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Midweek Review

Genealogy of Concept and Genesis of 13th Amendment-1

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By Prof. Gamini Keerawella

Those who oppose devolution of power are up in arms now against the 13th Amendment, believing that the Provincial Council system has created a political space for the sub-national groups in the North and East to share power at the regional level. They allege that the 13th Amendment was an externally engineered move, and the Provincial Council system is a parasitic organ planted in the body politic of Sri Lanka by India and, therefore, they should be abolished without delay.

When one traces the chain of dramatic events leading to the 13th Amendment, it is clear that the immediate compulsion that forced President J.R. Jayewardene to present the 13th Amendment to the Parliament was India’s coercive diplomacy against Sri Lanka, which was known as ‘Parippu Diplomacy.’ However, the concept of devolution of power and the idea of Provincial Councils as a unit of devolution had been at the centre of political discourse well before the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace accord, at least from the 1920s. The Provincial Councils did not come from the blue sky with the Indian dhal cannon in 1987. The concept of devolution had surfaced again and again in the post independent political discourse in the course of sporadic attempts to accommodate political interests of sub-national groups. However, the manner in which the Provincial Council system was established in 1987 and the presence of the IPKF destroyed the legitimacy of the provincial council system at its inception. It does not negate the validity of devolution of power as a devise of unity in a fractured society. This essay intends to debunk certain misperceptions relating to the origins of the Provincial Council system by tracing the genealogy of the political discourse on devolution of power embodied in the 13th Amendment.

The conceptual origins of the Provincial Councils could be traced back to the Donoughmore Report in 1928. Conceptualizing it within the framework of local government, it presented a proposal to establish Provincial Councils to delegate certain administrative functions of the Central Government. More important is the rationale presented by the Donoughmore Commission for Provincial Council in 1928.

The argument in favour of the establishment of a Provincial Council in each Province is that such a scheme might result in a large part of administrative work now carried out in the Legislative Council coming into the hands of persons permanently resided in the country districts and thus more directly in contact with their needs; in the relief of the departments of the central government of much detailed work and in their being thereby set free to consider and advise on the larger affairs of the country: in the special views of the different races predominant in the different part of the Island having effects in the administration of these parts; in members of growing body of politically-minded persons in the country being placed in an honourable position to render real assistance in administration.

The Commission recommended that the new department without delay should explore the possibility of establishing Provincial Councils. Further it proposed that ‘an experiment with a council of this nature may be made in a more highly developed province within the next few years, and if that should prove successful, the system rapidly extended throughout the island’. The Issue of Provincial Councils came to discussion at the State Council in 1940 when R.S.S. Gunawardena proposed a motion on 10 July 1940. The The motion declared, “This Council is of the opinion that immediate effects should be given to the recommendation of the Donoughmore Commission with regard to the establishment of Provincial Councils”. Following the Motion, S.W. R.D. Bandaranaike as the Minister of Local Administration placed a detailed report of the Executive Committee of Local Administration on Provincial Councils before the State Council. It identified functions of proposed Provincial Councils in three main classes: supervisory, direct executive and advisory. The proposal was soon overtaken by other developments relating to the transfer of power and the issue of representation. Referring to the Provincial Councils, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike stated in December 1947 during the Budget Debate that: “I do not think I shall be able to introduce the Bill relating to Provincial Councils before January next year. The Bill is ready, but as it impinges on the functions of my colleagues in the Cabinet, I have to obtain their consent to all the implications of the Bill before I can introduce it in this House”. It is important to note that even in the 1940s the Tamil leadership had not taken the issue of Regional Councils and devolution of power to regions into their hands.

