Last week’s packed Fireside Chat that I attended was truly a reminder of the change the current Government has ushered into the private sector.
The fact that the hotel was packed to the brim and people actually paid to listen to Access Group Founder and Chairman Sumal Perera, Hirdaramani Group Director and former Chairman Janak Hirdaramani, Vallibel One Group Founder, Chairman and Managing Director Dhammika Perera, Stassen Group Chairman and Managing Director Harry Jayawardena, MJF Group Founder and Chairman Merrill J. Fernando, and Softlogic Holdings Founder, Chairman and CEO Ashok Pathirage was a testimony to the freedom we enjoy and the current state of our country.
An event organised by the former Defence Secretary Rajapaksa a few months ago had attracted a bigger crowed, but the people had clearly come due to fear or loyalty to the Rajapaksa family and the event was free. The Fireside Chat truly lived up to expectations by being very casual, candid, challenging, entertaining and open.
The next day the talk in the corporate corridors of Colombo was about businessmen Sumal Perera’s request to businessman Dammika Perera to come forward as the next presidential candidate. Surprisingly to many, Singer Chairman Dammika Perera repeatedly took a positive view of the state of the economy. He urged the participants to think positively. He went on to say that even some of the Government ministers were not confident of the future of the Government. Some of them had actually created the negativity, he noted.
A State newspaper Editorial was quick to criticise the comments made by two of the tycoons. The Editorial referred to two of them as robber barons and pointed out that the two robber barons had forgotten what it was five years ago and that they should shut up and get on with it. But what the Editorial forgot to say is that Sri Lanka had the lowest GDP growth of rate 3.4% since the negative growth rate we had after the attack on the Colombo Airport during Chandrika Bandaranaike’s tenure. Moreover, both the Robber barons they had referred to: do a collective turnover of over Rs. 100 billion annually and employ over 10,000 people. The tax they pay and the advertisements they give must surely be helping to keep the State media institutions alive. The Government must surely know, as Albert Einstein pointed out, that an empty stomach is not a good political advisor.
A better thing would be to present the evidence they have publicly so that the two alleged robber barons can be charged without abusing the newfound freedom we now have. We were told the former first family robbed $ 18 billion. Three years after no evidence has been shown to the public. Instead today the stock market is dead, the rupee has hit rock bottom, FDI looks high only because of the Chinese investment in the port, decisions taken in the morning are changed by night and taxes are record high. Therefore, while we hold our own political views, it’s important not to get too wrapped up in personalities, but instead to focus on the real issues.
Some of the real issues that came out of the discussion that need addressing are:
1. Lack of consistency in policymaking.
2. Need for better effort to attract FDI.
3. Liberalisation of the economy.
4. Appointing competent people to State institutions.
5. Lack of clear leadership in leading the country.
The message is clear; what the public surely wants today is a benevolent dictator to give leadership to the country. Not a crook or a murderer who hides behind nationalism. The Government should take a cue from what Lee Kuan Yew Singapore’s former PM said many years ago: “Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up. This is not a game of cards! This is your life and mine! I’ve spent a whole lifetime building this and as long as I’m in charge, nobody is going to knock it down.”
So the Government can either kill the messenger or listen to the messenger and do something about it real fast. They still have the goodwill and the capacity to do so efficiently.
Tudor de Silva, Colombo 4