VIEW: The president’s speech —Andleeb Abbas - Sunday, April 03, 2011

The president and his men must realise that the impact of the content depends on the intent behind the content. No amount of well-worded verbosity can make up for intentions not above board 

The King’s Speech was an epic
Hollywood movie last year and won every single award ranging from the BAFTAs to the Golden Globes to the ultimate Oscars. The story of the movie is very simple; the British King during World War II has to make a speech to the public that has to unite the nation against Hitler’s nefarious designs. Unfortunately, the king has a fear of public speaking that results in an inability to speak at all or to speak only with a stutter. How the king overcomes this shortcoming through a personal trainer and his own willpower are beautifully depicted in this movie. President Zardari’s speech to parliament was also coming at a time when the nation is almost at war with itself on many fronts and, as such, ideally the speech should have acted as a reassurance to many who fear that the country may not be able to survive this increasing erosion of governance in the country. Though the president does not suffer from a verbal defect and delivered the speech with reasonable fluency, the impact of the speech to either rebrand himself or his government was zilch. The fault lies not in the delivery but in the content and the intent.

The content of the speech was irrelevant to public concerns. While the public was dying to hear about issues of inflation, drone attacks and the Raymond Davis case, the president went on to speak, at first, about the “glorious” achievements of the PPP era and then the need to work jointly on how to impose more taxes on the public to make more money to finance the multiple deficits devouring the economy. He talked about the energy shortage only because he wanted the consensus of parliament on the regular tariff hike they are planning to appease the IMF. He also talked about the restructuring of state enterprises and made the usual remarks about how to make them efficient. Thus, the content was so off the mark on what needs to be focused on that the speech was not even newsworthy in its impact as these matters are discussed in daily talk shows with no conclusions.

The content missed the pulse of the issues that afflict us, i.e. relations with the US, especially pertaining to the two burning points of the ruthless incursion of US officials and machinery into Pakistani territory with US nationals having a complete license to kill whom they please. The fact that he did not even discuss these raging public concerns implies that he had no explanation or justification for them and thus did not possess enough courage to broach them; the other reality of this aversion is that he really is blind to the criticality of this issue to determine the fate of his party. In either case, it made the content of the speech meaningless and completely futile. The insistence on working together through a consultation process of solving issues was also laughable because negotiations with coalition partners are more about who gets a bigger slice of the pie in the loot rather than actually solving issues. State enterprises are in the hands of cronies of the president or people appointed in barter deals for the coalition parties’ favoured lot. From the NAB to PIA, cronyism has replaced professionalism. Public utilities have been the major victim of this forced incursion of the undeserving and the incompetent — from gas to electricity, the organisations that control the future development of this country are headed by people who have no clue how to plug the deficits and inefficiencies. A typical day in any of these organisations starts with the reinstatement of people fired due to corruption or redundancy and ends up with further notifications of party loyalists being given jobs where they will be on the payroll of these entities, acting as ghost workers who will never have any job assignments to undertake but will be remitted salaries to their accounts at the start of every month.

The president and his men must realise that the impact of the content depends on the intent behind the content. No amount of well-worded verbosity can make up for intentions not above board. To date, the attitude and performance of our leaders has been callous and corrupt. Every leadership is judged on the basis of their deeds and not rhetoric. The ability to live up to what you say makes people eagerly look forward to your next announcement and declaration. Thus, the intent behind your speech has to be pure and untainted. Unfortunately, the intent behind the words uttered by our leaders has been just another parrying tactic to dodge and distract the pubic from the real issues of the country and thus, despite all channels giving live coverage, most of the speeches of our leaders receive a mocking reaction from people.

When you compare speeches given by the Quaid and their impact, you find the concept of credibility and trust being the major difference in the audience reaction to leaders then and now. This can be evidenced by the famous incident where the Quaid was addressing a mass public rally and, after speaking in Urdu for a while, he took permission from the crowd to continue in English to an audience whose majority was not capable of understanding that language. The fact that the crowd allowed the Quaid to speak in a language they could barely comprehend and clapped enthusiastically at regular intervals is evidence of the fact that it is not the content alone but the intent and the belief in that intent that makes for great leadership communication. The president has increasingly isolated himself from public sentiment and has, in the recent past, totally depended on his adopted in-law brand of Bhutto to make the public chant and clap. Borrowed money, borrowed branding and borrowed words always have only a temporary impact on solving issues that are deep rooted in the economy and personality. Any leader who cannot command a following on the basis of personal charisma and established performance will always look desperately to buy time and space. In this constant focus on how to put the highest bid for loyalty and dignity of a nation in exchange for personal position security, the leaders must not forget that the public may laugh away and forget a few blunders of communication but they will never forgive the continuous degradation of their sentiments and emotions resulting in an eventual and disgraceful fall of leaders from the positions bought not on merit but on mortgaged credibility.

The writer is a consultant and can be reached at

Source :\04\03\story_3-4-2011_pg3_3

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