The Business of Equality
| by Gajalakshmi Paramasivam
( March 22, 2013, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) The West is moving more and more towards Business Approach in Public Service. In his Sri Lanka Guardian article ‘COYLE - The emerging spectre of majoritarianism in Commerce and Industry ‘ Mr. Senguttuvan highlights that the Minister for Trade and Commerce – the Hon Rishard Badiudin was not honored as the rightful person to lead the AGM of the Sri Lankan Chamber of Commerce of Young Lankan Entrepreneurs. Just last week I listened with amusement to statements by a White Australian Academic-Administrator in a similar role. They are both impressive speakers. But the question is whether they have what it takes to use Business basis in Public Service?
Another similarity that Mr. Senguttuvan highlights is about the dress: ‘ The other point that struck visitors was that almost all of the officials of the host body were seen dressed in spotless white in what is commonly referred to as Arya Sinhala dress. After all, this was an occasion where this socially uppity yuppies would have loved to cover themselves and be seen in their Armani, Boss, Versace and Austin Reed suits. The Arya Sinhala suit, in the Rajapakse era, represents the overwhelming majority and is a symbol to be seen in and swim with the current tide’
Here in Australia such ‘officials’ wear the Western parallel of the Eastern National Suits – the bow-tie being the parallel of the sash worn by Sri Lankan Nationalists.
If one however listens carefully, one would find that these officials while making out that they were ‘business minded’ are actually playing politics – to impress the politicians and the voters of their culture. Gandhi also wore the dress of the labor class in confirmation of his solidarity with the ordinary person. The naturally chosen or the carefully calculated dress reflects our solidarity – again natural or calculated -with the custodians of power. The surface reader would tend to react to the apparent commonness. But the deeper investor would identify with the deeper message – that ‘outsiders’ must take backseat in these forums.
Recently I was saying to a Tamil Hindu male who seemed uncomfortable with his wife’s Hindu practices – that when marrying – they look for the ‘traditional-looking’ female. But in reality they would not be able to match the practices that went with that tradition. It’s good to ‘show’ and not to live with. Likewise these Nationalists – who seek Business through Public Resources – become uncomfortable when one has to take Equal Position as the Customer to do business. They want the money but not the experience of Business through Public Resources.
Common Resources lose their value when one tries to make a profit by using them. Commonness goes towards strengthening the structure. Profit motivation promotes quick and current consumption – which is on the rise these days – including in Sri Lanka. Under the vertical hierarchical system the Administrative structure promoted the person in the higher position in any relationship – having strong subjective powers with the position in the lower position. But in a Business Unit / Project approach – the relationship tends towards Equal powers. Towards this the juniors are facilitated to present their work independently. Once that objectively measurable outcome is equal in value to that which the senior presents – they are taken as Equals. From then on they travel together as Equals. This in essence is the Business approach in Public Service. Those who continue to take higher position beyond the level where the minority / junior / employee produces at least equal level outcome as the majority / senior / manager – are confirming their inability to function independently - without the status of their position.
In a recent incident at Macquarie University here in Sydney, Australia, where an Asylum seeker from Sri Lanka is reported to have forced himself into the room of a female student – the University Security were reported to have not called the Police as soon as they knew of the incident. Yet, the Security staff of the University of New South Wales called the Police to have me arrested for ‘waiting peacefully’ to see the Vice Chancellor, in the reception of that office. Once the Police were ‘waiting for me’. In the latter case the Security officers were acting to please their boss – the Vice Chancellor. In the case of Macquarie University the one in need was a mere student. But the objectively measurable effect was much more serious. Yet they did not call the Police. The gap between the two responses is the shortfall between our apparent status as a Democracy and our truly earned status.
Most of these leaders who have benefited from the subjective system are likely pass those genes on to the younger generation. The brain and the natural information stored in that brain is part of the biological make-up that we pass on to our children. Tradition and Business compete with each other. One senior Administrator at the University of New South Wales said to me – that while it was not unlawful for me to ‘wait’ to see the Vice Chancellor – it was bad for business ! It would not have been if the Vice Chancellor had cared to listen and at least share in my pain – academics are allergic to listening. They would say all the right words about listening – but do they actually listen and share? If they did – they would not have those positions of power. Likewise our Sri Lankan politicians. Ask them for an example of such listening and they would either talk about theory – or a remote incident in their distant past.
Successful changeover to democracy happens when our reach is as wide as flattened hierarchical tradition through which we take credit for respecting our ancestors. The older the generation that is the source of our tradition the wider our reach when we changeover to democracy.
