliament in its corporate relationship with other arms of government. Some of its core values are: professionalism and teamwork, objectivity, impartiality in delivery of service, accountability, transparence & integrity, courtesy, efficiency and responsiveness. Some of its objectives are as follows: 1) To strengthen the capacity of members to make laws, (2) To strengthen the Parliamentary research services, (3) To strengthen the capacity of members in the process of overseeing the National Budget, (4) To enhance Staff performance, (5) To improve the public image of parliament, (6) To enhance service delivery, (7) To enhance use of ICT in operations and communications, among others. In this strategic plan, a lot of emphasis has been placed on service delivery for both the internal and external publics.
The following are specific activities undertaken by the PR Office in an effort towards meeting the organization’s mission and objectives. (i) To meet the first objective, various activities have been carried out and still continue to be carried out such as: Recruitment of staff to fill outstanding capacities, conduction of workshops and study tours for Members and staff, induction and training of staff, orientation of Members & staff on the new standing orders, establishing a scheme of service for legal professionals, and updating of Committee & procedural manuals. ii) To strengthen the parliamentary research services, a viable structure for the Research Department is being created. Mainstream outputs from research is being used as a basis for decision making and the Kenya Parliament is identifying ad registering with relevant research institutions. An integrated research service and operational framework across various departments is being developed and joint programmes between the Research department and other research institutions are being conducted bi-annually. iii) To strengthen the capacity and process of overseeing the National Budget, a number of things are being enacted such as: Economic and Fiscal performance analysis, policy reviews to inform Parliament on economic and cost implications of policy, and development of guidelines on procedure of scrutiny of the Budget by Parliament. (iv) To enhance staff performance, performance contracting was introduced for the Clerk, Senior deputy clerk, Directors and all the Heads of Department. It was also introduced for all staff members. v) To improve the public image of parliament, the Public Relations Office has developed and participated in outreach programmes such as the Public Service Week where the staff and Members meet with the publics to sensitize them on various issues, the Agriculture Society of Kenya Shows which are both educational and informative to the Kenyan publics. To obtain feedback, the publics are provided with questionnaires, and suggestion boxes during direct encounters such as the Public Service Week. a. The Public Relations Department has also enabled Live Broadcast of house proceedings which enables the public to be at par with their MPs activities and also know what actually goes on in the House. b. ) A Parliamentary reception desk was set up to improve the protocol and reception in Parliament. The PR Office has also undertaken an active role in Public Social Responsibility Activities (PSRs). c. ) Other proactive outreach programmes include opening up the Parliament premises to visits by schools and other learning institutions, participation of MPs in fundraisers and charity events during times of floods and other natural disasters.
For example, in the Mau tree planting programme, a section of MPs were involved. Some MPs have taken it upon themselves to conduct civic education by familiarizing their constituents with the contents of the Proposed Constitution. d. ) The Department does a number of publications such as newsletters, magazines, brochures and other Parliamentary documents. For example, Kenya Parliament volume 2, Issue1, May 2010 is a magazine that has various features such as Profiles of various departments in the Kenya National Assembly, Offices overview, History section on the Origins of parliament, Opinion page, and a recognition page on outstanding staff.
These publications are usually distributed among all the publics, for example during the outreach programmes and PSRs, to give them information about the Kenya Parliament. The organization has a website, http://www. parliament. go. ke or http://www. bunge. go. ke which is a resource center for information concerning the Kenyan legislative process. The website is accessible to all publics and it has a feedback section where enquiries, comments, and suggestions can be forwarded. It also has a downloads section where publics can download important national documents such as the constitution.
Publics can keep abreast with House Business touching on various aspects such as the standing orders, current order paper, Legislative calendar 2010, schedule of parliamentary questions, and the Bill tracker. Lastly, the website gives the latest news from parliament. For example, currently, the most read article is about the Budget Day 2010. The above efforts are also in line with fostering cooperation and mutual understanding between the organization and its publics through the multiple avenues of communication mentioned. vi) To enhance service delivery, the current functions of directorates and departments are being reviewed and re-aligned, additional staffs are being recruited to fill staff shortfalls in various departments, the staff grading structure is being reviewed and career paths are being defined. 4. Crisis management and media relations in the Kenya National Assembly. In this section, Mr. Muthomi conferred that he was only recently deployed at the organization and discovered that there was no concrete crisis management mechanisms in place.
He therefore embarked on a study of the various structures of the organization so that he can be well equipped to develop appropriate crisis management mechanisms. Nonetheless, he is working on a crisis management paper that will be crucial in the organization because he realizes its importance. He also listed the deaths of certain Members of Parliament as an example of crises that the organization has had to deal with and which are usually unexpected.
Such a crisis usually leaves a seat vacant, and with time by-elections to replace the seat(s) are held through other government offices. In the past, there existed an acrimonious relationship between the Kenya Parliament and the media. There was no live broadcast of House proceedings and the media thrived on hearsays and rumours when it came to reporting events at Parliament. Parliament was also not very open to media people and so the journalists often sourced for bits of information around Parliament, which were sometimes inaccurate.
