Friday 10 April 2015

Gajalakshmi Paramasivam – 10 April  2015
Look alike on the outside

Academics v Pilots

Recently I received through a Diaspora leader, an article entitled ‘Sri Lanka thro' the eyes of Lee Kuan Yew’  - compiled by Ananth Palakidnar.  Within that was a passage that was more easy for me to structure and relate to and that was about Sri Lanka’s National carrier. As per the excerpts from the ‘Singapore Story’ included  in the above article The Hon Lee Kuan Yew said :

[….I did not visit Ceylon for many years, not until I had met their newly elected President Junius Richard Jeyewardene in 1978 at a CHOGM Conference in Sydney. In 1972 Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike had already changed the country's name, Ceylon, to Sri Lanka, and made it a republic. The changes did not improve the fortunes of the country. Its tea is still sold as 'Ceylon' tea.
Like Solomon Bandaranaike, Jayewardene was born a Christian, converted to Buddhism and embraced nativism to identify himself with the people. In his 70-odd years, he had been through the ups and downs of politics, more downs than ups, and become philosophical in his acceptance of lowered targets. He wanted to move away from Sri Lanka's socialist policies that had bankrupted it. After meeting me in Sydney, he came to Singapore, he said, to involve us in its development. I was impressed by his practical approach and was persuaded to visit Sri Lanka in April 1978. He said he would offer autonomy to the Tamils. I did not realize that he could not give way on the supremacy of the Sinhalese over the Tamils, which was to lead to civil war in 1983 and destroy any hope of a prosperous Sri Lanka for many years, if not generations.
He had some weaknesses. He wanted to start an airline because he believed it was a symbol of progress.

Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines employed a good Sri Lankan captain. Would I release him? Of course, but how could an airline pilot run an airline? He wanted Singapore Airlines to help. We did. I advised him that an airline should not be his priority because it required too many talented and good administrators to get an airline off the ground when he needed them for irrigation, agriculture, housing, industrial promotion and development, and so many other projects. An airline was a glamour project, not of great value for developing Sri Lanka. But he insisted. So we helped him launch it in six months, seconding 80 of Singapore Airlines' staff for periods from three months to two years, helping them through our worldwide sales representation, setting up overseas offices, training staff, developing training centres and so on. But there was no sound top management. When the pilot, now chairman of the new airline, decided to buy two second-hand aircraft against our advice, we decided to withdraw. Faced with a five-fold expansion of capacity, negative cash flow, lack of trained staff, unreliable services and insufficient passengers, it was bound to fail. And it did.]

The question by the Hon Lee Kuan Yew – ‘how could an airline pilot run an airline?’ raised the parallel in my mind as ‘How could an Academic run a University?’  Yet most Universities are headed by Academics. Most of the Singapore Airlines managers who were assigned during the developmental stages of  Air Lanka (– born out of the seeds in the mind of Mr. J R Jayawardene – the architect of the 1978 Constitution – and the first President of Sri Lanka -  ) were Commercial minded. The Common Singaporean is driven by economic progress before Freedom of speech. Likewise Jaffna Tamils of my generation. If the Jaffna Tamil had been facilitated to be economically progressive – the civil war would have been prevented and Jaffna would have become the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. The University of Jaffna would have become an economically self-sufficient University. The core purposes of a University are Research & Teaching. If the core purpose was to make money and achieve global progress such a university  would fail with academic leadership focused more on Research. It would succeed with more investment in Teaching.  The structures required by the two are different. Former is Experience based and the latter is Rights based.

By raising that question – the Hon Lee Kuan Yew – confirmed his appreciation of the separation of powers needed   between Operations &  General Administration. I learnt through my experience at the University of New South Wales that senior academics who were strongly committed to Research were weak Administrators and that young academics in management positions often tended to express themselves prematurely and towards this crossed the border between Operations and Administration. Rights should not be expressed by one who sought ‘business’ and one who drive by Rights should rise above business outcomes.

Both – Singapore Airlines as well as Sri Lankan Airlines are Government owned. One Government did not directly interfere with Operations whereas the other did. The result is Singapore Airlines is a commercial success and Sri Lankan Airlines has become a Political medium for the Sri Lankan Government.  Often when Public Enterprises restructure to operate as Business Units – the leader would need to become strictly authoritative so that the investment in the old hierarchical system is not lost to young ones. Lee Kuan Yew was such a leader  which earned the title of ‘Benevolent Dictator’. As a senior living in Sydney – I appreciate more and more the need to be a Benevolent Dictator if one is to preserve ‘Rights’ earned by the leader.  Often even within the Tamil Community and the Sri Lankan Diaspora, young ones whose style is more modern and trendy are elevated to high positions towards quick popularity. It is due to this that seniors who are marginalized form their own groups and live in retirement villages and nursing homes or work as volunteers in their home groups. Rarely are they honored by young ones as their mentors. If they work actively they are effectively ‘told’ what to do by young ones who assume Equal Rights as per the system of Democracy.   Recently, I said to a close relative that if I could not advise him as per my earned rights – I was effectively his servant.  The junior Police who were called in when I followed due process and waited peacefully to speak to the Vice Chancellor of the  New South Wales  listed me as a Sri Lankan as per THEIR  thinking and when I sued them for racial discrimination  - I was punished further. Given that I was denied my truly earned position – I became a trespassing criminal who was later listed as mentally ill person. One who Loves  Truth  can never be mentally ill for there is perfect order to Truth and the path taken by Truth as a Causal Force is the perfect law which when followed would lead to wholesome  Effective that would satisfy all genuine investors.

Premature changeover to Democracy and Equal Opportunity systems – often result in weaker quality of service assumed powers being greater than earned powers. It was because of this assumed power that I was listed as a criminal when I became an outsider. If I chose to remain an insider – I ought to have been ready to be a ‘servant’ in status or become like young ones driven by immediate benefits. This is why there is a need for separation between Administration/ Government and Operations/Commercial Enterprises owned by Government.  I now better appreciate why Mr. Lee Kuan Yew was firm and authoritative to maintain his leadership position.  He stated:

[It was flattering to have Sri Lanka model their country after Singapore. They announced that they would adopt the Singapore-style Area Licensing Scheme to reduce traffic entering the city. But it did not work. They started a housing programme in 1982 based on ours, but there was no adequate financing. They set up a free trade zone only slightly smaller than the area of Singapore which might have taken off but for the Tamil Tigers whose terrorist tactics scared investors away.]
Only someone who had earned the leadership position through sacrifice of popularity could have succeeded to become economically self-sufficient. No Sri Lankan political leader of our times demonstrated this. They were driven more by votes than by sacrifices. A leader who works hard and sacrifices for the commonwealth – achieve this balance. Sri Lanka, in addition has stronger investment in tradition and culture than Singapore and has the potential to attract new investors seeking to learn about our heritage.

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