Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Deputy Ruler of Sharjah and Head of Sharjah Media Office, delivering his opening speech at the 10th International Government Communication Forum (IGCF) at Sharjah’s Expo Centre on Sunday. Image Credit: Sajila Saseendran/Gulf News

Sharjah: Government communications should aim at enhancing the human capital and boosting relations and values that help develop nations, Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Deputy Ruler of Sharjah and Head of Sharjah Media Office, said in his opening speech at the 10th International Government Communication Forum (IGCF) at Sharjah’s Expo Centre on Sunday.

Organised by the Sharjah Government Media Bureau (SGMB), the post-pandemic edition of the IGCF is taking place on September 26-27, under the theme ‘Historic lessons, Future ambitions.’

Speaking at the inaugural session, Sheikh Sultan said, under the wise leadership of His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, the emirate has always been putting human capital first and foremost in its agenda and moves forward in building the intellectual capabilities of its human capital.

While there was a rush for constructing buildings post discovery of oil, he said Sharjah’s Ruler had the clear vision of putting priority on human capital over the concrete revolution.

“Through communication, we boost relations and values that protect and develop nations,” said Sheikh Sultan.

He said the two-day forum envisions the future of government communications and will review mechanisms, tools and changes in public perceptions.

Guest of Honour of this edition of IGCF, Prince Turki Al Faisal, founder and trustee of King Faisal Foundation and chairman of the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies in Saudi Arabia, said protection and prosperity of the people should always be the objective of governments and their communication.

“We need to learn from the past and move towards the public benefit of humanity. Public good should be the objective of government communication,” he said.

Bridging gap

“We need to be truthful, and honest and bridge the gap between people’s expectations and governance. The more the gap widens, the more it entails political turmoil and conspiracy theories will be spread,”

Prince Turki called for a change in and reshaping of the current international order for governments to face the new realities of the world.

He also called for a restructuring of the United Nations’ Security Council to give voice to the rest of the world that is not represented in the council.

Prince Turki highlighted that governments in the Arab region will not be able to sustain stability unless they address the root causes of different types of terrorism that poses a threat to the region.

Calling for enhanced collaborations between the Arab League and the GCC Council to boost regional security, he said: “We will never be taken seriously unless we take ourselves seriously.”

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League, welcomed Prince Turki’s suggestions to improve unity in the region threatened by many risks and interventions by super powers and regional powers.

He pointed out that a major part of the problems faced in the region and elsewhere resulted from unhealthy relationships between the governments and people.

People found themselves in a situation where they were not being fully briefed about what is happening and they felt separated, he said, adding: “No development process can be implemented without a well aware and fully informed people.”

People were not perceived as participants of development but its beneficiaries, which is a dangerous state that led to alienating citizens from governments, he observed.

Highlighting the need for government communication to ensure that governments and people are on the same page, he said transparency should be at the core of government communication to meet people’s needs.

Lessons from the pandemic

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the impact of successful government communication. During the crisis time, it has become quite clear that governments that have open channels of communication with the public, managed to address the challenges and deal with the crisis in a much better way,” he said.

Modern technology has made it easier to process and disseminate information. However, governments should not just use them for communication, but also for monitoring the problems of the people, and what causes confusion and misinformation among the people, he suggested.

He pointed out that the UAE has made use of modern, digital platforms for the management of government communication based on plans and policies of each emirate.

Representing an exceptional practice in e-governance, he said the emirate of Sharjah is a model that makes knowledge and communication part and parcel of governance.

Dr Nayef Al Hajraf, Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, pointed out that government communication historically has gone through many stages and will need an effective, reliable approach in the future.

Call for credibility

He called for credibility, proactive approach, and professionalism using multi-disciplinary teams in ensuring people’s confidence in government communication.

Pointing out that the region is passing through big challenges, Al-Hajraf said, government communication is one of the most essential tools to ensure the safety and security of nations.

He said forums such as IGCF will help draw policies to improve government communication in the region.

Earlier, Tariq Saeed Allay, director general of SGMB, said the international forum will spotlight pertinent topics that will be discussed for the first time on a regional level.

He added: “The world has witnessed rapid transformations in many sectors that have impacted the public and challenged governments. We are hopeful that the forum’s outcomes and recommendations will ensure the future-readiness of government communication teams to meet the challenges resulting from such unpredictable conditions.”

Other notable speakers at 10th edition include Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former president of Estonia; Philip Hammond, British politician and former secretary of state for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Prof. David Halpern, CEO and board director of the Behavioural Insights Team in the UK; Elizabeth Linder, founder of Facebook’s Politics and Government Division and founder of The Conversational Century, an advisory movement that challenges leaders to reimagine their roles in the 21st century, Syrian actor Abed Fahed; singer, visual artist and poet Remie Akl; Lebanese television personality, Malek Maktabi; and Egyptian YouTube sensation Ahmed El Ghandour.

The two-day global forum will deliver a rich compendium of 31 path-breaking sessions, including seven panel discussions, five inspirational talks, seven training workshops, and 12 interactive programmes that will envision the future of government communications and review mechanisms, tools, and changes in public perceptions.