Lack of clarity causes chaos

Lack of clarity causes chaos

As the government does its best to combat the Covid-19 outbreak, communicating with the public is still its biggest weakness.

And this apparent lack of crisis communication management is intensifying the confusion and destroying public confidence.

There has been a swath of embarrassing public faux pas that throws light on the lack of clear communication between government agencies, which in turn is resulting in conflicting, false or misleading announcements.

A case in point is the shutdown order of shopping malls and other services ordered by Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang yesterday.

When asked about the sudden order, Government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat warned the public to be aware of "fake news" and to "only believe in information released by the government and government agencies".

Putting it bluntly, she doubted the order's authenticity, which also means she didn't have the faintest idea that malls were indeed being closed at the governor's order as of this morning.

Her declaration baffled so many netizens that social media was flooded with complaints and queries.

Further adding to this confusion, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) revised the order and issued another one just a few hours later.

Now, it is understandable that tough measures are required to fight Covid-19 which shows no signs of abating judging from the 89 new cases that have pushed the total to beyond 400 as of yesterday.

But it is equally important for state agencies to do their best to avoid issuing conflicting information because that will only make things more chaotic. And that is exactly what is happening.

Before issuing any orders that affect a large number of people, the concerned agency -- BMA in this case -- should think things out thoroughly.

It should ensure the powers-that-be, as well as those in charge of communicating with the public, are properly informed and have answers to queries posed by the people.

The BMA's revised order will see all malls closed, with the exception of supermarkets and pharmacies within its premises.

All services such as hair salons, swimming pools, childcare centres, massage parlours and so on will also be closed, while restaurants are only allowed to provide takeaway.

Even convenience stores are required to close their eating areas.

Citing the seriousness of the situation, the BMA has blocked all petitions against the order and put in place strong punishments for violators.

The BMA is also urging private companies to embrace a stay-at-home work mode in a move to cut down on new infections.

Pol Gen Aswin's order went several steps beyond an earlier order announced by the government, which only targeted entertainment venues like restaurants with live music, pubs, night clubs, massage parlours and traditional massage shops.

However, without any clear communication, people have been left in the dark about what they can do to ease their lives as the outbreak expands.

With this confusion and lack of certainty in the direction of government policy, people are panicking and resorting to improper behaviour like stocking up on food and necessities.

This in turn is distorting demand, which is resulting in shortages, fuelling public anger at a time when people are already stressed.

The government's credibility was first affected when it tried to bring back a group of Thais trapped in China's Wuhan where the virus first reared its head.

Ministers provided different and sometimes conflicting information, especially when it came to providing a travel itinerary for affected people. By contrast, other countries efficiently evacuated their citizens.

Then came the face mask saga -- the government insisted there was adequate supply when in reality there was a severe shortage.

This again eroded public trust.

In fact, nearly every government official, starting from Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha down to the lowest deputy, has been deficient of communication skills.

Yesterday, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul sent the public a wrong message when he broke down and called on the people, in a shaky voice, to believe the government "will not let anyone down" in this difficult situation.

If Mr Anutin believes tears can help in a crisis, he is totally wrong. A weepy leader cannot lead.

At a time of severe crisis, clear communication is most important, otherwise, the government will lose its last chance to maintain public trust and minimise public panic.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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