29 April 2010

Darin, King of Uncommunication

Plenty of people in Newfoundland and Labrador are running around thinking that, as a result of a bureaucratic error,  a bunch of people at the College of the North Atlantic got more in their pay envelopes than they were entitled to receive.

It’s understandable that they believe this or something like it since that is exactly what is implied in the very careful selection of words education minister Darin King used to reveal this issue on Monday:

Education Minister Discloses Errors Made at
College of the North Atlantic’s Qatar Campus

There is that word right there in the headline on the release:  “errors”.

That same idea is also there in the release itself, referring to “salary overpayments”, and “errors” that were “made in determining salaries”.

All through his comments in the House of Assembly on Tuesday, King kept using the word “error”:

I made a release yesterday that fully disclosed to the Province an error that has been made to the tune of approximately $5 million. I also made it fully clear that this is not a decision of government that made this error; …

…we would do an external review for the purpose of trying to determine exactly where the College of the North Atlantic made mistakes that led to the error that has been identified

But then there is a curious statement attributed to the minister in the news release:

"I want to assure employees of the Qatar campus that they will continue to receive their current salary for the remainder of their contract," said Minister King. "We will continue to work with the college as they address this situation and assess the full financial impact of the errors."


Just follow this for a second.

As a result of an “error”, people have been overpaid – supposedly – but then there is an assurance that those same people will continue to receive their “current salary” – that is, presumably, the overpaid one – until the contracts expire.

Odd, isn’t it?

It’s odd because what people think happened and what actually occurred are two different things.  All those people are running around believing things that aren’t true  because the news release and the minister’s media lines bury the real story under mountains of obfuscation.

If you confronted King about the news release, he will insist he told all.  Well, he didn’t really do that in the release itself, but between the news release and his subsequent comments, the real story is there;  you just have to dig it out from underneath the vague words and sentences in what is truly a classic piece of uncommunication. 

To find out what really happened, though, you just have to read carefully. 

Take a look at what education minister Darin King told the House on Tuesday:

I also made it fully clear that this is not a decision of government that made this error;  it was a decision made by the College of the North Atlantic which is an arm’s-length corporation of government, Mr. Speaker.

The editors at Hansard mistakenly stuck a semi-colon in there but there is no mistaking that the error was not overpayment. Just take out the mistake in punctuation and read the resulting sentence out loud. 


The “error” not a mistake at all.  It was some unspecified decision taken by the people who run the College of the North Atlantic.

But what decision?

Well, that bit too is buried away in another comment King made:

For example, it is only about a month and a half ago, Mr. Speaker, when the former president of the college decided, without the proper authority and authorization, to sign a one year extension to the current contracting tender, …


He tried to obscure the relationship between the “error” and this example of him being helpful but that’s just a bit too convenient a bit of timing to be real. 

Put that comment about helpfulness together with the rest of it and a more complete and accurate version of the current crisis appears than the one most people seem to be getting.

All clear now?

King’s two news releases on Monday are a classic example of uncommunication, of concealing crucial information by carefully selecting words and sentences that have fuzzy meanings. It’s like issuing a news release that makes it sound like Abitibi abandoned a mill site rather than admit that the provincial government had shagged up royally and expropriated the thing by mistake.

Oh yes, and it was two releases.

The second one – issued as King scrummed reporters – announced that that president of CMA tossed her teddy in the corner on Friday afternoon citing, among other things, inappropriate provincial government interference in the management of her operation.

Despite the fact King had the resignation three days beforehand, the announcement appeared one and a half hours after the first release in which King claimed credit for disclosures he really didn’t make.  It might just be bungling – Lord knows there’s been enough of that lately  – but there is something about the second release and the timing that screams “uncommunication.”