Friday, March 27, 2009

The President’s star has peaked, but his sycophants have not

My travels take me between the following districts frequently; Colombo, Kegalle, Kurunegala, Polonnaruwa, Matale, Ratnapura, Moneragala and sometimes to Gampaha. As I live a life of a peasant no matter what one may think, I constantly interact with local people as equals and not with any superiority. As one who earns his livelihood in farming, I can relate to the common problems faced by the farmers wherever they maybe and with us farmers there is an instant rapport once the ice is broken of our common commitment and level of risk and uncertainty in our chosen vocation.

The theme I come across amongst most of the people I meet is quite similar. They with no hesitation give credit to the President for winning the war, and have no illusion as to its cost, as the human life lost has affected and touched everyone in almost every village in the land. Now that the last 21 sq. km. is taking forever, the euphoria of victory has evaporated, and the impatience for the next step is apparent.

What people say is that while they are now concentrating on the problems of living and existing, the governing coalition is still harping on the war, as being the only thing they can hang their hat on. The old canard of Sri Lanka not being affected by the world economic crisis is falling on deaf ears as everyone in the country is now affected in one form or another in that their purchasing power has eroded.

The state media being so one sided even in this current Western Provincial Council campaign, is also irritating many people, who ask why does the media owned by the people not represent the attitudes of the people instead of the government only which is only about half the people. So the other half are not represented by state that tries to pretend another view does not exist.

With people’s natural tendency to be on what they perceive is the winning side, the level of sycophancy of the individual is rising, in the hope that they may also share in the spoils, which even the party loyalists are quietly crying in their beds, is going into a family chest, with little regard for them.

While the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the election results will reflect the attitudes of the moment, I get the impression from the people I interact with that there certainly is life after MR before long! All I can say is let justice prevail, and honesty be rewarded.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What a Conundrum?

The battle for control of land has been won, or has it? The gallant armed forces are facing a dilemma. There is a government, impatiently, biting at the bit, to claim total victory for political gain, and little regard for the National Interest as sadly there appears little correlation with each. Then there are the Armed Forces, not wanting to lose any more personnel than they already have in fighting at close combat with brainwashed seasoned fighters ready to die for their cause in the final battle.

The natural desire to annihilate the enemy by carpet bombing the remaining 25sq km is held back due the presence of innocent civilians, some of whom have been forced to bear arms at gun point, who may constitute an unacceptable level of casualties. Don’t forget that every innocent killed unwittingly is a citizen of this country, and it is the duty to of the state to avoid this at all costs, so the dilemma is what cost! Let us also not forget that the casualties of the security forces are also stunningly high as they are fighting the hardcore final battle so lets not kid ourselves as to how serious it all is.

The current stalemate has seen about 20,000 leave, escape or be evacuated since the fall of Mullaitivu. We can only hope that the balance 30,000 innocents can do so with little injury and loss of life. How long and what form this will take place is the conundrum. There is no question that the LTTE is looking at these people as their passport to freedom to fight another day, which is something that needs to be prevented.

Don’t forget that the remaining terrorists are the hardcore, along with some civilians subscribing to that philosophy whose minds cannot be changed from their cause. How can you contain them? Without eliminating them! And not cause an international outcry provoked by the Eelam diaspora willing to influence their governments who are then forced to take a stance?

The government has not so far shown its ability to skillfully get international support to pressure the LTTE to release the civilians. There is no option that the government can present to exact this promise. This just leaves the international community in the form of the UN to demand their release and show their commitment by sending a multinational task force immediately to the shores of Mullaitivu to evacuate the trapped civilians. Any attempt by the LTTE to fire on them will be something even the Diaspora would be hard-pressed to justify. It is innocent Tamil civilians that we are trying our best to save from death. Act now and innocent lives can be saved and let not the blood of innocents prick your conscience whoever you may be.

The State must be held to a higher moral standard than terrorists

I was mildly amused and not for the first time, when yet again I see a statement attributed to the Prime Minister of this esteemed Island, that there is no outcry when atrocities are committed by the LTTE terrorists.

Who does he think he is addressing these comments to? He thinks he is playing to the gallery, and not to the balcony, but both are intellectually more rational with common sense, that he appears not to have by his word.