When the transfer of power to Sri Lanka was in sight after the 1943 Declaration, the issue of how to reconcile the competing claims to present a constitutional arrangement satisfactory to all stakeholders came to the forefront. The 1943 Declaration requested the Board of Ministers to proceed with the framing of their constitutional proposals. At the same tine it emphasized that the proposals should obtain a three-fourth majority. One of the key issues that cropped up in this process was the basis of representation. Both, the purely population basis as well as communal representation were found to be not acceptable. Accordingly, the method of one seat for every 75,000 of population and one seat for every 1,000 square miles of territory in each province was worked out. It was at this point the British Government appointed the Soulbury Commission. The Tamil Congress under G.G. Ponnambalam was not prepared to accept the Ministers’ proposals and presented their own instead. After the experiences of the Donoughmore Constitution, the main Tamil leadership insisted on balanced representation, i.e. fifty percent of the seats for minorities including ‘Ceylon Indians’ – term used then to identify the Tamils of Indian origin. As I. D. S. Weerawardena pointed out when the Ministers drafted their proposals they pledged to give some weightage to all the minorities. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike offered a scheme of 60:40 as a basis of representation. The proposals of the BOM were accepted by the Soulbury Commission and incorporated into the new constitution. In I. D.S. Weerawardena’s words, “From the point of view of the minorities, the new Constitution of Ceylon was the point of balance among the various conflicting communal claims”. Ultimately, the Tamil Congress of G.G. Ponnambalam agreed to settle for the unitary form of constitution with balanced representation based on 60:40 formula negotiated by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike on behalf of the Ceylon National Congress. The one of very first acts of the rulers of Independent Sri Lanka disrupted this balance setup by the Soulbury Constitution ‘among the various conflicting communal claims’. The Citizenship Acts of 1948 and 1949 changed the political scenarios. This move not only made the earlier formula of distributing seats to provinces meaningless but also created an unresolved issue between Sri Lanka and India, leaving room for India to intervene. “The Soulbury Constitution received minority support (without which it could not have been implemented) because it arranged to enable the minorities to win a certain number of seats. The Ceylon Indians were among these minorities. To deny them the vote is to deny them the seats. One moral undertaken has been done away with. To deny the vote to Ceylon Indian is also to reduce the total number of seats available to all minorities. That is a broken pledge to all minorities…. The moral basis of the Soulbury Constitution has been wiped away. To attempt to prove the constitutionality of the position is not to attempt to prove its justice”.

Its implications for the new political environment as well as for Tamil political circles were far reaching. Within the Ceylon Tamil Congress a group led by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam left the party to form the Federal Party on a regional agenda. At first, however, the regional agenda put forward by the Federal Party did not have any serious impact on Tamil politics and in the 1952 general elections the regional agenda was clearly rejected by substantial margins in the North and East in favour of the Ceylon Tamil Congress candidates. This situation rapidly changed in the period 1952-1956.

In 1955 the Commission of Local Government was appointed with N.K. Choksy as its Chairman. In its report the commission admitted that there was a strong support in favour of the establishment of Regional Councils in the country. However, the Commission strongly presented the case in favour of the Provincial Committees and not Regional Councils.

The phenomenon of regional councils based on existing provinces came into political discourse once again in the history of post-Independence Sri Lanka in 1957, with the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact, three decades prior to the 13th Amendment. Part –B of the Pact contained the Joint Statement on Regional Councils. According to the provisions of the agreement regional areas were to be defined in the Bill and the Northern Province was to form a regional area but the Eastern Province was to be divided into two or more regional areas.

 

Provision was to be made in the Bill to enable two or more regions to amalgamate beyond the provincial limits and for one region to divide itself subject to ratification by Parliament. Parliament was to delegate powers and specify them in the Act. The Central government would provide block grant to the Regional Councils. At the same time, the Regional Councils would have powers of taxation and borrowing.

The unilateral abrogation of the B-C Pact in the face of articulate small group of political activists belied an early opportunity of accommodating the interests of sub-national groups. Bandaranaike did not address the broader constituency over the heads of these elements using his mass appeal to save the B.C. pact. In the face of a lack of support within the government quarters itself, Bandaranaike did not have courage to confront the anti-Pact forces. What happened to the B-C Pact is now well known. However, the political dynamics of post-colonial Sri Lanka linked with multi-ethnic social reality did not allow burying the basic principles embodied in the B-C Pact and they conjured up again and again in different garb.

The UNP, which took to the streets in opposing the B-C Pact was forced to come to terms with the Federal Party in 1965. The Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Agreement of 1965 covered three issues: the language rights of the Tamil people, granting of land in colonization schemes and regional devolution of power. According to Article 3 of the Agreement, “Action will be taken to establish District Councils in Ceylon vested with powers over subjects to be mutually agreed upon between the two leaders. It was agreed, however, that the Government should have power under the law to give directions to such Councils under the national interests”.

