At this pivotal time in the hurricane recovery process, it is troubling that the government suddenly has no communications director.
On Aug. 20, Arliene Penn, who formerly held the position, was transferred to the Governor’s Office to serve as executive private secretary.
No advance notice was provided, and the media, which worked with Ms. Penn on a regular basis, didn’t learn of the move until a press release was issued 11 days after the fact.
Now no one is acting in her stead, the position has not been advertised, and the Premier’s Office was unable to provide a timeline for when she might be replaced.
The job, however, is important. Among other responsibilities, the director liaises with the media and serves as communications advisor to the premier and other government officials, including heads of department and other senior public officers, House of Assembly members and statutory bodies.
The sudden decision, then, raises questions. Why is there no concrete plan to replace the director? Is no one qualified to act in her stead for now? How can any position so senior be allowed to remain open indefinitely? Doesn’t the move suggest a disconcerting level of disorganisation within the upper echelons of government?
Perhaps most importantly, will the government — which struggled to communicate effectively even before Hurricane Irma — be less transparent moving forward?
Until a director is appointed, media inquiries will doubtlessly fall to senior public officers, increasing their workload. And if they choose to clam up, members of the public likely will be left in the dark.
If the government has a reason for the decision — a reorganisation, say, or some other change in policy — officials should say as much. Otherwise, the position should be filled straightaway with an acting appointment until a permanent replacement can be hired.
As the territory struggles to recover from Irma, the government should be redoubling its efforts to communicate with the public. Instead, it has removed one of the top officials responsible for that function.
The move seems remarkably careless at best.