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Public Perceptions of the Performance of Public Relations Function in the Ministry of Finance and Planning. By Schola Bernad Malinga.

Title: Public Perceptions of the Performance of Public Relations Function in the Ministry of Finance and Planning.

The paper set out to explore public perceptions of the role of public relations in service delivery in the Ministry of Finance and Planning.

The study relied on a mixed-methods approach, where a few guided interviews were conducted with the paper’s editors and senior journalists. This was supplemented by a quantitative document review of the articles that were covered by both newspapers on obstetric fistula in the country.

Meanwhile, the majority of the respondents (63%) were dissatisfied with the way public relations officers undertook their jobs at the ministry. This was also evidenced when the majority of the respondents (62%) ranked the PR services at the ministry as so poor. In short, it means that there is still a big job to be done to overhaul the public relations department to improve service delivery.

This paper contributes to an area that has not been adequately researched but holds the potential to improve public relations in the public sector since this is at the heart of good governance. This paper used system theory, public relations, and the public sector.


1. Introduction

Public relations practice has been widely recognized as an essential part of modern life and has made a significant contribution in various sectors, including government ministries, departments, and agencies, globally. Public relations (PRs) refer to the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its public (Seitel, 2007). It entails building sustainable relationships between an organization and all its public to create a positive brand image.

Public relations have become an important tool for governments following the push for good governance and fledgling democracy. Governments have also used public relations to assist the news media in coverage of their activities. Access to information is essential for democracy since it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. Information serves a "checking function" by ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oaths of office and carry out their oaths of office wishes of those who elected them (Keghku, 2014).

Public relations have been practiced sporadically since the earliest times, even though the name is comparatively recent. The earliest concrete roots of Public Relations can be traced back to approximately 1800 B.C. in the Middle East when archaeologists found a farm bulletin in Iraq that advised farmers of the time on how to sow their crops, how to irrigate, how to deal with field mice, and how to harvest their crops (Martson, 1979).

On the African continent, the application of PR techniques dates back to the beginning of African civilization. According to Metera and Artigue (2000), the concept of PR was practiced in Africa before the era of colonialism. In ancient Egypt, the pharaohs proclaimed their achievements through word pictures on impressive monuments (Newson and Carrel, 2001).

In Tanzania, according to Okaka (2009), the evolution of public relations is closely tied to the civilisation of Tanzania’s more than 120 ethnic communities. In the official and corporate world, public relations has been used by many organizations, including government agencies. However, in Tanzania, unlike its neighbors Kenya and Uganda, public relations was not taught in many higher learning institutions until recently, when many universities started mainstreaming PR as a standalone course. This has created a demand for more demand for public relations professionals in the private sector; however, the same speed has not been experienced in public sectors such as government ministries that are responsible for ensuring effective service delivery. It is hence the gist of this paper to examine how people view the function of public relations in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning.

2. Literature Review

Regarding the theoretical framework, this paper is based on systems theory, as originally propounded by early researchers such as László (1974) and Thomé (1993). Systems theory is a transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and multiperspectival endeavor that borrows from various disciples, including ontology, the philosophy of science, physics, biology, engineering, political science, and public relations. The theory was first identified in the 1940s before it was later popularized by the likes of László (1974) and Thomé (1993). The relevance of this theory explains how public relations facilitate PR practitioners, such as public relations officers, in understanding and managing the relationships an organization enjoys with its stakeholders and the public who make up its environment. Systems theory allows decision-makers in the ministry the two-way flow of resources and information between the ministry and the public. Early researchers of public relations such as Grunig (1978) and Dozier (1989) state that the systems perspective emphasizes the interdependence of organizations with their environments, both internal and external to the organization.

Zeqiri (2021) studied the function of public relations and how it affects interethnic interactions in terms of building trust and satisfaction. The essay examines public relations and describes how it helps build relationships and foster trust between the government and the community. In-depth qualitative interviews served as the primary research approach for this study's qualitative investigation. A total of 39 interviews were conducted: 12 with Macedonian government employees, 8 with Albanian government employees, and 19 with Albanians themselves. The results of this study demonstrated that more effective public relations initiatives encourage people to trust and use government services. The study also demonstrated how government agencies could more quickly obtain feedback through the use of social media campaigns, which helped to raise the standard of services.

To better understand how public relations might raise the standard of government services, Kraaier (2016) conducted a study. A series of 17 qualitative semi structured interviews with communication specialists who were either formerly employed or are presently employed in the Dutch public sector served as the study's foundation. The results showed that it has become increasingly difficult for public relations specialists in the Dutch public sector to uphold the strong division between political and government communication that is used to characterize their work.

