Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Calling CIDA---Hello, hello?

I have dealt with a number of both federal and provincial departments and I have been as satisfied as anybody could be with all except CIDA.

I have since come to the conclusion that guys at CIDA are reluctant to respond to enquiries and my writing about this comes from being frustrated three times in less than a year.

On Monday, July 23, I received a news piece from Voice of America that Canada had donated $3.3 million worth of food to Zimbabwe. The story did not have much detail, so on Tuesday I called CIDA for more information.

A media officer, Jinette Thibodeau answered my call and after I told her that I would appreciate an answer by the end of the day, she promised to do her best. She had not answered by the following day and I followed up. She said she had forwarded my request and was still waiting for answers which should come by the end of that day.

Nothing happened for more than a week until Friday, August 3 when I called and left a message registering my disappointment. Ms. Thibodeau called back and said she too was waiting for answers but promised again that answers would be provided by the end of that day.

Nothing came my way until Monday, August 6 when a brief answer restating what I already knew came via e-mail from Greg Scott, Chief of Media Relations.

Needless to say the editor I had pitched this story to had already lambasted me for promising what I could not deliver. To make matters worse, the information provided by Greg Scott left me where I started off, meaning I would have to call CIDA, again, and repeat the questions I wanted answered.

I gave up just like I did late last year when I was part of a group of journalists seeking funding for a project. We wanted to apply to CIDA which has such programs as the Mass Media Initiative and Journalism Development Initiative.

We called and e-mailed CIDA several times and all we got were voicemails which promised to respond to us promptly if we left detailed messages. We did but for weeks we never got any answers until May or June (more than six months later), when I received an e-mail informing me that our application had not been approved. I had forgotten we sought help from CIDA.

In March, after the release of the Senate report recommending that CIDA be closed because it had only done work worth 20% of its $12.4 billion budget for Africa in 38 years, I attended a meeting at the University of Ottawa, on aid to Africa and the future of CIDA.

Participants were hoping CIDA would answer questions but a lady who identified herself as a CIDA worker said she was there in her personal capacity.

“Do not expect an answer from CIDA,” she said and everybody there seemed to accept that it was in fact the way CIDA operated. Well, I still tried to seek comment but my call was not returned.

Still I defended CIDA because I really believe in the work they do in Africa, insignificant as it may seem to Canadian Senators. But the shoddy treatment I have received from CIDA every time I seek information is making me wonder whether I was too quick to defend them.

From talking with other people who deal with CIDA regularly, among them diplomats and journalists, it appears I am not the only one to be treated shabbily by this public institution and I wonder why.

TO READ MORE OF MY WRITING, PLEASE VISIT; www.torontosun.ca/News/Columnists/Madawo_Innocent/

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