One must surely understand that banned terrorists by their very nature are a reprehensible lot, bent on committing every atrocity under the sun, and now are seeing the only chance of prolonging there lives by holding human shields with no care for their safety. We should not for a moment waste our time trying to condemn their acts, as it is an ongoing atrocity that they commit holding defenseless hostages and our efforts should only be to make sure the world understands who they really are by clever media sound bites.

The state must be held to a different standard, that must defend the rights and security of all its 20 millions citizens, not merely their 100 worthless ministers and their cohorts at considerable state expense and even that they don’t appear to be able to do.

We appear to be very petty minded people by the way we respond to international criticism with the latest being the UN Human Rights Report on civilian deaths so far this year. We must rise to the criticism by stating facts that only the state knows. After all with a media blackout only the Defense forces know the facts on their side, with little knowledge of the deaths under land controlled by the enemy combatants or terrorists. The UN may be correct or wrong, even the State may not know, so ask them who were their sources, how reliable are they, have their sources been reliable in the past, has the information been corroborated. These are standard evaluations which even journalists worth their salt engage in before reporting.

So please, ‘defend the Nation State’, give true professionals to address any international criticism and not politicians who show a continuous sense of insecurity by their words. Allow people of the stature of Palitha Kohona to address these independently and not toe the Government line, which he is forced into now, so that impartiality with regard to the answers is apparent.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A new school swimming pool just to look at in Polonnaruwa

A school-boy hitched a ride from me as otherwise he would have had to walk 4km home and I got talking to him. He got very good marks at his 8+ exam and was accepted to the best school in the District, namely Royal College, Polonaruwa. Due to his additional travel and after school extra curricular activities he invariably misses the infrequent bus service, leaving him no option but to walk from the main road, which has regular buses.

I remembered that his school is the only school that has and for that matter the only swimming pool in the whole district, which has over 1000 tanks or lakes that store water for irrigation. I was very disappointed to hear that with such an asset, it is hardly used. There are no special swimming coaches and a swimming program to encourage the kids or to facilitate its use by other local schools, as is the practice in the Colombo area when a school does not have a pool.

This is another example of public waste, where ministers take credit for gifting pools out of public money, along with a massive ceremony, and then do nothing to ensure that the infrastructure is in place, namely funds and hiring of coaches to make use of this facility.

Blame cannot be placed at the foot of the headmaster who has a very delicate job to ensure he gets sufficient resources to balance, the pupils, teachers and parents interests and then adhere to all the government dictates leaving little time to try and resolve the matters referred to above.

This is an example of the waste of resources in Sri Lanka, as no thought goes into the whole project, only a part and the donors do nothing to ensure all the pieces of the puzzle are fixed. There are half built roads, trees cut down for a water main, which are only laid 5 years after the cutting down of trees and the new growth has to be cut down later.

It is hardly surprising with so many tiers of government, so many ministries and departments, and so many bureaucrats that no one has the authority to take charge and act without treading on sensitive toes of rule filled bureaucrats trying to justify their positions. The development and improvements to the infrastructure suffer. We must put self glorification aside and instead concentrate on fulfilling objectives completely and not partially, which is of no use to anyone.

A tale of mismanagement in the Private and Public sector

Is it a small wonder that as described in the caliber of people applying for top posts as commented on my previous blog entry, that our country is suffering from a serious shortage of talent in high places? It is a significant factor in the abysmal state of the country since independence when we were left with a bulging treasury and politicians eager to squander it.

As in every sphere, Sri Lanka has its fair share of talent at the upper echelons of public and private life, but they are few and far between, with many aspiring leader been left to pasture due to the lack of vision of the superior to spot talent and show them the fast track. I explain this by our need for constant praise and not wanting to be upstaged by better subordinates. Good subordinates therefore blocked by the glass ceiling, do one of two things. They leave and invariably go overseas where they believe their talent is better recognized or they use their brains to praise their boss and at the same time defraud the company thereby affecting the livelihoods of many with who they are playing this game of poker.
The need of the hour is to identify skills and moral standing as well as patriotism to the country and faith in their employer. These people are natural leaders in whatever they do and are the asset we so desperately need. We first need the people with stature to identify these people in management and without favor or fervor promote them to positions where they can truly make a difference.