The main Left parties (the CP and the LSSP) who were the champions of equal language rights in their good old days now joined hands with the SLFP to oppose the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Regulations. In the light of the antipathy created by the opposition in the country, the UNP-led coalition government was faltering in presenting District Councils provisions to the Parliament. Ultimately a White Paper on proposals for the establishment of District Councils under the control of the central government was presented to the Parliament in 1968. The SLFP boycott the debate at the Parliament and campaigned against it outside. In view of a possible backlash on the part of the Government caucus itself, Prime Minister Senanayake decided not to go ahead with the White Paper.

It is important to note that Mrs. Bandaranaike also had to grapple with the issue of regional devolution of power. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam resigned his seat in protest following the adoption of the first Republican Constitution. After much delay the UNF government decided to have s bye-election in1975. The United Front decided to field V. Ponnambalam, a veteran Communist Party member against Chelvanayakam. Despite the unfavourable political climate in the country in general and in the region in particular, V. Ponnambalam fared comparatively well (9457) vis-à-vis Chelvanayakam (25,927). After the bye-election, V. Ponnambalm resigned from the C.P. It was later revealed that Ms Bandaranaike had promised V. Ponnambalam that a statement will be issued before the Election Day promising regional devolution. Santasilan Kadirgamar refers to the book Senthamilar Ahuvom written by V. Ponnambalam in which he reasoned out why he resigned from the C.P. According to Kadirgamer, “he revealed how he and the Tamil supporters of the left movement who had worked hard at the 1975 bye-elections had been severely let down. The United Front had given him the assurance that 48 hours before the poll the Kankesanturai electorate would be flooded with pamphlets promising a substantial degree of autonomy to the North and East, that would gone beyond the abrogated Bandranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957. At the last minute the SLFP high command went back on this promise and the CP leadership succumbed to this betrayal”. (To be concluded)

 

 

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Midweek Review

Pursuing political agendas at the expense of national security

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Yahapalana President Maithripala Sirisena recently contradicted former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando as regards the latter’s statements before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) probing 2019 April 21 Easter Sunday attacks.

It was, in fact, Sirisena who appointed the P CoI several weeks before the end of his term.

Without realising the possibility of being pulled up for contempt of the PCoI, in a statement issued on Sept 19, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Polonnaruwa District lawmaker, who is also the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) rejected Fernando’s damning accusations, pertaining to the former President’s culpability as regards his government’s failure to thwart the deadly attacks.

There had never been an instance of a former President having to contradict a Defence Secretary, he himself appointed.

Fernando, who had been President Sirisena’s Chief of Staff squarely, faulted the President for lapses, as well as a brazen bid to cover up the humiliating failure to prevent nearly simultaneous suicide attacks.

Referring to a meeting, he had with President Sirisena on April 24, 2019, Fernando alleged that the President attempted to bribe disgraced IGP Pujitha Jayasundara.

During Sirisena’s tenure, as the President, he appointed no less than five Secretaries to the Ministry of Defence. That too must be a record for any Sri Lankan President. Hemasiri Fernando had been the fourth to serve as Secretary Defence during the disastrous yahapalana rule, followed by retired Army Commander Shantha Kottegoda, who received the appointment in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks. It would be pertinent to mention that President Sirisena held the defence portfolio by special arrangement, though his successor was to be deprived of the privilege in terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

Having won the 2015 January 8 presidential election, Sirisena named one-time environment and renewable energy Secretary B.M.U.D. Basnayake as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (11.01.2015-08.09.2015). Subsequently, Karunasena Hettiarachchi (09.09.2015-05.07.2015), Kapila Waidyaratne (06.07.2017-30.10.2018), Hemasiri Fernando (30.10.2018-25.04.2019) and Gen. Shantha Kottegoda (24.04.2019-19-11.2019) received appointment as the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, amidst the massive turmoil caused by the Easter carnage.

 

Ex-top cop replaces ‘intel’ veteran

The yahapalana leaders also appointed a retired DIG as the Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) – a special post created by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in late 2006, on the advice of the then Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to oversee all intelligence services, including the SIS (State Intelligence Service).

The Rajapaksas created the post of CNI, by way of a cabinet paper, especially for Maj. Gen. Kapila Hendavitharana, in the wake of his retirement. Hendavitharana, who had been deeply involved in clandestine operations against terrorists, knew what was going on in the war zone, elimination of high profile LTTE targets, or overall attempts to intercept LTTE arms shipments on the high seas et al. Even after the successful conclusion of the war, in May 2009, the CNI continued to play a significant role in the previous Rajapaksa government’s security strategy.

