Wijith DeChickera notes the emergence of a nexus between business and politics with mixed feelings because governance means more than growth

I have heard many novel ideas about politics. But the recent sentiment by a business chamber about an entrepreneurial culture of governance gets a leaf in my book.

Since the National Chamber of Exporters (NCE) said so, the president has thrown his hat in the ring again; the prime minister reportedly said he would be his party’s presidential candidate; and a number of other developments have left the polity looking and feeling rather sorry for themselves.

In the larger scheme of things, an entrepreneurial culture sounds like a good thing. A cross section of business leaders expressed a desire for the state of our nation to be transformed out of its sluggish bureaucratic mindset and policy inconsistency into an export oriented economy where an end to corruption could see our lax island becoming a developed country.

While this is a noble idea, there is a plethora of issues that could compromise it before it gets off the ground.

For one, many corporate leaders themselves are part of the problem they sometimes appear so desirous to rectify.

In fact, speaking out at that chamber’s seminar, one of the tycoons confessed to have been corrupted by the prevailing political system himself. One wonders if this is an admission of guilt or a grandiose accomplishment being touted as being par for the course. Best if we don’t press other captains of commerce and industry to declare their own backgrounds in the same breath that they challenge MPs to do so!

For another, leave alone parliamentarians declaring their assets even after the expiration of the deadline to do so, there is a nagging doubt as to the bona fides of many corporate entities and their leaders.

To be sure, a business leader who spoke out at the seminar accused the state sector of being bribe takers; but this begs the question as to why corporate Sri Lanka has not only paid the fiddler but danced to a corrupted tune as well… it takes two to tango, doesn’t it?

Then again, a principled and sustainable approach to national policy is a sensible proposition.

But how to persuade and convince present political practitioners to eschew their volatile and unstable ways is a consummation devoutly to be wished. And it is a conundrum not to be dismissed lightly in an electorate that generally bifurcates itself between progressives and reactionaries.

This is the dilemma that our bureaucracy faces every once in five or six years; and policy consistency is hard to maintain in a bipartisan polity that’s like chalk and cheese.

And if it’s ‘governance without politics’ that corporate leaders are now aspiring to, their ambition must be made of sterner stuff than hot air in the cool confines of a chamber. If one of their number hopes to take the lead and set the bar high by contesting the forthcoming presidential election with a passion for transforming the country along the lines envisioned, it had better be sooner than later.

Of course, it goes without saying that such a biz leader desiring to be a national one must be able, aboveboard, appealing etc. if he or she is to succeed.

Also, the business of governance is more than mere entrepreneurial spirit. Charismatic speeches in the chamber and chutzpah in the boardroom alone won’t cut it with the bigger and broader issues that have bedevilled our once blessed nation for decades.

In addition to the economy, any national leader worth his or her manifesto must embrace and hope to employ a mandate that includes potential solutions – or at least strategies to consistently engage a panoply of issues: from national reconciliation and transitional justice, to human rights.

On the one hand, a penchant for productivity and profitability is a high noble ideal. But such an enterprise could easily founder on the rocks of ignorance of global realities at best or arrogance in pressing domestic woes at worst.

Those wounded by war, the marginalised and destitute aren’t high visibility targets on many if not most CSR agendas. Will an entrepreneurial culture see beyond rule of law, state investment in R&D and national security to have compassion on a lost generation of islanders from all walks of life… not only biz?

So it remains to be seen how even the most eminently suitable corporate leader as a candidate for high political office can attract and retain the interest of a sufficiently large cross section of the electorate before sitting in the hot seat. Because the usual suspects are playing the same old lame political games but for very high personal as well as partisan stakes.

On the other, all unprecedented progress may depend in the end on the unreasonable person. Cometh the hour, cometh the man (or woman)? Time will tell… but that’s precisely what’s running out.

In the limit, we citizens are still caught between the devil of disciplinarian strongmen and the deep blue sea of self-serving democrats. Add the fresh ingredient of ham-fisted entrepreneurial leadership into the electoral mix and we’re in for a very rich stew indeed.