The Public Relations Office sought to bridge this gap and established a Media Center at the National Assembly which is equipped with various resources to cater for journalists when they come to Parliament to gather news. The media center also has a Press Conference area where Members of Parliament disseminate information to the media pertaining to various issues. Also, through the media center, official news from Parliament is released to the media so that they get accurate information.
Reports about various activities carried out by the organization, such as committee reports, are also disseminated to the media. Such information could otherwise not be accessible to journalists. As a result, Parliament has been more open and Mr. Muthomi concurs that the relationship between Parliament and the media is now symbiotic and amicable. The Kenya National Assembly has also recruited a Parliamentary Media Relations Officer, Mr. David Mugonyi, who was formerly at the Nation Media Group. 5. PR and organizational change.
The Kenya National Assembly has undergone a number of changes in the past to conform to the radically shifting environments. This change has been influenced by economic, political, global forces among others. Firstly, the nature of the workforce and professional requirements prompted the organization to start recruiting qualified professional staff. Mr. Muthomi asserts that when he was first recruited into the Parliamentary Service Commission, he did not find a properly set up PR office and instead Personal Assistants, secretaries and other staff doubled up as Public Relations Officers.
Such staffs lacked the appropriate skills to effectively discharge PR duties. However, professional staffs were recruited to enable the organization meet its various objectives. The technological changes currently being undergone by Parliament are geared towards enhancing the use of ICTs in operations and communications. An organizational structure for the ICT Department was established, ICT professionals were recruited and trained and Strategy & Policy for the same is being developed.
E-mail and Intranet services were also enhanced alongside document management systems. The Kenya Parliament has also automated its finance system. As expected, people tend to resist change in their organizations and it is the same with the Kenya Parliament. However, such a problem has been overcome by creating awareness among the internal publics through seminars and workshops. One of the major changes that the Kenya Parliament expects to undergo is the possibility of re-aligning and re-structuring itself in the advent of a new constitutional era in the country.
Therefore, as a proactive effort, the PR Department is looking into this possibility and developing new strategies and implementations should the Proposed Constitution pass into law. 6. Research and Evaluation: Public attitudes and Public Opinion. The PR Office works hand in hand with the Research Department as they are both under the same directorate. The Research Department carries out the research and forwards the analysis to the PR Office which then acts accordingly, either proactively or reactively.
The Research Department carries out reactive and proactive information gathering, processing, and analyzing, providing technical support, and advice as well as dissemination of information on various issues of interest. Research is also carried out with regard to motions, Bills and other policy documents laid before the House. The Parliamentary Service Commission Strategic Plan (2008-2018) has formulated a Monitoring and Evaluation Framework which is a six step process as follows: (1) Objectives, Strategies and Outputs are identified, (2) Identification of performance ndicators, title frames, roles and responsibilities, (3) Annual work plan based on the strategies and finances is allocated accordingly, (4) Annual Assessment and auditing is done through collection of data on indicators and appraisal is carried out, (5) Outcomes, assessment and way forward is communicated to the Board of Management and Commission, and lastly (6) Work plans are updated and adjustments done on indicators.
The perception of Parliament, especially the 10th Parliament by the Kenyan publics is usually negative because of various corruption scandals associated with the government, neglection of promises made to the electorate during campaigns, and this is made worse when Members of Parliament are recorded as dozing off during House sessions. Needless to say, the recent salary increment that the MPs are aiming to award themselves is bound to cause even more hostile public opinion.
This negative perception of Parliament by the public is listed as a risk factor and the PR office has sought to enhance positive publicity through broadcasting and other outreach programmes already discussed above under PR activities. Conclusion. Every organization of whatever nature and kind needs a PR department which should be actively involved in management. The Kenya National Assembly is not exempted and this paper has discussed the practice of Public Relations in the Kenya Parliament and under this title, various aspects have been tackled individually.
Some of these aspects were inter-related. All in all, as seen, the PR Office in the Kenya Parliament has been and continues to be very instrumental in the organization. It has achieved numerous milestones in service delivery for the main publics (the MPs) and perhaps now it should focus its attention more towards diluting and changing the negative perception of parliament by the public. Reference List. 1. Nabulindo, P. (2010, May 1). The origins of Parliaments.
Kenya Parliament, 23. 2. Republic of Kenya. Kenya National Assembly. Office of the Speaker of the National Assembly. (2008). Parliamentary Service Commission Strategic Plan 2008-2018. Nairobi: Author. 3. 4. Kenya National Assembly Public Relations Officer, Japhet Muthomi, Tel: +254 20 221 291/2848 728 Mobile: +254 722 915 210 Email:[email protected] go. ke. Website:www. parliament. go. ke Fax: +254 20 336 589 P. O. Box 41842-00100 Nairobi, Kenya.