No business like nobody’s business

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Or so the saying goes. Especially in business circles, where deals are often struck and sealed over a meal. You would imagine, then, that men of the world would be more than wary of an invitation to share the banquet table with strangers. But our captains of commerce and industry seem to have no such qualms. Not when it comes to being fellow trenchermen in the Big Apple.

That Government allegedly picked up the tab did not seem to bother too many of our leading businessmen who had the good, er, shall we say fortune, to be invited on an all-expenses paid junket to New York, NY. Corporate types are used to someone else paying the bill anyway, true. But you’d think they’d be a tad pickier about why and when and where they are led by the nose to the trough, no? Not some of our mercantile mandarins! They have seen which way the goose is being cooked these days, and have decided as members of a small and exclusive club that they’d like a spreading of pate foie de gras on their biscuit, please. That’s the way the cookie crumbles – and it’s called the business-politics nexus.

Now don’t get us wrong, folks. This is not the mewling, puking cry of infantile envy of those good folks who do nothing even when they see the wrong in what their peers and pals are doing. For example, the fact that the extravagant joy ride to NYC came at the expense of the taxpaying public (Who? Why, that’s you, dear!). To wit: airfare, bed and board, champagne and cocktails, deluxe en-suite rooms, extras to the tune of free IDD calls and mobile phones at hand, laundry charges and limousine escorts – and all of this at the swanky Waldorf-Astoria, no less. Mind you, the 10 business leaders were part of a larger entourage of around 100 political hangers-on – but does that make it any more justified?

Of course, some of our jet-setting corporate types did try to justify their participation in the junket: by virtue of it being someone else’s idea (Government invited them to attend), and by dint of it being in the national interest (Sri Lanka was being promoted abroad). In addition, a few of them had attempted to pay their way – as has been customary on previous occasions when entrepreneurs accompanied politicos to international fora. But the former claim that this time the latter had insisted it was “on the house”! In the meantime, many if not most of the mercantilists who were contacted by the media ‘back home’ had little or nothing to say in their defence. And why should they need to, dears? One must make caviar while the cod are taking the bait…

Let the critics carp and cavil, then. Let them condemn the reality that the state coughed up precious dough from running-on-dry state coffers to pay for the country’s richest businessmen. Let those who know about such things critique the modus operandi of the Foreign and Finance Ministries, whose regulations these days run to forking out petty cash for petty players on the political stage to gallivant all over the world. Let others who feel for the poor starving masses in the waste land they left behind worry about the waste, the unwarranted expenditure, and the benefit – if any – that would accrue to the economy as a result of the all-expenses-paid trip. We, for one, will not quibble at what is after all peanuts to the tune of US$ 475 per night for the rooms booked for our business leaders. Let them eat cake… Who knows – it may help them to digest their pride, which they seem to have swallowed with their principles?

But the bitter pill may be yet to come. The last item on the menu. For when you dine with, um, users and usurpers, even movers and shakers of international repute may have to sell their soul. Sup with, er, infernal types, and sooner or later you will have to eat your words while spewing out whatever it is that they put to your lips to mimic and mumble. Like praise for the powers that be and propaganda to achieve their objectives. What’s that… you object? Not with egg on your face, you don’t! And don’t talk with your mouth full. It only upsets the hoi polloi who have to eat kos and polos while you gulp down your goose-liver paté…

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