An operation, involving the Office of the CNI, and the Navy, to seize an LTTE ship, anchored in a foreign harbour, as well as apprehending Prabhakaran’s successor Kumaran Pathmanathan, alias ‘KP’, in Malaysia, and whisking him back to Colombo, under a web of secrecy, were some of the notable operations undertaken by them.

The yahapalana lot came to power determined to dismantle the security apparatus. The Office of CNI was handed over to the retired DIG Sisira Mendis, an experienced investigator, though he lacked experience in running such a high profile operation. On top of that, the yahapalana administration, on its own, worked overtime to undermine the intelligence services. Even the new CNI lacked swift access to political leadership.

The yahapalana administration was bent on destroying the intelligence outfits. Selected officers were used in the yahapalana administration, much to the dismay of the armed forces. Senior security forces officers were harassed. Among those who had been targeted was the then Commodore D.K.P. Dassanayake, who was recalled from overseas where he was taking part in a US-sponsored programme.

The SIS was brought under SSP Nilantha Jayawardena, in the first week of March 2015. The appointment was made by the then IGP N.K. Illangakoon, obviously on the instructions of the yahapalana grandees. Two years later, the National Police Commission cleared Jayawardena to hold the rank of DIG. The SIS Chief received the promotion, just a couple of weeks before the Easter Sunday carnage. In spite of him being implicated in the overall intelligence failure, rightly or wrongly, it did not prevent the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) government in having Jayawardena as Senior DIG, in charge of the Eastern Range – a hot bed of Muslim extremism.

 

Geneva betrayal

The Defence Ministry, during Sirisena’s tenure as the President, simply turned a blind eye to what was going on with the political leadership, working overtime to haul up the war-winning Sri Lankan military before the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. The Geneva betrayal was far worse than the intelligence failure that allowed the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) to mount a coordinated terror campaign, in April 2019. The Defence Ministry conveniently refrained from representing the interests of the armed forces and the police. Instead, the Defence Ministry provided the backing required for the political leadership to proceed, with a despicable operation that finally led to President Sirisena’s government co-sponsoring an accountability resolution against one’s own country. In spite of President Sirisena, publicly blaming it on the UNP, on numerous occasions, he did nothing to reverse the Geneva process. The government failure to thwart the Easter Sunday attacks shouldn’t be examined in isolation. Instead, the Easter Sunday catastrophe should be studied as part of a comprehensive study on the Yahapalana government’s defence policy/strategy.

Perhaps, the P CoI should scrutinize the overall security failure to recognize what really went wrong on April 21, 2019. Having won the presidential election in January 2015, the UNP, in spite of not having 50 members in parliament, received the premiership. The badly shaken UPFA handed over parliamentary control to the UNP, while President Sirisena took over the SLFP.

The stage was set for the first mega Treasury bond scam, in late Feb 2015, after the dissolution of parliament, in late June 2015, and the general election, two months later. The June 2015 dissolution was meant to save the UNP from a massive embarrassment, in case the parliamentary watchdog committee, COPE, handed over its report on the first Treasury bond scam to parliament. President Sirisena delivered a stunning blow to his own party by declaring that Mahinda Rajapaksa wouldn’t be appointed the Premier, even if they won the 2015 August general election.

The President’s contemptible announcement, almost on the eve of the election, obviously even discouraged some UPFA supporters from casting their vote. The President’s bid was meant to give the UNP an advantage over his own party. The treacherous move could be only compared with Sirisena switching allegiance to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, in Dec 2014, to bring an end to the Rajapaksa era.

Having won the general election, with rival leader Sirisena’s support, the UNP formed a coalition that betrayed the armed forces, in Geneva, a few weeks later, with the President conveniently looking the other way. The UNP-SLFP coalition should take the responsibility for the Geneva betrayal, though the SLFP always denied having a hand in it. Those who masterminded the Easter Sunday massacre must have taken the political situation into consideration in planning the terror project.

 

A role for the late Mano

The UNP-SLFP coalition created a special post for overseeing the Geneva operation. The late Mano Tittawella, in his capacity as the Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM), instructed Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, A. L. A. Azeez, in March 2019, to accept resolution 40/1 on behalf of the government of Sri Lanka.

Tittawella received his appointment, on March 29, 2016, around the time the UNP perpetrated the second and much bigger Treasury bond scam.

