A prominent administrator after reading my column last week wrote to me and said, “Push has come to shove. Sirisena is breathing fire. A drastic change of direction is needed after February 10.”
We all know a country cannot progress unless you have leaders who have both the passion and competence and the will to promote good governance. A country cannot attract the right talent and foreign direct investment (FDI) into a country without a decent leadership offering.
In business, a competent CEO can generally deliver more than 40 percent than an average CEO. In a government, it is very much more, as clearly demonstrated by Deng Tsiao Ping, the late Chinese leader and Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore.
Wickremesinghe and Sirisena despite many weaknesses have tried hard to push through genuine reform. Take a long hard look at what the ‘Yahaplanaya’ government set out to do and look at the issues that were confronting our country pre-2015. That will literally convince us, that we are missing the woods from the trees.
Fast forward to November 21, 2014. Sirisena on that day stated that leaving the then government was a vital move in order to save the country from being steered towards a total dictatorship. He pledged to abolish the executive presidential system within 100 days of his election and to restore complete media freedom in the country. The presidency was partially reformed and media freedom restored. Some more remains to be done together.
The Rajapaksa years rebuilt Sri Lanka’s confidence but sapped its soul. The unity government to their credit has tried very hard to promote a ‘kinder, gentler’ country. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combination has helped to reawaken the generosity of our civil society.
Sirisena, unlike Wickremesinghe, understands that the local issues are every bit as important as the national or global issues. On the other hand, Wickremesinghe understands the country has a long road ahead and one can only get there together. This is why we need to find a genuine political solution for the North and East.
Part of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and opposition are predominated by the loyalties to the previous president. They seem to be hell bent on either challenging their mandate or shooting the holes Sirisena-Wickremesinghe have taken to bring the country and economy to an even keel, without realizing what these initiatives are and what favourable outcomes they will bring to the country. For Sirisena, working with Wickremesinghe is the best option for him and the country.
On a personal level, Wickremesinghe is a gentleman, a man who believes, even when he is under fire, not to react negatively, a respecter of the rights of all ethnicities and often to a fault. As prime minister, he has given the incumbent president all the respect despite friendly fire against him.
Many people in politics don’t see the value of working towards or arriving at a consensus of values. It was Pope Francis who said, “We all need each other. None of us is an island, an autonomous, an independent I, separated from the other. We can only build a future by standing together, including everyone.”
We all need to be afraid of the future if we fail to understand this.
As a country, today one of the biggest challenges we have is improving our country’s competitiveness. The resistance we have when services are included in an FTA is a classic case in point. We need to clearly understand what competitiveness is and have leaders who believe in a conducive business environment, where every entrepreneur, big or small, has the ability to move up the business hierarchy on his or her
We need leaders who understand what is necessary, to improve our skills, including attracting FDI at a minimum of 30 percent of GDP, in order to maintain a 6 percent plus growth target that the country needs, besides improving the ‘doing business index’ to strengthen investor confidence. In this direction, we need to adopt the core business values such as integrity and transparency in doing business by making sure political interference is totally removed from the decision-making process.
In addition, the capital market needs to be run according to the ethical standards to encourage genuine investors to invest. We need more opportunities for a broader group of investors to benefit by investing in the stock market. The current checks and balances we have within the two-party system can only facilitate that. All this requires is bipartisanship all round.
The Sirisena government in the last 36 months has made a huge effort to rebuild international confidence amongst international leaders and investors, both locally and internationally, particularly with the US and EU (where are our major markets remain) is paramount. Through a well-orchestrated foreign policy, the ‘Yahapalanaya’ has and continues to succeed in this direction.
The government has largely restored the independence of the judiciary and public service, which not only will boost the confidence of investors but also generate a positive climate in the country. The results of their efforts will come slowly but surely.
Meanwhile, for the remaining period of this government, our hope is that Sirisena-Wickremesinghe will overcome the many political challenges and deliver what they both promised together on January 8, 2015.
Fortunately, despite many hiccups and the occasional outbursts from the duo, there is much hope that Sri Lanka can become a nation defined by values rather than a land of sink or swim with no discipline.
(Dinesh Weerakkody is a