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Culture and good governance

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Sunil Wijesinha, a well-known business leader and well-recognised administrator, one who pioneered the quality and productivity movement in the country, whom I am privileged to consider to be a distinguished friend, has given a very important message to the country in a contribution to the Opinion page of Daily FT on 24 July. 

His message titled ‘Japanese Football team demonstrates to the world’ (http://www.ft.lk/columns/Japanese-Football-Team-demonstrates-to-the-world/4-659578) draws attention to the Japanese culture “of respecting others and being considerate to others and their philosophy that the other person is more important than you. This is a fundamental trait of the Japanese and not mere practice of 5S.”

Compare this with our behaviour. We are a people with a great history, a culture and civilisation nurtured by the best known religions of the world. Ask our young ladies how they are treated in the buses, ask old ladies how many get up and offer their seats, ask others how many wait for them to alight, to get into the bus or train. We are a nation in a hurry. How many would take their turn in a queue? 

How many have the patience to observe traffic rules? Is it only the uneducated three-wheeler drivers and bus drivers whose behaviour on the roads lead often to loss of lives? Isn’t this all because we don’t care for others? Our whole society, it appears, has been reduced to a state of ‘the survival of the fittest’, though not in the Darwinian sense. 

In the seventies I used to travel often to Singapore on official duty. In fact their behaviour on the road was no better than ours. Maybe we were better behaved. We had learnt in school and at home how to respect elders and others, even strangers. Thus, any move to inculcate good manners must start at home. Today, Singapore is a well-disciplined country. It started there with the political leadership provided by the late Lee Kwan Yew, who ensured that people were disciplined and respected each other.

In our country, to start with, a few Members of Parliament, fortunately only a few, should be taught how to behave decently, at least when school children are watching them. In schools and other institutions of learning, teachers must learn how to earn the respect of students. University dons, to begin with must actively discourage ragging. The only way to do this is to make the perpetrators feel ashamed of their behaviour.

Sri Lanka today is embroiled in a massive political debate on how to get out of the present economic impasse. Isn’t there, however, a strong relationship between ethical behaviour at all levels and economic prosperity? 

We have identified some of the requirements as principles of good governance. Thus, ethics, equity, transparency, accountability, predictability (rule of law) and collective vision are linked to each other and lead to productive partnerships and development. We need leadership to have these requirements enforced. Otherwise the country will remain a land of preachers and not of practitioners.

What should the leader do? He/she should establish a code of social behaviour, through a process of consultation with civil society organisations and religious leaders. A system of enforcement using the carrot and the stick method must be employed. This must be reinforced by a massive educational campaign, using effectively the multimedia facilities that are available, with the medium of teledrama playing a big role. Religious leaders and celebrities could play a big role in the campaign, which, however, must be strictly a-political in character.  

(The writer is a former Chairman of the Marga Institute, Director General of National Planning and currently a member of the Board of Management of the Gamani Corea Foundation and engaged in teaching at the Postgraduate Institute of Management.)

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