The UNP-UPFA coalition established the SCRM, under the Prime Minister’s Office in terms of a Cabinet decision, dated Dec 18, 2015.

The Secretary General reported directly to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Knowing Tittawella was carrying out Wickremesinghe’s directives, the President lambasted him publicly, but never challenged Wickremesinghe’s authority, granted by way of a cabinet decision. Addressing a public gathering at Meegahatenna, in late March 2019, President Sirisena accused Azeez of having betrayed the country and its armed forces.

The Oct 01, 2015 resolution had been endorsed by Ambassador Azeez’s predecessor, Ravinatha Aryasinha (our next Ambassador to Washington). Azeez took over the Geneva mission, in April 2018. Aryasinha signed the March 2017 resolution, which gave Sri Lanka two more years to fulfill its Geneva commitments.

Mangala Samaraweera functioned as the Foreign Minister (January 2015 to May 2017), followed by Ravi Karunanayake (May 2017 to August 2017), Tilak Marapana PC (Aug 2017 to Oct 2018), Dr. Sarath Amunugama (Oct 2018 to Dec 2018) and Minister Marapana took over again before the change of government, in Nov 2019.

Both Defence and Foreign Ministries actively contributed to the campaign against the war-winning armed forces. By the time NTJ mounted its deadly operations, the State security apparatus was in chaos. In late January 2019, Defence Secretary Fernando caused quite a controversy when he called for Tamil Diaspora to cooperate with government investigations into alleged war crimes, as well as other high profile cases, such as the disappearance of 11 Tamils, blamed on the Navy. Fernando, an old boy of Nalanda College, called for Tamil Diaspora support at an event organized by the Nalanda College Ranaviru Society to felicitate him. Thereby, the former Volunteer Navy officer reiterated the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government policy as regards the post-war accountability issues though, by then, the yahapalana arrangement was in tatters.

 

A Defence Secy. before LLRC

Hemasiri Fernando’s accusations, directed at former President Sirisena, reminded the writer of one of Fernando’s predecessors, Austin Fernando, appearing before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), in August 2010. One time top civil servant, Austin Fernando, acknowledged that there hadn’t been proper consultations between the government and the military before the finalization of Oslo-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA). Testifying before LLRC, headed by one-time Attorney General C.R. de Silva, Austin Fernando claimed in spite of him being the Secretary Ministry of Defence he didn’t enjoy the authority to intervene, though the CFA dealt with national security matters. Fernando also denied having a hand in preparing the CFA. Fernando took up the position that, in spite of serious concerns expressed by the top brass, the UNF government of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe went ahead with the Norwegian hatched project regardless of the consequences.

The writer covered the LLRC throughout its sittings at the Kadirgamar Institute. At one point when Fernando claimed that he hadn’t been involved in drafting the CFA, LLRC Chairman shot back “no Sri Lankan was involved in the process.” Austin Fernando also blamed the Norwegians and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) for failing to implement the CFA properly (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission: Now ex-Defence Secy slams CFA – The Island, August 19, 2010).

The UNP proceeded with the CFA agreement, at the expense of national security, and jeopardising the country’s fate. The government bent backwards to appease the LTTE, following the signing of the CFA. The government, on March 31, 2002, closed down ‘Wanni Sevaya’ which was in operation for the benefit of the armed forces and the police, while allowing the LTTE to import state-of-the-art equipment to expand its radio.

When Security Forces Commander, Jaffna Maj. Gen. Sarath Fonseka strongly opposed the reduction of high security zones in the north, without the required security guarantees, from the LTTE, the government engaged a retired Indian General to review the ground situation in the Jaffna peninsula. The government move drew widespread condemnation though Wickremesinghe blindly pushed ahead with it, believing the self-appointed international community.

 

Merril G on security fiasco

The UNP took national security lightly. The party played politics with vital security issues. The handling of matters, related to the CFA et al, was quite knowledgeably discussed by retired Senior DIG Merril Gunaratne, who had also functioned as the Director General of Intelligence during his long police career. Gunaratne’s ‘COP IN THE CROSSFIRE’ first launched in 2011, expertly dealt with the perilous way the UNP handled national security matters. The Chapter titled ‘On the Ministry of Defence with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’ described the Premier’s response to security matters. Gunaratne should send a copy of ‘COP IN THE CROSSFIRE’ to the P CoI. Perusing Gunaratne’s work would certainly help those interested in knowing the truth or understanding the ground situation at the time of the Easter Sunday attacks, as well as the UNP thinking. The writer focused on the Premier and the Secretary Defence.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government refused to take action against extremist Muslim groups for political reasons, between the 2015 and 2019 period, leading to the massive Easter Sunday attacks.

