The left hand, right hand syndrome
By Random Access Memory (RAM)
"The left hand does not know what the right hand does" is a popular expression of those in the know of how government works. It was within a span of three weeks, when the media announced that a senior minister had stated that all systems were on the go to set up an International Airport at Matugama.

Another equally important minister then joined the fray to announce that the International airport will be in Hambantota, where the need and the conditions are ripe. Just when the dust was settling, the one charged with the subject of airports and aviation, in a newspaper supplement, announced the commencement of expansion of the current airport at Katunayake.

This indeed, is but one example of the confusion that prevails on the policy and strategy fronts in this country. Now think of the plight of the discerning big time investor or for that matter a young person looking to start his own venture in flower exports as a Small and Medium Enterprise (SME), or even a parent intending to give his daughter in marriage. Where should they locate their investment,or like to live in proximity to Matugama, Hambantota or Katunayake?

The confusion that persists, one might think is as a result of the left hand not knowing what the right hand does. But it is disturbing when we learn, that it is because the left hand deliberately refuses to go along with what the head has decided to do. So much for the Westminster model's tradition of collective responsibility of the cabinet where even after voicing disagreement, you are supposed to toe the line on majority decisions.

Then there is the scenario, where the left and the right hands compete for the preferential votes and for personal glory outside of a national agenda. Take the case of the setting up of career guidance centres island-wide by the ministry charged with the task of vocational training. A similar exercise was carried out some time ago by the ministry charged with employment and labour, where it has set up a system of island-wide centres with a computer-based employment referral system - 'Jobsnet', inclusive of carrier guidance facilitation.

Would it not make sound sense to come together to work in unison, not through a mere memoranda of understanding limited to paper, but optimally utilising each other's resources, to best serve the denominator common to both ministries - the person desiring to pursue a carrier or secure employment?

A similar situation is seen in the work carried out by the ICT agency, media, post and telecommunications ministries in driving e-based solutions. While the connectivity envisaged by e-Sri Lanka need necessarily transcend all sectors of the economy, it may be prudent for these core institutions to pool their scarce resources in working towards developing common front facilities, rather than one agency working to expend the funding provided by global lenders.

They may do well to even think of utilising the networks of the private sector such as the banks, leaving aside the hollow 'branding' sought by each institution or ministry.
A recent discussion on a vernacular radio station focused on the state of affairs in the public transport sector. It featured the head of a state institution charged with transport.

When pressed to the wall with a barrage of questions from the public on the telephone through a very competent radio compere, he admitted that he is against the policy of handing over the management of the state transport system to the private sector. Without even examining the rights and wrongs of the very decision to 'privatise' state run transport, we need to focus on the aspect of efficacy of implementation of these decisions by people half convinced, or not at all convinced of the correctness of the 'policy' decisions.

What RAM believes this would do, is create further confusion and even chaos, leading to the depletion of peoples' confidence on what little is left of the system of governance. The impact of this muddled state of affairs extends beyond dampening investor sentiments, confusing public officials and inefficient serving of the end consumer, to more basic issues such as the nation's integrity and defence. This indeed is not only a sorry state of affairs but also one that causes much concern for all and needs to be consolidated fast.

Perhaps, a good fresh step for our leaders to take, all very busy with waiting for the opportune and / or the auspicious time, will be to simply listen. They need to take time, but not to 'hear' what they are fed with the left or right hands around them, but by themselves listening to what the citizens of Sri Lanka think and have to say.
The citizens, after all are the customers that need to be served, who have vested the sovereign power that belongs to them, only temporarily, on these leaders.

Politicians - will they ever learn?
Discussing the common "left hand doesn't know what the right hand has done" malady that afflicts local politicians, RAM's strong plea today should serve as a reminder to our rulers that as much as when power comes swiftly into one's hands, it can also be snatched away abruptly leaving you groping in the dark and going back on bended knees to the voting masses for support at the next election. When will they ever learn? Write to us with your comments/suggestions on a host of issues that RAM has raised in his columns - Business Editor (email:

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