Anyijuka (2016) focused on Microfinance Support Centre Limited in Kampala when examining the role of public relations in promoting government development programs. Three methods of data collection were used in the study: a questionnaire, key informant interviews, and secondary data sources. Campaigns, lobbying, propaganda, professional ethics, and corporate social responsibility were identified as PR techniques in the findings, while product marketing, special event management, crisis management, and handling negative press were mentioned as ways to include PR. Public relations are impacted by the implementation of public policy, media coverage of government activities, citizen reporting on agency actions, and increasing agency internal cohesion. Government Development Programs and the media are related (r=0.011, 0.310, 0.380). Given that certain organizations do not have fully functional public relations units, the study concluded that there is very little information accessible regarding public relations practices in Ugandan government institutions. The research was carried out in Kampala with a particular interest in Microfinance Support Centre Limited. This current paper, however, concentrates on how the public perceives the public relations function of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning.

In tertiary institutions in Ashanti, Boakye, Celestinatabi, and Awuah (2012) reviewed how public relations help organizations achieve their goals. The purpose of the study was to evaluate how public relations strategies support organizational objectives at tertiary institutions. The goal was to ascertain how public relations may be improved at private tertiary institutions. The case studies used in the study included Christian Service University College, Ghana Baptist University College, Garden City University College, and University College of Management Studies. The survey solicited the opinions of people who work as public relations specialists at the cited private tertiary schools. Three out of the four target institutions, according to the study, lack a public relations department. The survey also discovered that all four tertiary institutions concur that public relations are crucial for interacting with the internal and external publics of the various universities and attaining organizational objectives. The study, which was conducted in Ghana, concentrated on the role of 58 public relations in achieving organizational goals, whereas the current study emphasizes sensitization.

Karani (2012) examined how public relations could improve the Department of Lands: Ministry of Lands' institutional image. The research was descriptive, and the researcher conducted a poll on how public relations may improve the Ministry of Lands' institutional image. Customers and staff members of the Ministry of Land made up the study's target audience. The population was sampled using a stratified random sampling technique to select respondents. Job Groups in the Department of Land served as the study's strata, and a pro-rata sample of 651 respondents was selected from each stratum. Primary sources employed by the researcher to gather the data included questionnaires. Responses were used to gather both quantitative and qualitative data. The study's findings lead the researcher to the conclusion that the Ministry of Lands has been given a mandate that it lacks the resources to effectively handle. The longer the Ministry struggles with capacity issues, the worse the problems get on the ground, thereby keeping this nation perpetually on the path of making amends for the past and demanding reform. The Ministry of Lands performed the study, which was primarily concerned with the impact of public relations in boosting the institutional image.

Omondi (2012) investigated the effectiveness of public relations techniques in Kenyan government ministries. Determining the value, function, and impact of public relations in government agencies and ministries was the aim. The analysis sought to determine whether public relations professionals were doing their jobs effectively, identify 59 elements that affected PR performance, and make suggestions for enhancing PR efforts in government departments. The research approach employed was a survey. Seventy-nine public relations officers made up the sample, which was collected from government ministries and divisions. A targeted sampling strategy was used. It was shown that government agencies and ministries are significantly impacted by PR strategies. Only 19% of respondents said that PR practices had a significant impact on businesses, while the majority said that these impacts were ordinary. Two percent of respondents claimed that PR strategies have little impact on the company. While the study concentrated on evaluating the effectiveness of PR strategies, this paper focuses on their function in raising public awareness of government initiatives.

In the Red Cross Society of Kenya, Shamsan and Otieno (2015) investigated the relationship between strategic PR and organizational effectiveness. The objective was to ascertain how strategic PR impacts company performance. The Kenya Red Cross Society workforce was surveyed to gather first-hand information. The effect of PR on business performance has been examined in the literature. Descriptive statistics were used during the analysis. The outcomes demonstrated a strong impact of strategic PR on business performance. This study focused on the Kenya Red Cross Society and how it affected business success.

