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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Chandra blames lack of leadership for nation's plight

Daily Mirror: 12/01/2006"

Chandra Jayaratne, a former chairman of The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and a past 'Sri Lankan Of The Year', says that "the lack of enlightened leadership" that is willing to make decisions through people's eyes has washed out Sri Lanka's hopes of building a model nation in the post-tsunami milieu.

On the business TV programme, BENCHMARK, last Sunday, he pointed out that some decisions had even been made "on egoistic accounts", though policymakers knew they were wrong.

Jayaratne expressed hope that the new Development Authority set up by President Mahinda Rajapakse would make a fresh start and learn from mistakes made over the past year. Sri Lanka must benchmark itself against the tsunami-hit province of Acheh, in Indonesia, he said - and he expressed hope that efforts to improve the livelihoods of the impoverished would be done in a more structured and planned manner.

Whilst Jayaratne conceded that all the main players in the reconstruction effort - the government, the LTTE, NGOs and even the business community - had started out with good intentions, they should now accept failure. He felt that there is a need for all stakeholders to sit down for talks and expressed hope that this process may be facilitated in the near future.

"The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) buzz has expanded today. The people who are willing and committed to CSR are not restricted to top executives of companies. but a large number of people and institutions have joined the fray. Committed people with the right mindsets are of best value, and the government - together with civil society and even affected people - must mobilise these (forces). and that would bring results," Jayaratne surmised on the programme presented by leading business magazine LMD.

Asked if he thought that some corporates had capitalised on the tsunami disaster to make CSR figure prominently in their annual reports, Jayaratne replied that if five per cent did capitalise from the tragedy, the rest had done what was right. He was full of praise for the private sector's approach and commitment to tsuanmi aid and rehabilitation - but the reality is this cannot continue forever, he observed. Business must now look for ways and means to lend additional support through technology, best practices and human feeling, as opposed to funding, Jayaratne opined.

Corporates need to extend a hand to emancipate people suffering as a result of the tsunami disaster and even others, he asserted - and poverty alleviation should be the focus of CSR in time to come, Jayaratne added.

Reflecting on the country situation, he remarked that there was "a very big likelihood of a return to hostilities". He felt that the private sector, together with civil society, needs to demonstrate that solutions to problems must be found in a non-violent manner.

Jayaratne once proposed that all parties concerned with the peace process sign an MoU.but today, there are less chances for that to work, he said, due to the polarization that has taken place as a result of elections. At this time, the best bet would be to demonstrate what people really want out of the ethnic conflict and their expectations for the future of the country to be clearly defined, Jayaratne told BENCHMARK's Savithri Rodrigo.

So why has the corporate community remained silent all this while? "Business is yet to see the real impact a return to hostilities would have on their future. There is also the economic impact of high oil prices. A return to war would impact inflation; the exchange rate, and our sovereign rating would also be at risk. The private sector has not done much thinking about the next 18 months, and I would ask them to do some risk analyses and look at future markets," Jayaratne responded.

BENCHMARK is produced by the wrap factory and airs on TNL on Sundays at noon, with a repeat at 9.15 p.m. It is also telecast on cable TV - LBN's Bloomberg segment - on Mondays at 10 p.m.

"I give the private sector full marks for its approach and commitment to the tsunami disaster, but that cannot continue forever - now we have a much bigger audience of people whose effort and capabilities could be used for CSR."

"It would be best to demonstrate what people really want out of the ethnic issue and for the future generations of the country. The pressure must come from the bottom."

"Telling government what they should do at this stage would be a wrong step. If it [business] does so, the private sector would be further alienated from government and decision-makers. Let us hope that people power would drive our leaders to support this country going in the right direction."

Chandra Jayaratne, Former Chairman - Ceylon Chamber of Commerce on BENCHMARK, 8 JANUARY.

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