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Correctional service aims for greater transparency

The Namibian Correctional Service (NCS) will soon appoint the first ever Public Relations Officers (PROs) for its facilities throughout the country as it seeks to be more transparent and accountable.
Commissioner Sam Shaalulange, Head of Directorate, Central Staff (with beret) keenly listens while NCS officers work on a task during a UNODC-supported induction workshop for Public Relations Officers in Omaruru, Namibia.

By Moses Magadza

OMARURU – The Namibian Correctional Service (NCS) will soon appoint the first ever Public Relations Officers (PROs) for its facilities throughout the country as it seeks to be more transparent and accountable.

This follows the signing of the NCS’ Reviewed Organisational Structure by the Minister of Safety and Security, Retired Major General Charles Dickson Ndaxu Phillip Namoloh, last week.

Commissioner Sam Shaalulange, Head of Directorate, Central Staff, said the decision to appoint PROs was in line with NCS’ desire to be more transparent about its successes and opportunities. The move, he added, is also in keeping with NCS’ vision to be Africa’s leader in the provision of correctional services.

“We realised that working with a centralised public and media relations system was not effective. Different correctional facilities have different things to showcase. We identified the need for people taking care of PR issues on the ground at the 14 correctional institutions of NCS. We did not have these positions at the facilities before,” Shaalulange said.

Last week, the NCS, with technical assistance of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), organized an induction and training workshop for the earmarked PROs.

The workshop took place over five days at Lucius Sumbwanyambe Mahoto Correctional Service Training College in Erongo Region. Deputy Commissioner Eliakim Shikongo, the Commandant of the college, officially welcomed the participants. He stressed the need for hard work, openness to life-long learning and discipline.

In all, 38 participants took part. Training and discussions revolved around high level statements of the NCS; key achievements and ongoing reforms including implementation of the Nelson Mandela Rules which stipulate the minimum package of care for inmates; and mapping of people and organisations (publics) linked to NCS and how to meet their communication needs. Like all other establishments, the NCS has two distinct publics: internal and external.

Participants engaged in practical activities to build their capacity to collect information, deal with the media, write and edit various documents including reports, press releases and media advisories.

Shaalulange partnered with a UNODC official as a resource person during the workshop. He said the training had made a “huge difference and was very fruitful”.

“We achieved a lot. First, this induction enabled the officers – some of whom had no background in PR – to know what the job entails. Secondly, it enabled them to appreciate the importance of PR as a function. Many of them now realise how important PR is for the image of the NCS,” he said.

He expressed optimism that the officers would share their newly-acquired skills and knowledge with others in their facilities.

On the envisaged benefits of having PROs within NCS, Shaalulange said: “I am very optimistic that it will contribute a lot to educating the public about what NCS stands for and its functions. This is not well known. I anticipate a time when the work of NCS in contributing to public safety, will be fully appreciated. PROs have a key role to play in making this a reality.”

The NCS is busy with reforms as it moves from punitive incarceration to rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders into mainstream society. Shaalulange said the training and appointment of PROs was proof that NCS was walking its talk with respect to reforms.

“As we are reforming, we want the public to see how we are actually improving. The correctional service has changed. It does not stand for what it stood for before independence, which was punitive incarceration and violation of human rights. One of our core values is transparency. PROs will enable us to be transparent and to help the public hold us accountable.”

He thanked UNDOC for supporting the workshop.

“I do not have enough words to thank UNODC for this capacity building initiative. It was very clear from the participants how this training impacted positively on their knowledge and their professionalism. We really appreciate this partnership between UNODC and NCS. Our wish is that it continues.”

Signe Rotberga, UNODC Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa, said her agency had gladly partnered with NCS to offer the training because of the central role that communication plays in strengthening partnerships.

“Correctional services are doing a very important job of rehabilitation of offenders and making communities safer. For them to be successful, the public should support the work of correctional services. That can best happen if the work that correctional services are doing is visible. PROs have a key role to play in creating awareness,” she said.

UNODC, as part of the UN team in Namibia, supports the work of NCS to contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal Number 11 which strives to achieve sustainable, safe and inclusive cities and communities. The workshop was supported under the framework of the UNODC – SADC Regional Programme ‘Making SADC Communities free of Crime and Drugs’.

A test administered at the beginning of the workshop to gauge the participants’ levels of skills and knowledge of public relations, the NCS, its work and aspirations revealed huge knowledge gaps. A similar test given at the end of the workshop showed a marked improvement.

Some of the participants shared their views on the workshop.

Chris Iyambo from Grootfontein said: “The training was an eye-opener. It improved my knowledge and skills in media and public relations.”

Iyambo’s workmate, Rebecca Kambonde said: “This was the most memorable workshop I have ever attended. It was indeed an honour to have a knowledgeable facilitator from UNODC that really taught us a lot about the media.”

Jasen Karl Petrus from Lucius Sumbwanyambe Mahoto Correctional Service Training College said: “The PROs’ training did not only increase my knowledge of the media industry, but the skills I gained will help me realise my dream of becoming an author.”

Shaalulange said although he was one of the facilitators, he too had learned something.

“The training had a significant impact on the way I previously perceived media relations and its importance in advancing and promoting an organisation’s reputation. I also learned how reading and leading are interdependent aspects particularly for a PRO,” he said.

Other participants, however, felt that the workshop – while enlightening – was too short. Others suggested it be done more often. Participants got certificates of successful completion at the end.

Moses Magadza is the Communications Officer at the UNODC Regional Office for Southern Africa.