Are business leaders blindfolded puppets on a string?

Wednesday, 5 March 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Business leaders filled the ballroom of a star class hotel to attend a leading business club’s luncheon meeting. This was one of the largest gatherings in the club’s history. It was reported that over 30 participants were left out from a waiting list as well. However, several of the Chamber big wigs were amongst the conspicuous absentees! Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka was the star presenter on the theme ‘The forthcoming Geneva UNHCR Session – the process to be followed, legal and economic implications for Sri Lanka’. The speaker was clinical, strategic, analytical and precise in his approach to establish his point of view from a political scientist’s perspective. He outlined the past, omissions and commissions and the sketched the likely future political landscape connected to the forthcoming Geneva UNHCR Session. He presented information that the audience had not heard of before and filled in several gaps in the jigsaw puzzle. He did not beat about the bush, when being critical of those who in his opinion were at the base of the current challenges. He laid it thick, to establish his hypothesis, likely events to come and the possible outcomes. He was, however, possibly due to lack of time, quite vague on the likely impact on business and the economy and did not adequately deal with the potential business risks and essential risk mitigation actions. Business leaders were pleased with the value for money serving from the meeting, appeared to have thoroughly enjoyed the presentation and the hard-hitting statements, the jovial expressions and the clever pun. However, how many of those present went out of the meeting, determined to get back to their desks and use the core messages of the presenter for an inward business focused search light, cognisant of potential challenges ahead, and to initiate a business risk analysis and develop risk mitigation plans, is anybody’s guess. For instance, how many business leaders would have recognised the possible interpretations of the core messages, by turning the search inwards, that:
  • right persons, with the necessary competences, values, attitudes and skills,
  • being engaged in the right jobs ,
  • doing the right things at the most opportune time, without procrastination, and
  • following realistic, unbiased and scientific situation analysis,
  • with strategic positioning actions, duly recognising challenges, competing forces and risks, and
  • with genuine commitment ,honesty, integrity, independence and openness ,and
  • leveraging effective communications , both internationally and internally , and
  • displaying leadership excellence, with courage to be different , being candid, taking hard decisions, with convictions to stand on principles and core values,
  • must at all times be committed to serve the interests of all stakeholders and not only some of them  and then only can they deliver positive, sustainable outcomes, benefiting all stakeholders of society.
Engaging in effective team work , How many of these leaders in attendance, on their own, did what the business chambers should have openly facilitated, in the form of a well thought out risk assessment and risk mitigation strategy development, are the critical questions to ponder over. Will the end result of the meeting be only limited to cocktail circuit small talk and concentration on the pun and inside stories? Would these business leaders have realised at the end of the meeting that the business environment in the short term, linked to:
  • Provincial council elections,
  • Continuing open unlawful and uncontrolled actions of extremist forces,
  • Uncontrolled rhetoric and hate speech of leaders in politics and executive,
  • Anti-western fires let alight by leaders,
  • The breakdown in rule of law and justice systems,
  • Self censorship by media, and
  • Especially ,the stony silence of business and civil society leaders,  significantly enhances the risks faced by particular segments of business.
Have these leaders realised that chaotic situation that could emerge within the country following a UNHRC resolution as articulated by the Secretary to the President can lead to foreign owned or foreign linked business (American, British, European, Indian, Middle Eastern) and businesses of minority Sri Lankans, especially those who are descendents from persons of other foreign nationalities of origin, being targeted. Are these business leaders merely relying on the assurances of our Political Leaders and the Executive, and findings of opinion polls that no negative issues will arise post the Geneva meeting, irrespective of any egoistic, unprofessional and international relations, unfriendly stances taken prior to and post the UNHRC meeting. "The choice is with the business leaders; whether to remain with blindfolded, gagged and ears plugged or to act with openness, professionalism with courage to be different, as visionaries, caring for all stakeholders" The business leaders should approach a risk analysis, looking at the worst case scenario in the short to medium term, and then moderate it down to realistic and particular business specific risks; thereafter prepare mitigation action plans. Should not a worst case scenario review include, the sector and business specific risk assessments, addressing the undernoted questions and potential risks: 1.Is the expressed opinion of the Secretary to the President, of a likely chaotic situation emerging in Sri Lanka following the resolution being passed calling for an international inquiry, likely to crystallise? 2.Is there any validity in the warnings and sentiments recently expressed by political and civil society leaders of the Northern Province, of the likely response actions of northern citizens and any remaining extremists in the wake of their rights and aspirations being ignored in the long term? 3.How will the extremist forces of the south react, in the immediate aftermath of a provincial council election victory and a possible resolution in UNHRC, especially in the event of a possible resolution calling for an international inquiry? And, if they negatively react, will in such a context the rule of law, law enforcement and justice systems effectively prevail? 4.Will there be calls by extremists for boycott of exports and imports from nations voting for a resolution against Sri Lanka or even a refusal to service facilitate such imports and exports? 5.What international relations and diplomacy policy stances will be adopted by Sri Lanka against nations moving and voting for a resolution against Sri Lanka and vice versa? 6.Will foreign owned and associated businesses and those businesses belonging to or managed by persons with non Sri Lankan nationalities of origin, be targeted for boycott, physical harassment and even attack? 7.Will local and foreign NGOs purported to be supportive of movers of the resolutions be targeted for boycott, physical harassment and even attack? 8.What stand will the State media and independent media take in the immediate aftermath of the provincial council election victory and a possible resolution in UNHRC? 9.What will be the stand and strategy of the diaspora groups, post a resolution being passed calling for an international inquiry? And, how will the local extremist forces react to such moves by the diaspora? 10.Will there be calls by diaspora and International organisations for a boycott of Sri Lanka exported products and services, following the passing of a resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC? 11.Will there be calls by diaspora and International organisations for a boycott of Sri Lankan expatriate workers engaged overseas? And could this lead to a significant impact on our inward foreign currency remittances? 12.Will there be a call by diaspora and International organisations for avoidance of Sri Lanka as a Tourism destination? 13.Will there be a call by diaspora and International organisations to limit the access by Sri Lanka and its business entities, of strategic technology and business knowhow of vital importance? 14.Could there be a downgrading of Sri Lanka business and financial risk indices? 15.Could the present international risk ratings of Sri Lanka by rating agencies be downgraded? And, what impact will it have on Foreign Direct Investments and foreign short term bond and Treasury bill investments? Will such capital outflows result in a short term balance of payment challenges? Will international trade credit terms be negatively impacted and will there be calls for all letters of credit to be counter guaranteed by first class overseas banks? 16.Will Sri Lanka/Ceylon international brand values and international brand values of Sri Lankan business and their products and services be negatively impacted? 17.Could extremists and nationalists convert a disturbed or chaotic situation to set off a wave of destruction led on ethnic/religious and class grounds? 18.What impact will all of above have on local inflation, interest rates and exchange rate? 19.Will local bank credit ratings and solvency be challenged and if so will there be negative impacts on short term funding available to business sector and private sector credit growth? 20.What will be the likely net impact on national budget and balance of payments? 21.How will growth and profitability of the business sector and market capitalisation be impacted in the medium to longer term? The choice is with the business leaders; whether to remain with blindfolded, gagged and ears plugged or to act with openness, professionalism with courage to be different, as visionaries, caring for all stakeholders. Trust that business leaders will recollect the quotation from Martin Niemöller (1892-1984): First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me. (The writer is a good governance activist and a former Chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.)

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