Similarly, Wickremesinghe, at the onset of the CFA, declined to act on information provided by his own intelligence services. Gunaratne explained how the Premier dismissed their assessment as regards the rapid LTTE build-up on the basis of what the Indian Intelligence told him. Gunaratne quoted Wickremesinghe as having told a special security meeting; “even the Indians think the numbers were highly exaggerated.”

Gunaratne criticized Wickremesinghe over leaking of intelligence reports by way of a weekly column in the ‘Sunday Observer’ as well as opening up regular sensitive intelligence meetings, to a foreigner, at the expense of national security. The situation during the periods 2002 to 2003 (UNF) and 2015 to 2019 (yahapalana) administrations, can be easily compared. During the Oslo-run CFA, the UNP was seriously scared of the LTTE quitting the negotiating table. Wickremesinghe believed the success of his political future depended on having the LTTE at the negotiating table, at any cost. The UNP felt comfortable even after the LTTE forced the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi-led Tamil National Alliance to recognize them as the sole representative of Tamils. Although the TULF later pulled out of the coalition, it remained loyal to the LTTE until the group’s annihilation militarily on the Vanni east front.

 

Athaulla’s warning

During the yahapalana fiasco, the UNP, and even President Sirisena, didn’t want to do anything to ruffle the feathers of Muslim political parties, as well as those outside parliament, but wielded immense power. National Congress leader A.L.M. Athaulla’s somewhat controversial assertion that those who had a hand in engineering Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat, at the 2015 presidential, were also responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks, should be carefully examined. Western powers are alleged to have pushed for Rajapaksa’s ouster, in 2015, as part of their efforts to counter the growing Chinese influence in Colombo. Addressing the media last Sunday, lawmaker Athaulla explained how violence, directed at the Muslim community, in June 2014, transformed the Muslim community into an anti-Rajapaksa movement. Perhaps, the post-Easter Sunday situation should be examined, taking into consideration the ‘Mission Impossible’ type internal and external engineering, by hidden forces, that may have contributed to an explosive situation – causing unprecedented chaos, a decade after the conclusion of the war.

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Midweek Review

Which MBA?

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Some pointers to consider in selecting an MBA

It is but natural that when there is a glut in the market, that is, when supply of a commodity is much in excess of the demand, the customer will, obviously, have a wider choice to select. At the same time, he will be bemused in the choice of a quality product from the rest. This phenomenon has become true in the case of selecting an MBA course, by young graduates, as…

i. they will not be that clear as to why they do an MBA, as they continue to possess the basic-degree mentality, and / or

ii. they will not know the objectives of doing an MBA, and what qualities a good MBA should have, and, therefore,

iii. they will face a daunting challenge in selecting an MBA that will…

(a) suit their aspirations, and

(b) bring about the desired skills, competencies, attitudinal and behavioural changes in them.

 

By K. A. I. Kalyanaratne
Consultant-Publications
The Postgraduate Institute of Management

 

An MBA is an extremely popular Master’s degree programme locally as well, which has a high demand in the country. The attraction to do an MBA comes from two factors, namely:

(a) job limitations for those possessing only a basic degree, and

(b) many a job holder being driven by the aspiration to possess an MBA, inter alia, to go up in his/her career.

 

How an MBA differs from a basic degree?

They are at two different levels of education. The broad objectives of an undergraduate programme are to provide students an excellent academic experience, and to equip them with the ability to solve a broad range of problems in our rapidly changing technological, economic and social environment. As there’s a wide range of basic degrees, the student can select a particular degree programme if he/she wishes to tread on a specialized field. Moreover, in an undergraduate programme, the candidate has the option of selecting either a general degree, wherein he/she needs to study several subjects, during a specific period of time, or specialize in a single subject. Both these options provide a candidate with relevant knowledge that will make him/her possess a relatively broad perspective of the subjects/subject offered. Further, the basic degree lays the initial foundation for a candidate to proceed further in the selected professional field, in which he/she becomes a master of it. This is precisely the objective of an MBA. A basic degree being an entry point for furtherance of a specialized subject/an area of study, anyone wishing to enter a job at this point would need to undergo job-centred specific training depending on the specialty of the job. It is due to this reason that the government finds it difficult to absorb those with a basic degree into the cadres, sans an attuning-process/ training.

