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All Governments are good?

by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam

(August 26, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) Mr. Lionel Wijesiri has been described as ‘a corporate director with 23 years of hands-on experience in General Management and Human Resources Development, and a prolific writer on a range of issues.’

Mr. Wijesiri writes in his article ‘There are no bad bosses’ (published in Sri Lanka Guardian) – ‘Your boss is what he is for one important reason: either he is the owner or someone above them thinks that he should be the boss! He may have lied or bribed his way to the top but complaining about your plight will get you nowhere.’

I smiled and thought as to how this advice would be received by the Sri Lankan Airlines investors who are complaining of nepotism in recruitment. As per the article ‘Rajapakistan sets another example’ – which is about nepotism in Sri Lankan Airlines - ‘Maddini Chandradasa, one of President Rajapakse's nieces was admitted into the Cadet batch in 2008. However, despite her 'family credentials', she did not pass the Sri Lankan Commercial Pilot License which was a mandatory requirement. She later managed to convert the License after she was recruited by Sri Lankan Airlines and started the Ground school for the Airbus.’

Now, what course of redemption/relief does Mr. Wijesiri propose in this case? I have heard similar complaints not only at Sri Lankan Airlines but also at many other large organizations. Our former Australian Prime Minister John Howard was also charged with favoring his brother during a dispute regarding his brother’s company. As per Mr. Wijesiri, those to whom Maddini Chandradasa is the boss – need to think that Maddini is their boss because she is close to the owner! To the common worker the President of Sri Lanka is the owner of Sri Lankan Airlines because he is the owner of Sri Lanka!!

I was surprised to find this kind of attitude with even the judiciary here in Australia. One of the first lessons we learnt in Accounting was to separate the self from the business. I still recall Mr. A.T.Benedict walking up and down trying to place himself in us. He did. To date – I pay my respects to Mr. Benedict when I teach fundamentals of Accounting. Later, through our other subjects I learnt to appreciate the commonness of an organization beyond individuals. Hence when I brought action against the University of NSW – due to my experiences within the University – it should have read University of NSW v University of NSW. But this was not acceptable to judicial administration. Hence I started using the name of the individual – Professor Rory Hume, instead of University of NSW. I reconciled within myself that the University Rules did not offend but the individuals did.

Let’s assume that I am still at Airlanka / Sri Lankan Airlines. If I brought action against Ms Maddini Chandradasa – I would do so at the risk of my own job. I would still do it if I were concerned about the ‘conduct’ of the organization and I believed I had more credit than Ms. Maddini Chandradasa as per my assessment. I did, at the University of NSW and I still feel a part of the University through my genuine work and not because others say so. Getting there required me to renounce the credits that I could have had from others. Those others were not at the Vice Chancellor’s Administrative level. The Chancellors were part of the others – as were those who had access to me through our jobs in common. I had to renounce the credits from them to become ‘free’ and self-managing.

When I joined the University of NSW, my main referee was Ms Colleen Moore – then Director of Government Information & Advertising. Each time I said I was leaving – Colleen got very upset and sometimes was in tears. I think I had to leave despite that because we both deserved to be the boss – as is the case with Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lankan Government. I left despite an attractive remuneration and highest status in that part of the organization. Later when Central Administrators of the University of NSW were experiencing resistance from me due to cultural differences (they thought I was good but that my ‘attitude’ was bad), they were going to ring Colleen again to check. Then Jeff Warnock, the Administrative Executive of the Faculty of Medicine, who had done the first check said that he had already checked and Colleen had said ‘We thought that the system would collapse once Gaja left – but it is still going!’. This brought tears to my eyes. It was my turn to cry.