Initial hiring should be task oriented and only achievement of the objectives can ensure continuation, and not age or number of years in a position that determine promotion at present. I know many organizations have instituted changes to go in this direction, but the results are still very scrappy due to some of the weaknesses of the leaders that lack the courage to put caliber above petty old school ties.

The first step is for we ourselves to accept humbly what our weaknesses are and then try and repair them. Only then will we be able to identify and spot talent and give them the reigns but at the same time know how to control them and monitor them to ensure that the overall objectives of the enterprise are met, and no malfeasance takes place. Stakeholders will be shocked that under the noses of the leadership or managing directors, how much fraud takes place because of the wrong people in positions of trust.

So concludes my hundreth blog post here!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Do you really want the job or are you just fooling around?

This blog is specifically an attempt to get the ‘Serendipitous’ Sri Lankans to think about what they do, so as to maximize the quality of life of both themselves and those around them. I use examples from my daily life to illustrate my point. I am quite perturbed at having to go through hundreds of emailed job applications to arrive at a shortlist for a panel to determine which ones should be selected for interview.

There are three vacancies for the senior level of management at an organization, with potential remuneration packages ranging from Rs100K to Rs400K. One would therefore expect the caliber of applicants to be high. Do not forget these positions are being offered in a period of uncertainty and recession, where many have lost their jobs, and so one would expect the desire to make oneself a good candidate more keen and competitive.

The first lot of applicants whose experience and qualifications do not remotely come near that advertised are just a waste of time and they just appear to apply for every job on offer hoping to hit pay dirt.

The second set, are those who are highly qualified with a string of research papers and book credits, but with practical experience only to achieve the qualifications they have. They should apply for lower level jobs and not feel they are up to senior management just yet. Its amazing how some feel qualifications mean they are able to walk in to any job.

The third have a varying job background, not confined to a single field and with a low level of qualifications, hoping this would be sufficient, as they have at some time in the past had some experience that would be relevant to this position.

The last group are those from whom we will make a selection, and they are those who have a fair balance of qualification and experience that is relevant to the job they are applying for. It is about this latter category that I am making the comments below but will equally apply to the others above.

If you are a serious candidate you must write a cover letter in the body of the email, clarifying why you should be considered for the job, highlighting the experience you have specifically relating to the job you are applying for, along with the relevant educational qualifications relating thereto.
I would ideally only want to read this and if found relevant go with interest to the attachment to read your resume. In Sri Lanka it is referred to as Curriculum Vitae or Bio Data, both of which are the wrong words to describe what you really want. Those are just the history of the person and not who he is!

Just remember when you email a Resume, you must realize that the reader has to go through hundreds of these. Your cover letter must be interesting enough to go further and read you detailed CV in the word attachment. What does the reader needs to know first is what is it you are currently doing or have just performed, and how this fits into your application. Why is it that you want this job in preference to what you are currently doing?

We are not interested in your address, your sex, your age, if or not you are married, what your religion, and race is and how many kids you have and your NI no. The name address, phone numbers and title of references are also a waste. I am shocked that almost a page at the front of the CV is devoted this list of useless information, which no one has bothered to think is only required as an afterthought if one is considered for interview and the references are only asked when one is about to be offered a job subject to satisfactory references specifically contacted by the hirer.

Additionally the next set of information is also not at all important for this type of level, namely the list of your O and A levels and what you did at school, except for the occasional national award. It is only the post high school qualifications that one should show, as all candidates are assumed to have got this minimum, ie you can read and write, and some with those cannot do that either!

The Resumes I have read go on for more than 5 typewritten pages, when typically it should not exceed two. The order of the Resume should be in reverse chronological. Just think, the most recent information is more critical to the reader than the oldest. It is pure common sense and why SL has not adopted this is beyond me, as even the placement agencies make the same.

How can we have faith in a candidate who does not have the common sense, and follows the standard norm for safety. We are looking for a self-starter, a dynamic, motivated person to run an export organization. The first impression you give is in a carefully written and researched Resume. CONCENTRATE ON THE OBJECTIVE AND USE COMMON SENSE