Sleeping Ministers and MPs-why the fuss?

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By: Tumusiime K. Deo

International Communications Consultant

They slept in 2007, slept in 2008, slept in 2009, slept in 2010, slept in 2011, slept in 2012, and even in 2013 they slept again each time the President was delivering his speech in Parliament; and it’s such a fuss that sometimes the issue makes headlines in some media! If Jesus were to come today, could he probably blast us that “If you’ve never done it, be the first to cast stone?”

Hmmm, of course each one of us must have stolen a moment of sleep during our school days especially during afternoon lessons and more particularly following a heavy meal of Posho and Beans. Not so much that most Ministers and MPs still eat that much Posho and Beans in their current status, but afternoon hours with the kind of humidity in our country are always going to get someone slumbering. Could the signs therefore be ample justification for Parliament to start sitting only in the mornings when its members’ productivity is likely to be at its peak? It’s surely an idea to explore.

However, more realistically, for a President to be addressing an audience where many of those present are practically sleeping is such a shame. Sounds like one of those moments when the President is busy addressing the nation live on TV at a time of load shedding. The implication of such a scenario is that very good ideas from the Head of State go to waste as some of those meant to implement them, miss out key points notably those that are not indicated on the written speech.

Well, some people seem to suggest that the reason why Ministers and MPs sleep during Presidential Speeches is because many of them are of advanced age and therefore too exhausted to sustain a couple of hours listening to especially long speeches. Well, this line of thought could possibly hold a bit of water considering that the President who himself is just over 70 years of age occasionally steals off sleep moments when he’s on the listening end. But the fact that even some younger Ministers and MPs have equally been caught live on camera sleeping, somewhat absolves their senior counterparts or does it!

Could it be that we are taking this sleeping business too lightly? Could it be that it’s not an issue worth public mention? Or do we really need to revise our public speech skills to make them more creative as a way to keep listeners awake?  but who else delivers more animated speeches than His Excellency?  I have witnessed on a few occasions Ministers and MPs burst into frenzied laughter at the President’s usually unpredictable jokes in between his speeches. Possibly there’s another problem to deal with.

My honest opinion is that whenever someone is delivering a very predictable message, the audience is always going to go to bed. Why? Because many will assume they already know the message so well. Yes, for example; by the time Madam Maria Kiwanuka delivered the President’s Budget Speech, much of the contents were already leaked to the media and many people had enough pointers of what was contained in her Budget Briefcase. In such a case, what would stop someone from sleeping? Perhaps her sharp and accentuated voice, which I believe quite did the magic this time round, umhhh!

My greatest worry about written speeches for high profile officials, is the likelihood of the reader reading ideas he or she is either not quite acquainted with or does not believe in altogether. This written speech practice also denies the audience a chance to connect with the speaker through natural non-verbal gestures that more often than not enhance the message. Otherwise, such speeches could as well be photocopied and circulated to the concerned without wasting time listen as if to a newsreader on radio or TV. But even with news, viewers and listeners are often treated to a commercial break!

To beat the sleep, I witnessed a few tactics during the 2013 reading of the National Budget; a few fellows engaged in KB (conversations), others  were caught on TV picking their noses, others were seen punching their phones (possibly chatting on Facebook) and others engaged in heckling-all of which are perhaps worse bad manners in a public arena. Would it be surprising if some of the sleepers will be among those attempting to capture public attention in the media once the Budget reading session has been closed?

Whatever the cause of sleeping, it’s a vice that needs to be dealt with in order to increase confidence levels especially amongst our leaders. At personal level, members intending to participate in public functions where long speeches are anticipated, should afford themselves ample hours of sleep in advance or watch the lunch menus or and exercise more to increase blood circulation. Otherwise, with the increasing alertness of the journalist’s cameras and micro-camera, many may continue to be embarrassed; but most importantly, there’s dire need to up the seriousness of especially public figures. This sleeping business must stop.

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