Newly elected President of the Organization of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka, Ruwan Gallage spoke to the Nation regarding the role of the professional in good governance.
A Chartered Management Accountant and Management Consultant by vocation, Ruwan Gallage has also held professional positions as Chairman of the Merchant Bank of Sri Lanka and as Director of the Prime Grameen Micro Finance Limited.
Q : What is the role of the professionals in the private sector in relation to the public sector?
Professionals in the public sector are more important than those in the private sector.
Q : Do the professionals feel that good governance is being practised in their respective spheres? How can the professionals participate and intervene in law and policy-making?
Good governance is essential for development. The proven principles of good governance involve participation, the rule of law being followed, transparency, responsiveness, being equitable and there being inclusiveness, being consensus-oriented, effectiveness and efficiency, and accountability.
Professionals can be an interface between the professionals and the Government in power, regardless of hue, in relation to creating a consensus and developing the country further.
At present, good governance seems limited to those in the political hierarchy. Aside to certain aspects concerning the rule of law being followed, transparency (involving aspects concerning the issuance of tenders, and recruitment) and accountability, which have been addressed to a certain degree, other aforementioned aspects of good governance have been totally neglected and gone unaddressed and untouched.
Professionals need to proactively intervene with the incumbent Government as opposed to playing a reactive role. Professionals must be in the picture involved in very specific areas. If the huge public sector is professionally invested in with aspects such effectiveness and efficiency, it would be in a better footing.
Governance should be by way of professional ethics and the norms adopted by the particular professions.
Public-private partnerships are meant to create a win-win situation.
Q : Have the professionals proposed a House of Lords made of peers as a solution?
We have proposed, endorsed and are promoting a second chamber. The composition of this is similar to a senate. Nominees cannot be independent of political affiliation. Being apolitical is another problem among professionals, especially those in the younger generation. They think that politics is a mud bath and therefore do not want to have anything to do with such. This is unfortunate. As the Greek philosopher Plato has pointed out in his The Republic, one of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics, is that one ends up being governed by those inferior to one, a quote which is also translated and paraphrased as “The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men,” and “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” One does not need to contest to play a role in the political hierarchy. In one’s capacity as a professional, there are so many aspects in which one can get involved.
Q : What other groups can the professionals interface with?
There must be a strong professional body and team to address national issues, to interface with the Diaspora, a group which is critical of certain happenings in Sri Lanka, and also interface with the students in universities. We can play a significant role. The Government has not made adequate use of us.
Q : Where does the OPA stand with regard to the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA)’s recent demand and the position taken by the Government, in this case by Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in this regard?
The GMOA is one of our most respected affiliate organizations. The warring parties can be more consensus-oriented. The reason for the request can be more critically analyzed. There must be consultation.
Q : What do the professionals make of recent issues that have arisen in relation to taxes and taxation?
Taxes obtained from the citizens’ purse must be utilized in a justifiable manner for the betterment of the society at large. There should be an independent body to look into this matter. Taxes are an essential element in running a country. Certain taxes are unjustifiable, these must be discussed and we must find out how the negatives and positives will work out. Tremendous improvement is required with regard the administration of taxes. The revenue from Value Added Tax (VAT) has diminished over the years. From the total tax collected, the quantum of VAT has come down from what it was. We cannot run away from the fact that certain adjustments in tax too are necessary.
Q : What is the stand of the professional bodies and the community of professionals concerning sovereignty?
Those who invest in the economy following the nearly three-decade-period of strife expect huge returns. Sovereignty is very important for the country. It is important to address it.
Q : In what areas are the professionals facing issues?
Very few are making use of us. There is both under-employment and non-employment, especially in the information technology sector, the apparel industry and the construction industry. Skills development is needed.
Q : What is the extent to which professionals are presently involved in affairs of the State?
The overall input of professionals is not adequately utilized other than for employment.
Q : Why is it important that professionals engage in politics?
Professionals have not been very political and nor have they particularly intervened in politics. Yet, the fact of the matter is that professionals can intervene without getting involved in politics or party politics per se. How can one, especially those who are young, alienate oneself? Political decisions ultimately decide and become the nation’s destiny. It is a misfortune that professionals do not address this.