The researcher applied a mixed-methods approach to effectively utilize all the tools of data collection available in both methods rather than being restricted to those types typically associated with quantitative research or qualitative research. The researcher employed a case study design by concentrating on the Ministry of Finance to obtain people’s views regarding the conduct of public relations at the ministry. The study relied on a sample of 103 respondents. Data were collected using both interviews and a questionnaire, including a review of documentary sources, which helped to enrich the study in obtaining varied sources of information concerning the implementation of the public relations function at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. The researcher employed both qualitative and quantitative data analysis strategies. The researcher employed narrative and descriptive data analysis to analyse data that were obtained from the field. For quantitative data, the researcher used a descriptive data analysis methodology where data were analyzed and presented using graphs and tables. On the other hand, qualitative data were analyzed using content and thematic analysis and presented in a verbatim form.

The findings are based on the analysis of the data based on the main objective and its sub objectives, which sought to examine the functions of public relations at the ministry in light of the current technological changes. The findings are accordingly presented in the figures and tables that follow below:

Figure 1: Whether Satisfied with Roles Played by PR Officers at the Ministry

The majority of the respondents (63%), when asked whether they were satisfied with what the public relations officers were doing at the ministry, said they were not satisfied, while 23% of the respondents were neutral, with 13% being the only ones showing that they were satisfied with what the PR officers at the ministry were doing. From these findings, it can be said that like the public relations function, many clients (citizens) visiting many government institutions, including ministries, do always get treated well and do not get the services that take them in time, something that, indeed, makes them unsatisfied. This is further amplified by Figure 4.10, which indicates that the majority of the respondents tended to rate the services rendered by the PR officials very poorly.

Figure 2: Rating of Services Rendered by the Public Relations at the Ministry

The majority of the respondents (62%) tended to rate the services rendered by the public relations officers at the ministry so poorly, with 13% being rated at the average level, while 12% were ranked below the average, with 9% saying good while only 3% said the services rendered by the officers were excellent.

The majority of the respondents (62%) disagreed when asked whether they were satisfied with the services provided by the public relations officers at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. Moreover, 21% of the respondents strongly disagreed with the proposition, while 14% of the respondents were partly satisfied with the services. In short, many of the respondents were not at all happy with the public relations services provided by the government-hired public relations officers at the ministry.

The majority of the respondents (62%) show that it was not easy at all for them to access information from the ministry whenever the time arose, with 17% of the respondents remaining neutral, while only 12% indicated that it was easy. This could be attributed to the bureaucratic tendencies that might arise whenever one tries to acquire information from the responsible authorities at the ministry, such as those responsible for public relations. Under normal circumstances, public relations officers are the custodians of all information of the organization, including government institutions such as ministries. Therefore, having compliant and understanding managers facilitates the flow of information from the responsible organization to citizens who might be curious to obtain certain information from the responsible institution. This applies to situations of achievements and crises.

For instance, let us say that a certain building belonging to the ministry has been gutted by fire, or there has been theft, the citizens are always curious to know what was the cause of the fire, the extent of the damage caused by the fire, and the extent of the success of the responses applied, and in case of any theft, what was stolen from the institution, and its corresponding value. After all, in any democratic and accountable government, sharing information with citizens is one of the key ingredients of a democratic society and implies that officers in charge of information/communication to the public, such as public relations officers, ought to be people of quality and demonstrable qualifications.

Figure 4.5: Level of Satisfaction with Using PR Services at the Ministry

The majority of the respondents (57%) were dissatisfied with the level of public relations by officers at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, with 16% of the respondents reporting that they were not sure, while 11% were very satisfied. From these general results, it surfaces to show that the state of public relations in public institutions such as at the ministry is not that satisfactory.

The majority of the respondents (50%) were of the view that for better public relations from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, the officers in charge of public relations needed to ensure that they improve online services, especially social media, with another 17% calling for the improvement of the quality of services, while 14% called for the improvement of the timelines for giving feedback to the public on matters of the ministry. This marks the end of the presentation of the study findings based on the specific objectives as was set out in Chapter One of the study. What follows is the presentation of the study summary, discussion of the study findings, and conclusion.

5. Conclusion

From the reviewed literature, it has become clear that the role that public relations play is significant and cannot, in any way, be overlooked, be it in the public or private sector. The paper has shown that there is limited use of social media. It is worth underscoring the fact that for any organization—bringing or small—to thrive in this twenty-first century, it must adopt the use of social media in its public relations campaigns. Indeed, many organizations have adopted social media not because it is fashionable but because social media institutions view the use of social media as beneficial since it provides a significant contribution to the overall project performance in terms of improving communication and service delivery, ensuring timely feedback, sporadic public engagement, customer acquisition and flexibility of project teams by breaking out the barriers of geographical locations.


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