Home / Columnists/ Zero plus zero will be zero

Zero plus zero will be zero

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 9 October 2015 00:00


A minister with no academic education or a good knowledge of the subject gained through work experience at a senior level will not be able to create and execute strategies for sustainable growth. So he scores zero for likely high performance in the role.

A ministry secretary with no academic education, or a good knowledge of the subject, gained through work experience at a senior level will not be able to create or execute strategies for sustainable growth. So he scores zero for likely high performance.

If you have a minister who scores zero, and a secretary who scores zero, they will jointly also score zero. In short, if one knows next to nothing about it, one will not be able to create successful strategies for growth.



An exercise for readers 

List each minister and his secretary and the subjects allotted. Then examine their background and experience to see if they are in the zero plus zero camp (I hope some reader will publish the results). Being in this category is not in any way a reflection on the individual’s intelligence or ability. It just denotes that the person does not have the required knowledge and experience for that role.


A challenging role 

It is a very challenging task to create a good sustainable growth strategy for any sector. It has to encompass needs, opportunities, risks, funds, people skills, and be a plan that will motivate all stakeholders. The crucial need is to get people who have an in depth knowledge and experience to perform this role.

There are some intelligent people who believe that they can do anything. It is good to remind them that for success the fundamental requirement is knowledge of the subject.


The two parts

There are two parts to the role of a Minister. The first part is to develop the strategies for sustainable growth. Probably many will fall hurdle at this hurdle.

The second part is to implement an agreed plan. This calls for a more general management type experience. Implementing plans in the public sector is a cumbersome process. They have to be piloted through a mass of bureaucratic procedures and approvals. Inevitably there will also be border disputes with other ministers. Experienced secretaries are good at this and experienced ministers are also good at managing the political interface.


Learning from the private sector

The most efficient global organisations are the multinational corporations. I had a ringside view as I worked for two MNCs. They all have a pretty standard approach. Bright graduates with good degrees are recruited. They are given a career path that will give them good exposure to all parts of the business and are progressively given more responsibility. In addition, on a regular basis they are sent on various training courses. Then after about 15 years the diamond is deemed to have sufficient facets and they will get their first general manager role.

It is not possible to appoint ministers following a similar path. But the future of the country depends on the performance of its ministers. What is the solution?


The solution

When the zero plus zero scenario was discussed with President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga during her second term, she saw the problem quickly. She was good at grasping all the nuances of complex issues.

She did something very innovative, and created the National Council for Economic Development (NCED). The President wanted to support every ministry with an input from the best relevant knowledge and skills in the country. A cluster of advisors was appointed to support each ministry.

The cluster had a joint chair, one from the cluster and the ministry secretary. The challenge to the cluster was to develop a strategy for sustainable growth and a plan to execute it. The ministry secretary played an important role in keeping the cluster in the picture about the problems and processes in the government sector so that plans that could be implemented would be created.

The intention was for the cluster to first present the plan to the President. The President could then review it in the context of funding, political implications and be comfortable that it fitted in with her vision for the country. After the plans were agreed with the President they were presented to the minister and the ministry team. After perhaps some minor modifications at that stage, this became the plan for that ministry.

It did not always work out as intended. Some clusters worked very well. Some limped along. But, it was a meaningful beginning to address the zero plus zero scenario.


The death of a good scheme

The President who followed for reasons best known to him did not support or show any real interest in the NCED concept. The clusters wobbled along for some time and then they died slowly.

I hope the new President and Prime Minister will see the benefits of the scheme and bring it back, so that we are not left at the mercy of zero plus zero teams to safeguard the future of our country.

Share This Article

Facebook Twitter


1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.


Today's Columnists

Difference between a woman and a man (yin and yang) and finding solutions to violence in society

Thursday, 18 July 2019

This is not at all a philosophical discourse on gender differences, or the complementary roles of yin and yang (women and men) in social or biological formation. This is also not to speak about who is superior among the two. This is just an observati

I wish Sajith Premadasa had taken up a challenging ministry to showcase his prowess

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Expectations, father and son Sajith Premadasa has put his hands up for leadership in the party and for nomination by the United National Party in the forthcoming presidential elections. I wish Sajith had tested himself, and had given the public a cha

Foreign Affairs and Defence to be one portfolio?

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Unless we are all suffering from dementia, the last experience with a foreign military on our soil should be very clear in our heads. The Indian Peace Keeping Force landed in Sri Lanka to supposedly bring peace to the war-torn country when the LTTE t

Federer lessons for Sri Lanka tourism

Thursday, 18 July 2019

The Wimbledon Men’s Final in 2008 was termed as the best match the world has seen between the two arch rivals Federer and Nadal. But, what we saw last Sunday between the two of them after 11 years sure shocked the world. Many just asked the questio

Columnists More