The newly elected government has initiated a 100 day programme aimed at bringing back good governance, rule of law, justice, equity, peace and harmony, meritocracy, integrity, simplicity, international acceptance in order to create a corruption minimized democratic society.
The Change is Essential and must be Sustained
This welcome change in the business environment, many felt was most essential, if democracy, ethno-religious harmony, equity, respect for the law and good governance were to be the fundamental drivers of growth and prosperity benefiting this nation and its entire people. This environment has now dawned, though many feared it was unlikely to be ever realized, the way socio-economic and political leadership landscape was carved out by our recent leaders in governance. These recent leaders had almost succeeded embedding their style of governance as an acceptable way of life of the citizens of this nation.
The change must now be given a fair chance to get firmly established. If not, uncertainty, dictatorial governance, and disruptive and underworld forces at play will be the order of the day, resulting before long, in anarchy, economic collapse and social degeneration. Business as a key stakeholder of society must play a leading catalytic role in facilitating, promoting and sustaining the proposed new environment. They must strive to have this environment to become an embedded culture in society, driven by shared values.
A New Business Paradigm
A new and recommitted to business paradigm, agreed to by all business leaders and Chambers and collectively embedded within the private sector must be the ‘Way Forward’, to mutually for all in society to benefit from the positive external environment and assure its sustainability.
A Committed To New Values and Management Culture
Chambers and business leaders should commit to a 365 day Programme, which should commence as soon as the new government’s 100 day programme ends. This 365 Day Programme of Chambers and Business Leaders should include the following twelve key Values Based Business Commitments, which the business leaders and chambers must collectively strive to have fully embedded within the private sector as a Committed to Business Culture.
1. Re-Commit to Core Values
Business leaders and Chambers must recommit to the core values of placing the nation and its people first, the private sector second, the core/priority sector interests third and individual business interests fourth.
Business leaders and chambers in this instance, at a time when the new government has committed to such values, must in addition specifically recommit to uphold the supplementary national core values of good governance, rule of law, justice, equity, peace and harmony, meritocracy, integrity, simplicity, promoting international acceptance and commit to create a corruption minimized democratic society. Here management excellence, value addition, quality enhancement, productivity improvement, creativity, innovativeness, human resource development and corporate social responsibility must become associated core values of business.
2. Simplicity, Austerity, Waste Control and Caring CSR Culture
The private sector must transform the present businesses to commit to a management culture that assures simplicity, austerity and waste control and one which it directs all such savings and more to optimize value adding corporate social responsibility initiatives, benefiting the lesser fortunate citizens.
3. Transparency, Whistle Blowing and Right to Information Culture
In tandem with government initiatives, the private sector too must embed a management culture that promotes and assures Transparency, promote and facilitate whistle blowing, supported by independent and credible follow up processes, and
subject to essential safeguards of business process linked confidential information, accommodates and effectively responds with integrity to public right to information requests
Transparency commitments must extend to cover all products and services offerings, after sales services, long term contractual obligations and guarantees as well as advertising, promotions and marketing communications. Similar transparency commitments must be extended in dealing with other stakeholders, including shareholders, bankers, employees, creditors, and the public at large. Misrepresentation and unacceptable communications must not be a part of a business culture.
4. Promoting Meritocracy Culture
A private sector including the Chambers must actively support and hold to account, the government in living up to its promise of good governance and go the step further by example, and transparently live up to their call for meritocracy and denouncing nepotism, and ensure that the private sector too does not have old school ties, family connections and status as criteria for selection and appointment.
5. Promote Anti-Corruption Culture
The private sector must advocate legal reforms that bring within the scope of application of Bribery and Corruption laws, the operations of the private sector. They must also ensure that the givers of bribes are made equally culpable as the receivers. In association with the Transparency International, Berlin and Sri Lanka chapter the private sector must embed as committed to and effectively practiced core values, “the Business Principles in Countering Bribery.”
8. Assurance Safety and Equitable Treatment Culture
The private sector led by the business leaders and the chambers must adopt as core values and commit to business principles which embed in management processes assurance that all products and services offered are safe and fit for human consumption/use. They must be willing to meet obligations and fund any product or services linked valid liability claims.
The private sector must further ensure that stakeholders are not discriminated by gender, social status, b disability/disadvantage .They must ensure equitable dealings, in distribution and servicing, employment and their CSR initiatives too must signal these commitments. The management must stand accountable to upholding equity as a core value.
