“Hang down your head, Hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your head, Poor boy, you’re bound to die!”
The ‘Kingston Trio’ made famous 1958 Capitol Record comes to mind, as we mourn the impending death of democracy, justice, rule of law and fundamental freedoms in our very own country. This impending death is not by drought, famine, sickness or due to environmental disaster.
If these fundamentals die; so will business; professions and the people; they too will die as a consequence, for these are sine qua non of the national well being, international recognition, development, growth and prosperity. ‘Quo Vadis Sri Lanka?’ This should be the question upper most in the minds of all intellectuals in Sri Lanka.
However, it appears that a majority, including the key segments of our intellectual community merely look on in silence, with some even gripped by fear of reprisal. They live in fear that even a quietly expressed ‘aghast’ may come within the ear shot of the leadership in governance. Others worry about the risks of being denied their potential network rewards from those in governance. “Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.1”
“To save Sri Lanka only a tiny minority of just persons are required,” said Justice Mark Fernando in his keynote address before the OPA annual sessions. He cited the following poem by Josiah Gilbert Holland to describe a just person:
“God, give us men! A time like this demands;
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;
Men whom the lust of office does not kill; Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possesses opinions and a will;
Men who have honour; men who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog in public duty and in private thinking;
For while rabble, with thumb-worn creeds, their large professions and their little deeds, mingle in selfish strife,
Lo! Freedom weeps, Wrong rules the land and Justice Sleeps!”2
It is unfortunate that thousands of “bad persons” are at work and play, negating the small initiatives for “good” committed to by “good men and women” in Sri Lanka. It is most unfortunate that these thousands of “bad persons” are closely networked and aligned to the leadership VVIPs and often act as their advisors and guides and/or are charged with the responsibility for governance with a concentration of a high level of executive authority.3
Three cheers to the leadership and members of the legal profession. The usually divided legal fraternity has come together at this critical juncture, when their fundamental professional commitment to Justice and Judiciary are at a cross road of legislative challenge, based on petty political needs of the ruling party in governance.
It is a shame that the business leaders and other professionals have yet failed to see through their covered hands over the eyes, the stark reality of the future staring at them and their businesses. They have also failed to hear the sounding distress alarm bells of SOS due to plugged ears. Hence, they have failed to articulate their feelings by opening their locked mouths. Good luck to them all and may their dreams of benefiting from falling crumbs in the form of ‘rewards’ and shameless pursuit of their journey with bowed heads of obeisance in fear be blessed with rewards and may their dreams come true.
How will the development of trade, commerce, services, investments and technology transfers in Sri Lanka be positively moved forward in the era ahead, especially in an external environment as witnessed in the past few years? Can this external environment support sustainable double digit growth, bringing in new jobs and prosperity to the nation and the business sector as a whole?
Will the required investment gap of 6-8% of GDP essential in supplementing local private savings and state allocated investments be supported by ‘good, sustainable, value creating’ foreign investments? Will value adding trade opportunities be supported and much needed technology transfers, best practices and network alliances for trade be established with global supply chains and endowed with sustainable marketing and distribution networks?
The silence of ‘good men of business and professions’ appear to indicate they believe that the emerging business environment will support their needs and aspirations for the future and this environment will also be good for the common citizens of this land.
The ‘good men of business and professions,’ with your hands across your hearts, please speak out aloud and confirm that the emerging business environment will enable the critical facilitation networks to be established for growth and prosperity of this nation, its business and people, despite the emerging challenges in the operating environment the following critical value drivers appear to be in an increasing state of stress;
1.Democratic good governance with peace, harmony and national reconciliation
2.Rule of law and security
3.Justice with an independent Judiciary
4.Protecting property rights, including information and intellectual property
5.Development of a capable, skilled human resource pool with required values and attitudes
6.Infrastructure support for quality and productive operations
7.Freedom of speech, fundamental rights and right to information
8.Ease of doing business and policy consistency
9.An effective anti corruption framework sans policy capture, nepotism and non transparent decision making
10.Macro-economic stability with low budget deficits, inflation, and a positive fiscal gap
11.Monetary stability with export led trade surpluses and positive balance of payments and effective debt management
12.Effective international relations with key trade and investment/technology transfer nations, supported by value adding trade/investment facilitation regional and global agreements
At any time, any of the above 12 fundamentals are at risk, business leaders and professionals must take immediate collective, bi-partisan committed action without fear, to protect such a facilitative environment which is sine qua non for the development and growth of business and the development and prosperity of the nation and its people.
When leaders present ‘amber’ lights and ‘red lights’ of possible risks in the external environment, they are in fact being “good/just men” that Justice Mark Fernando articulated. These actions can never be tagged as actions of a “traitor” to the nation, though now conveniently tagged by unscrupulous leaders, in order to promote their own end game and personal ambitions for power.
The minimum first step that ‘good men of business and professions’ must take in the face of these present challenges is to establish open transparent space for intellectual debate, bringing in all segments of stakeholders to the table.
The poor boy certainly need not die and must not die, due to the inaction of the ‘good /just men of business and professions’ who must take a lesson from the collective actions of the legal fraternity and the core message from following poem:
“To laugh is to risk appearing a fool. To weep is to risk appearing sentimental. To reach out to another is to risk involvement. To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self. To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.To hope is to risk pain.
To try is to risk failure.But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.”4
1 Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
4 William Arthur Ward
(The writer is a good governance activist and a former of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.)