I now realize that the work I have done with most of my organizations including Airlanka was to place myself in others . Some of these others thought I was their boss. Others would have thought I was their employee. One who can place her/himself in a difficult boss would have placed her/himself comfortably in all those who are supervised by that position. I find this to be the case with the family also. Many of my family elders were strong disciplinarians. I was ‘told off’ many times by many of them and even though I felt I did not deserve being ‘told off’ I accepted it – not only because that was the culture at that time but also because of my own personal nature. Now I realize the great value of it. As Mr. Wijesiri says about his one time female boss, I also learnt from many of my male bosses/elders. If I had taken equal position and argued back (as most young ones do in democracy) that would have been equal to ‘leaving’. It would have been premature given the opportunity to take up those higher positions myself. I did leave eventually but it was always progressive – even though it did not seem so back then. I now conclude that the point at which I left – not because I thought I would get a better job but because I could take the pain no more – was the highest opportunity available to me at that place during my generation. Likewise Sri Lankans who left Sri Lanka during the war – not because they sought a better life but because they could not take it any more in Sri Lanka. They would carry the essence of their life in Sri Lanka with them and are Sri Lankans.

To me a Government is the same as a boss. My advice is ‘Don’t lose the position which is part of the boss position and therefore the organization by focusing excessively on the individual.’ I was a senior executive at Airlanka. When we were discussing appointments of Overseas Station Managers – Mr. Colin Martinus (the best Administrator known to me) asked as to why I was doing the talking and not the males in the group who were likely to get the Overseas Station manager positions? I was the only female in the group at that time. Likewise, I , as a migrant brought action against University Administrators whilst others just talked about it behind the backs of the University Administrators. To me it is the feelings of ownership with which I do my work that generates the courage in me. In fact to me it is not even conscious courage. It is an urge to DO something to the extent of my real credit with the institution. To the extent of that credit I would not in real terms damage the institution. Likewise, with my Nations – Sri Lanka & Australia.

Mr. Wijesiri recommends ‘My advice to all those ‘harassed’ employees is straight-forward. If you don’t respect your boss, you have three choices: (1) leave, (2) diplomatically push back. For example, try to change him or appeal to a higher authority to get rid of him, (3) adjust your own attitude. The last option is difficult but possible. But staying around and complaining is not an acceptable option. It does not work. It will make you miserable and it’s a matter of time your boss will come to know. And that will be the beginning of the end of your career.’

At National level – (1) the Tamil as well as Sinhalese Diaspora left because they could not respect the boss. Most of them went to more materially progressive places. (2) Some who are still hoping to come back –are pushing through the UN and other Western countries to get rid of the President – often not so diplomatically (3) Local Politicians like Mr. Sampanthan are trying to adjust their own attitudes.

The missing link is to become the ‘organization’ by serving all those who actually need our services. In this process we may even lose our jobs (benefits) but we will still own the institution and that to me is self-governance through ownership. I work with all Sri Lankans who need my services – irrespective of their race or religion. It is just easier with Tamils at the moment because they are more conscious of their needs. But the real need of the nation is in Public Service which until now I have been able to approach only as a customer/member of the Public, with some Diaspora influence. I am able to place myself through this interaction as well. It’s not easy though. One senior official said about me going to the North ‘Don’t go and claim separate state’ . I, as a person conscious of my earned status, did feel upset by this. But I prayed to that the boss of that boss - Lord Buddha to help me serve my people in need – and Lord Buddha said from within – to focus on getting the job done and not to mind the individual. The position needs to be seen to be larger than the individual for us to complete the job. Then eventually we will become that higher position. That is the reward for forbearance.

In Democracy, we need to ‘show’ our side independent of the other. Hence the shift towards Business and money. Hence we need to say ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and not say ‘there are no bad bosses’ or ‘there are no bad bosses’. Our vote is the expression of our belief. It is legitimate to say ‘I believe I am good’ but not legitimate to say ‘I believe I am not bad’. When I brought action against my Seniors on the basis of unlawful racial discrimination I stated through affidavit evidence ‘I believe it was racial discrimination’. I made this statement after I could not find an answer through self assessment on the basis of merit. Hence belief basis. In their affidavits, the respondents did NOT say that they believed it was due to a particular factor. They just used the affidavit to submit my own letters in support of their claim that my complaint was ‘frivolous, vexatious and lacking in substance’. They did not have any belief to match mine and yet they had their ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ rewarded.

In Democracy, it is not legitimate to say ‘I am not on the side of the government’. We have to take one side or the other. The wise way is to wait until we reach the highest level available to us and not talk prematurely. That requires forbearance which the young and the wealthy usually are lacking in.

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