7. Compliance, Risks and Control Culture
As the new government commits to respect the rule of law and justice processes transparently, the private sector, under the watchful eyes of business leaders and chambers, must be able to demonstrate that they have fully and with commitment and diligence met all statutory and regulatory compliance requirements. They must further be able to transparently certify to that fact.
In specific, these compliance requirements must also be extended to cover production and servicing standards, packaging and storage standards, quality and safety standards, expiry date commitments. Further Accounting and auditing standards, as well as all commitments under Codes of Ethics /Conduct/Governance must be embedded as a part of operational management culture. Similar commitments are essential as regards effectiveness of risk management processes and having in place effective internal controls both of which assure good governance.
8. Human Resource Development Commitment Culture
Human resource development initiatives to meet all present and future needs of business whilst embedding in these resources, required levels of knowledge, skills, expertise, experiences, values and attitudes must become a core culture. This commitment must be supported by necessary succession and contingency planning requirements.
9. A Management Culture Striving For Excellence
A business culture that effectively embeds, appropriate technology and best practice transfers, promotes innovation and creativity, and seeks transformative change management options ,to optimize productivity, quality, waste reduction and drives management to excel in meeting international best benchmarks in value addition, process management, value chain management and logistics, must drive local businesses to gain international competitive advantages and thus derive growth through exports and business expansion, locally and overseas.
10. Fair Competition , Shared Resources, Alliances and Networking Culture
Whilst respecting commitments to registered holders of trademarks and patents, the management culture must drive business leaders and chambers to ensure fair competition, constant search for local substitution and value enhancement, with shared resources, alliances and networking being made use of in search of these gains.
11. A Culture Abhorring Patronage Politics Creating Demi Gods
The private sector, legislators, judiciary, media and the people of this nation, having paid a significant price due to their collective failure to hold to account the elected leaders, their henchmen and obedient executives, must at least now, search their conscience to establish the root cause of the governance failures that preceded 2015, especially in the period after the war.
A large measure of these negative consequences was due to the private sector failing to uphold the core values articulated in 1 above. The media is also to blame for having all news centered on the elected leaders and their supportive cronies, including when they play acted, behaved in an unprofessional, indecent and even in ways contrary to the sustainable interests of the nation and its people. The media followed leaders and not value adding positive news, and was always ready to promote their interests and willing to impose self censorship in their interest.
Elected representatives and the executive were treated as demi gods and addressed with unnecessary titles, without taking account that they are all normal persons in public life with obligations to the public ( the reputed civil servants of yesteryears signed off as ‘yours obedient servant’ when addressing letters to common citizens). By addressing these mere human beings with titles, such as His Excellency, Honourable and Sir: and participating with them, in shameful sharing of proceeds of crime, corruption and favoured hand outs; engaging with them in “peduru parties”, drinking binges, casino sessions, and morally unacceptable actions, were all shameful conduct of business persons and leaders of society.
At least now, let us address them with respect to their age and maturity by the common the use of designations such as Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Minister, Mr. Secretary (or the address as a lady where appropriate). Let us not give them prominence, and not invite them to functions where they have no value to add (seminars, meetings and discussions and opening ceremonies). Above all, let us not develop personal and network relations that develop in to benefiting from patronage politics. Where they fail in their duty and accountability or when they violate acceptable norms of conduct, let us hold them to account publicly. Let us politely and with careful words, not hesitate to critique and criticize them in these instances. If any of them violate the agreed codes of conduct as persons in public life, let us call the spade a spade and let us publicly boycott and shame them, using strategies within the acceptable boundaries of decency and within the law.
12. Adherence to Codes of Ethics and Conduct Culture
Business leaders and Chambers must advocate that the Government adopt acceptable codes of ethics and conduct for all persons in public life, which can be benchmarked to the under noted Seven Principles of Public Life from the Report of the Committee for Standards in Public Life (The Nolan Report)and have in place associated enforcement and disciplinary procedures;
Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their families or their friends.
Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that may influence them in the performance of their official duties.
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all their decisions and the actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example
Chambers must develop a corresponding set of binding Codes of Ethics and Conduct, especially adapted to business sector operations in Sri Lanka, together with associated enforcement and disciplinary procedures. A whistle blowing facility intra chamber and intra business sector and a complaints procedure must also be introduced and publicized. A review mechanism for all submissions and complaints must be in place with persons of integrity; independence and capability tasked with the responsibility to review, and where a prima facie case is established inquire in to and report with recommendations for action. These inquiries must preferably by conducted an independent non business advisory panel with a clear understanding of best corporate governance principles and their enforcement in practice.
“Culture drives great results”. Jack Welch
By Chandra Jayaratne