Based on this backdrop, an MBA is more business-centred and career-oriented. One of the most common reasons for doing an MBA is that, for many people, it can lead to the next step in their careers. Sometimes, after working for some period of time, people find that they’ve reached a certain level in their careers, and they need something else to get to management-level positions. An MBA adds the specific business skills higher management positions demand to one’s toolkit, such as leadership or strategic thinking, that will help getting them into the management-level positions.

 

Basics for an MBA programme

An MBA being a graduate course of study, MBA aspirants must initially have completed his/her studies with an acceptable/recognized bachelor’s degree before being able to enter an MBA programme. Although the bachelor’s degree may not be directly related to the business world, an ideal candidate is one who would possess sufficient executive exposure. As regards executive exposure, institutes of higher learning/universities have their own stipulations regarding the period and the nature of executive exposure. Insistence on this requirement is considered a necessity as executives, having a view of the overall organizational profile and its objectives, are better equipped to arrive at rational decisions. Decisions, in short, are planning and implementation-centred. Realizing the ultimate ‘why’ aspect of an organization is, therefore, a must in any decision-making process. In short, MBA aspirants need to be in that level of maturity to grasp the interconnectivity of the subjects they master in the programme.

 

MBA – Parameters and Purpose

Further, many an MBA aspirant does not know clearly what an MBA consists of, content-wise, and what purpose it serves. Unlike other postgraduate courses, which provide specialization in a specific field, the Master of Business Administration is interdisciplinary, and it prepares an aspirant for senior management roles by exposing and preparing him to be confident in the midst of all areas of business, including accounting, finance, marketing, human resources, business communication, business ethics and business law. A well structured MBA programme also provides candidates access to an extensive network of contacts that can help them boost their career. The future depends much on organization-wise and people-wise linkages as the future of any enterprise is almost entirely interdependent. The overall purpose of an MBA degree is thus to prepare candidates for managing an organization/enterprise in every way, or in other words, to train qualified executives who have gained an all-pervading vision for business.

 

MBA and the Level of Learning

When it comes to learning-levels, one would invariably take into consideration the Bloom’s Taxonomy, (origin in 1956 and revised in 2001) which provides a classification for learning outcomes. Herein the basic levels include (i) remembering (ii) understanding and (iii) applying. In these levels the elements of (iv) analysing (v) evaluating and (vi) creating are almost absent. To make it more elaborate, in the three higher levels, the following are emphasized and given more weightage:

Analysing:

Correlating, deconstructing, linking, organizing, appraising, probing, questioning, structuring, integrating, attributing, estimating and explaining.

Evaluating:

Arguing, validating testing, criticizing, commenting, debating, detecting, experimenting, measuring, hypothesizing, moderating, predicting, reflecting and reviewing.

Creating:

constructing, adapting, collaborating, directing, devising, programming, simulating, solving, facilitating, synthesizing, investigating, negotiating and leading.

It could thus be seen that all these three tiers demand a critical, probing as well as a researching approach; an approach that is constantly critical of the ‘status quo’. The automatic conclusion would thus be that an MBA demands a mature and a critical approach. These ingredients are lacking at the lower levels of the Bloom’s taxonomy.

 

Measurement of Impact: The Level of Transformation

Hence, any well structured MBA programme, designed and conducted/executed, so as to achieve these higher objectives demanded of by the current business world, should be able to transform an aspirant to a fully fledge MBA, at the conclusion of the programme. An MBA programme is, therefore, virtually a process of total transformation of a basic degree holder to an accomplished master of business administration, as per the true meaning of the title. To effectively carryout a process of authentic/true/genuine transformation, the following are musts among a host of other components that compose an MBA programme:

Effective Communication: Communication encapsulates all modes of conveyance of ideas and information. In fact, communication is the glue that binds all sectors of a business. It thus includes both oral and written communication. Additionally, mastering presentation skills is a must for a manager, as more often his functions revolve around coordination and conveyance of facts and information. Human resource management, team and relationship building, transparency, developing trust, linking with stakeholders, presentation of business-related information are a few major tasks that demand effective communication.

