Thursday, January 26, 2012

SCDF and CNB Chiefs Arrested by CPIB

The Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) crisis management of the arrests of the Commissioner of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and Director of the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) has raised a valuable lesson for the crisis communicator i.e. the manner in which potential sensitive news should be released to the public.
In the era of social media, we operate in a perfect information environment.  As such, crisis communicators should always plan on the assumption that nothing can be hidden indefinitely.  In this case, I must accept that the on-going investigations into alleged personal misconduct by Mr Ng Boon Gay and Mr Peter Lim would inevitably become public knowledge and that the MHA needs  to be open about the matter; timely in the release of information; 100% Truthful on the facts of the case; and broadly communicated in both the internet and main stream media\.  In other words, go on the information offensive. 
Going on the information offensive has two key advantages: (a) it allows you to frame the crisis to your advantage; and (b) it allows you better control how the crisis develops.  Crisis Communications is essentially the battle of narratives.  Thus, if the MHA had proactively broken the news that it had “uncovered corruption,” “taken decisive actions against high-ranking civil servants” and that “no one is above the law,” I postulate that the MHA would have been able to frame the incident as a successful anti-corruption operation and averted the current stakeholder issues of wide-spread fraud in the civil service.  Additionally, going on the information initiative obliges your detractors to challenge your statements.  This prevents your detractors from being able to push their own agendas as your chosen “issues” are the ones stakeholders are focused on.
Overall, my assessment is that MHA’s poor management of this crisis stems from a failure to understand that in the new information environment nothing can be hidden forever.  If they understood this, I am certain that they would have opted to go on the offensive.

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