Sunday, February 28, 2016

We build too many walls and not enough bridges

From FT
Guest Column - By Rohan Masakorala

Sri Lanka needs to leap into the modern world to catch up as we have lost so many opportunities to develop the country and increase the quality of life of our people. On one hand we can blame the war for everything that went wrong but what about the never ending political arguments and issues added with extremist, bureaucracy and action of unions driving political agenda ruining our chances of giving a better country to the next generation? This question comes to my mind, as I have observed that the Sri Lankan society at large has really not connected to the modern 21st century world in terms of attitude, spirit and ambitions.

I am not talking about the ordinary citizen, but the general political, business and institutional culture/framework, except for a few who thinks otherwise. Many seem to be not very open, candid or positive. Constructive dialogue seems still far away among private sector as well as the Government. The appetite to work in silos, personal territory, short term benefits and agendas and solving problems at dinner tables without taking responsibility seems to be the norm for many.

Falling standards of professionalism, ethics is what I have seen through a near 25 year journey in the field of international trade and transportation. Leadership in many institutions works in much closed territories. Lack of professional knowledge in handling issues by placing facts into paper and communicating the right message is not visible. Probably there are more MBAs and PHDs today than any time before. But delivery of these professionals is questionable. With all these professionals, why is our country not connecting to the world as it should be and why are we not communicating the proper messages to the masses?

Any country needs to safeguard their strengths and strategies for nation building. But we must be open for new ideas and move away from age old ways of doing things where information and digitalisation, together with artificial intelligence is changing the rest of the world and its landscape rapidly.

Protecting our own silos, institutions and personal businesses will certainly help the able and the informed to keep on distorting the economy while the poor get poorer.

Building fences and walls in a free economy where competition has to thrive and new technology/knowledge has to enter would be disastrous and would be a non-starter for targets we have set. Instead we have to break barriers for trade and that is the task for the Government and chambers to do. But poor communication and a reactive action rather than proactive signals by the Government to the grassroots, businesses and professionals would make our efforts difficult to break the cycle of suspicion and build confidence.

The concept of working in one voice for the common benefit and greater influence should be our national agenda. Although we have a national government, it is still visible that the administration is finding it difficult to drive the importance of national policies and implement what is already done. A committed few are struggling due to unwanted, sometimes unprofessional obstacles.

As an emerging country with tremendous opportunity if we do not give the proper signals of reforms and stability, the road ahead is still going to be tough for Sri Lanka.

As a nation, politicians, businesses, institutions need to build bridges among themselves. Instead of building walls now is the time that the country needs to build greater global networks to attract and win the attention of the rest of the world to develop our exports as well as to increase global capital inflows to achieve sustainable development goals and to alleviate the poor from poverty.

In writing these sentiments I thought of using a quote on the net: ‘We build too many walls and not enough bridges’, which is attributed to Sir Isaac Newton. This is the best diagnosis for the state of affairs in our country in the second decade of the 21st century. I sincerely hope that we could change this, and we can change this if all our leaders take the national responsibility before the personal agenda.

(The writer is the CEO of Shippers’ Academy Colombo, an economics graduate from the Connecticut State University USA, senior consultant Ports and Aviation – SEMA, Past Secretary General Asian Shippers’ Council.)

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