By Gamini Jayaweera –
Sri Lankans of all races Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malay and of all religions Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Catholics, and Anglicans have voted in millions on 8th January 2015 in favour of Mr. Maithripala Sirisena to become the next Executive President of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. The people of Sri Lanka have placed their trust and pinned their hopes that the newly elected President of Sri Lanka will re-build a Democratic, Compassionate, Peaceful, Law abiding and Sovereign nation in the near future.
On 30th of January our new President addressed the nation and demonstrated for the first time in the history of our political sphere that the Leader of our nation has humility among other leadership qualities to lead our nation during the next five years. This is a very important leadership quality which is lacking in most of our current politicians. In his address to the nation the new President has exhibited that he has no ego and he is willing to solve problems with discussions, respecting other opinions and compromising wherever possible to achieve the maximum benefits for the people of Sri Lanka. As Ezra Taft Benson stated the President has shown that “Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right.” Humility does not show weakness in leadership as some people believe but it is concerned with what is the right approach for the issue at hand. The previous regime showed arrogance in-lieu of humility hence they were unable to learn from their mistakes. If the new President governs our country exactly the way he has outlined in his address to the nation, there is no doubt that he will become one of the great leaders in Sri Lanka. As Rabidranath Tagore stated “We come nearest to the great when we are great in humility”.
The main objective of his Vision, as he explained in his address, is to change the political culture in Sri Lanka to eradicate unlawful behaviour by the politicians and their supporters during pre and post-election periods. I hope that the President and his government will put in place adequate laws that are required to achieve this long overdue demand for peace and harmony in the country during election periods. I believe that this is something which can be achieved in the next general election if the full police powers are given to the authorities to act independently without any political interference. Zero tolerance must be applied for people who engage in political violence irrespective of their status, political affiliation, or their relationships with influential politicians to ensure that implementation of this objective is not a Fantasy but a Reality.
The other important objective set out by the President is to change the mind-set of current politicians during the forthcoming general election which is to be held after the 100 days rule by his interim government. It appears that here he is seeking the cooperation from all political party leaders and their candidates to conduct their election campaigns in a most civilised and gentlemanlike manner which has never been seen or conducted by our politicians in the recent past. About two weeks ago the President has been elected as the Leader of Sri Lanka Freedom Party replacing former leader of SLFP Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. Naturally the President as the leader of SLFP and his committee for the election campaign main objective is to gain maximum number of seats for the SLFP during the forthcoming election. Likewise as the Leader of United National Party, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe and his committee for the election campaign will work vigorously to gain the maximum no. of seats for UNP in the general election. If this is a direct contest between the President and Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, I fully agree with the President that with a minimal of effort both of you can work together in the way in which the President is advocating. But it will be a non-starter for the majority of candidates in the two major parties who are coming from very different backgrounds and objectives in mind, to work together during the election campaign forgetting what has happened in the past.
Changing the culture of an organisation is a difficult one but it can be achieved in the long-run with lot of determination, dedication, and bold decisions by the top of the Leadership. In my experience, working as a Senior Level Manager in a public organisation in London, it took about three years of hard work to change the culture of the workforce when the organisation merged with a private company to set up a Public Private Partnership. Though it was established as one organisation the workforces from the two fractions, the public and private had their differences in behaviours. Private sector employees thought they were superior to the employees of the public sector and vice a versa. Employees of both parties were suspicious of each other. One party’s approach to an issue was completely different from the other party’s perspective to the problem. In order to ensure that we work together as one organisation with one goal in mind we conducted Change Management Training courses which lasted for about one year for the Senior Managers and later for the other Managers, about 1000 in total, to understand each other and change their behaviours for the benefit of all stakeholders. One of the most important thing in this process was how to motivate the workforce to change their mind-set to work together in a commercially driven new environment.
In order to drive the Vision advocated by the President, he and the Prime Minister need to take some bold decisions during the forthcoming election to set the foundation for this ambitious plan. President has been working in the SLFP at various levels for about 47 years as a member of the SLFP. He should have a fairly good knowledge about the present SLFP MPs and their conduct in the political arena in detail. Recent allegations of bribery and corruption, drug dealing, and other ill-legal activities against some of these MPs are in the public domain though no legal actions have been taken against them yet. If charges are brought against these MPs before the general election, as the Leader of SLFP can the President exercise his authority and take action not to offer the SLFP nominations for these MPs. It appears from their past behaviour it will be an impossible task to change the mind-set of some of this these MPs even in the long-run. The same principle is also applied to the Prime Minister if he wants to set up an open and honest partnership with the President and the SLFP. If both parties try to score points in order to win the highest no. of seats in the parliament this process will fail at the outset. But isn’t that the Reality of Politics for one party to score points against another party?
Can the President and the Prime Minister motivate their MPs to follow this new path? In my experience in London, our new organisation in addition to our Change Management Training courses we offered 10%-20% bonus scheme to every employee to change their attitudes to work together and achieve their yearly objectives. We created a new culture where employees felt that they want to work and not that they have to work. It is human nature that they expect something in return for them to change the way in which they are used to work and behave. That is how the new culture which is embraced by the entire workforce is been implemented in the commercial world. There are no quick fixes for the changes in human behaviour.
In the political world things are different because there are no personal financial gains other than the salary to be received for providing a public service. No incentives can be offered from the public purse for changing the behaviours of the MPs. In the past we have had politicians who had entered the political arena not to earn money but to do a service to the people. They were honourable politicians and they did not abuse their political positions to illegally engage with the business world to demand commissions to award contracts to scrupulous businessmen by undermining the government tendering processes. The things are very different now. It appears that only a handful of politicians from both major political parties and the members of the JVP are sincerely engaged in politics to do a service to the country. Most of the others spend millions of rupees in their election campaigns to become MPs because they are certain that with the blessings of their party hierarchy they can earn money for generations by using their positions engaging in various illegal activities and carrying out unethical deals with some in the business community. Therefore it is my belief that it is an enormously difficult task to implement the President’s Vision to change the culture of majority of our present politicians in the short run. I hope that the President and the Prime Minister have got strategies and tactics in place to motivate their members to embrace the new culture. Is it a Fantasy to think that we can achieve this in the forthcoming general election?
I sincerely hope that both the President and the Prime Minister will be able to withdraw nominations for the MPs who have failed to exercise their duties to an acceptable standard and those who have passed their sell-by date in politics too. I was in Sri Lanka during the election period and I have witnessed that there are some honest politicians with no prominent places in their parties and up-coming educated younger politicians who are willing to embrace the new political culture which has been advocated by the President. I believe that both the President and the Prime Minister are open and honest to establish the new political culture but if you fail to act honestly and decisively on the important matters that are relevant for the success of this process the President’s Vision will become a Fantasy instead of a Reality.
*The writer is a Fellow of The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and has obtained a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Henley Management College, Oxford