On that basis – Sri Lankans who draw from our colonial heritage would have little difficulty becoming global and benefiting from global business. Likewise the colonial masters of Ceylon would have little difficulty in doing business with the descendants of their former subjects – to the extent they were genuine in their governance and therefore became one with their subjects. The rest for Sri Lanka is new business without firm cultural commonness unless one goes to times before colonization.
In this regard, Mr. Senguttuvan states ‘The indigenous Muslim community were the pioneers in the lucrative and specialised gem and precious stones exports trade from pre-British times. NDHA Abdu Gaffoor, Macan Markars and Beruwala’s Naleem Hadjiar (late) are names associated with this old export trade. Jabir Cader (late) made a mark for himself in the film distribution industry and went into Hotelling.’
I worked with Cader Brothers and admired their solidarity. They were also good to those who were loyal to them. In this regard, I have written as follows in my book:
‘In Sri Lanka, I am recognized at a much higher level by my work colleagues. Yasmin Pakeerally Majeed from Air Lanka (now Sri Lankan Airlines), Samad Ali and Jayaseelan Sinnadurai from New Olympia Theatre Ltd., Muthiah from Prima (Ceylon Ltd) – all show high respect for me even now when they meet me in Colombo. Mr. Huzam Cader one of the partners of New Olympia Theatre Ltd., respected me as an equal while I was employed with the group and continued to visit me when I went to Colombo. That level is much higher than the level at which I completed work relationships in Australia’
Not only were the Cader Brothers good businessmen but also good Governors in their respective fields. Mr. Jabir Cader himself was Mayor of Colombo and Member of Parliament and his father Mr. Abdul Cader was also a Municipal Councilor. His contribution to our society – including our current Tamil Diaspora is confirmed through these words of deep value – " among the Muhammadans, they had a very undesirable system of charity, that of giving feasts of Kanduri, with no beneficial results. It would certainly be charity if the poor are fed, but that is not what is done at these feasts. Men like myself, others equally prosperous, are feted. I have not the slightest objection to the feeding of the poor, but my experience has been that the poor are the least thought of at these feasts, so called charity. A portion of the money spent on these feasts may with advantage be diverted to better purposes, such as education". - Abdul Cader
There is a point at which minorities would need to compromise to hold on to positions of high status. At that point one has to decide whether to stay on and be part of the illusionary world or accept the apparent position as per those in power – but contribute at one’s highest level of expertise. Mr. Senguttuvan highlights this as follows: ‘And as that simpleton, former President D.B. Wijetunge was to comment infamously during his time “minorities are like creepers around a large tree”and the suggestion – they better behave . This was to be better characterised later by army man and Presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka , when he was riding high in the cocky and misplaced belief the people will automatically place him in the highest chair . He described his optimism then in his inimitable English “Other communities can live here. But they must not ask for this and that” .
In Democratic Public Service, the higher person comes down to the highest point reached by the lower person and sacrifices the ‘fall’ into the common pool as ‘facility’. The alternative is to not rise higher than our allocated status but invest in business at that level. Those who continue to seek those high positions – for example Government Ministers – would have difficulty with this.
As I said to an Australian friend ‘I now draw as per my investment in others and do not expect them to return as per my investment.’ This become less difficult if we relate to others through our respective positions. By investing in one side – we are automatically investing in the other as a delayed benefit – an opportunity. A good child thus becomes a good parent. If we give the face of others to our investment – the pain when we get disappointed is temporary. Ultimately to the extent others do not take up that other position – we become both sides. As we mature and become less active physically – we live through our minds and hence those who developed the other-side from within – would feel wholesome wherever they are and whatever their relationship is with others. They are the ones with the experience rather than the money. This is strongly promoted by the vertical hierarchical system which is needed badly by people rich, money poor countries to maintain harmony. Such countries need stronger structures than money rich people poor countries. Business on the other hand, requires one to produce more for immediate consumption. If minorities accept their allocated status for functional purposes – they would do very well in business – much better than those who are used to the comfort of majority power. Ultimately it is about the Truth we carry. When we work for ourselves – and are satisfied with the return we get which according to me is much higher than if I had calculated at the time I did the work – the value is always there. The longer we wait the higher the return and the wider our reach – the richer the return. In relation to this article itself – even if I am a minority of one reading this article – that would be complete return because I am the writer and I am the reader. Temporarily we allocate other readers’ faces to motivate ourselves. If we do not do the work for ourselves but to impress / please others – there is nothing left for us when we live through our minds and those others are no longer physically with us. To me, discovering this completeness within is what life is all about.