Business Communication: A specialized component of communication is an important integral part within overall communication skills in an MBA programme. Being able to communicate up, down and across is essential in any management position. Communications skills are an area employers have often found candidates lacking. Therefore, in an effective MBA programme, business communication is considered as an indispensable skillset. Business communication, in short, is fine-tuning of communication skills to achieve business objectives.

Analytical and Critical Thinking:

All the three stages of higher learning, namely, creating, evaluating and analyzing in the already discussed Bloom’s Taxonomy demand analytical and critical thinking. The basic element that promotes all these skills is the questioning-inquiring-probing mindset. Developing this mindset, which is a critical component, is one of the overall objectives of a well designed and structured MBA programme. In competitive and uncertain business environments, analytical and critical thinking help improve the quality of managerial decisions.

Strategic Thinking and Integration of Functional Areas of Business:

Issues, problems and challenges being the common-denominator in a business, a trained business-mind that thinks of issues strategically, taking into account all related factors, is a must, if one is to add value to the organization. Therefore, mastering strategic thinking skills is essential as they provide the bases for the generation and application of unique business insights and opportunities that create competitive advantage.

Ethical Leadership:

Organization being closely integrated to the social fabric they cannot function in isolation. This phenomenon demands that an MBA graduate needs to demonstrate knowledge of ethical frameworks for management decision-making and leadership. That’s why business law and business ethics form a part of an MBA course structure. Honesty, integrity, humaneness, value-driven decision-making, intolerance for ethical violations, being just and impartiality and exemplariness are further parameters to gauge a well-rounded MBA graduate.

Global Awareness:

‘Think globally and act locally’ is an axiom that established seats of higher learning would encourage and promote. It is essential for an MBA student to be aware of the global environment, and factors affecting the global economy and international business and to gain a comprehensive understanding of these in order to arrive at informed decision-making. The current developments that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic amply prove the need to be aware of the global environment.

 

Some Important Hallmarks of a Reputed Seat of Learning

A good library is considered as the heart of any seat of learning. A reputed seat of learning is supported by a library that is rich enough to support the research of the university faculty and student. The maturity of a seat of learning is also measured by the richness of its publications; richness by way of the volume, variety and depth of its publications as well as their linkages to socio-economic development. Richness of research is also a strong indicator that an institute is in constant pursuit of new knowledge, and not a mere passive reproducer of knowledge. The main teaching arm of an academic institute – the key to its education – is its Faculty. Especially in an MBA degree–business school, the Faculty should invariably be those who are industry-experienced. It is they who introduce the much valued practices and norms of business to the classroom as well as to the respective course-contents. Encouraging innovativeness and promoting entrepreneurship through business-incubators are other important hallmarks of a higher learning institute that is truly concerned with the ultimate product of transforming an MBA aspirant to a truly business-minded person.

 

The elements of Rigour and Disciplined Culture in Executing an Effective MBA Programme

Transformation being the central theme of an MBA programme, reputed seats of learning are in an on-going process of re-structuring their game-plans, by re-visiting every aspect that has a bearing on the final product, i.e., meeting the needs of the business community through their MBAs. In this endeavour, the element of rigour or rigorous learning experiences help the MBA aspirants to realize expectations that are academically, intellectually and personally challenging. Coupled with rigour is the culture of the organization. In its broadest sense, culture is cultivated behaviour; that is the totality of a person’s learned, accumulated experience which is socially transmitted, or more briefly, behaviour through social learning. All reputed seats of learning maintain a disciplined atmosphere, conforming to procedural and quality systems. Opposite to bureaucracy, cultivated behaviour and set rules and procedures unleash the creativity and nimbleness that is required for growth of both personnel and organizations.

 

MBA – A Life-changing Programme that Transforms One’s Future

The above revelations would sufficiently convince that a well structured and strategically executed MBA is a life-changing programme that transforms a person through experiential learning. Such a programme will strengthen both, one’s business and leadership skills and his critical and strategic thinking. Moreover, the creative problem-solving abilities, new knowledge, and tools gained through the programme will, for sure, be a key to success in one’s personal and professional transformation. In other words, MBA is a process that re-invents a person to be a full-fledged professional. In reaching these goals, there are no shortcuts or compromises.

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Midweek Review

The Book’s Hold

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By Lynn Ockersz

It’s not at all a bad thing – This mesmeric hold of the book,And the Isle’s doing the right thing,

By allowing itself to be carried away,On the wave of boundless delight,Book Month without fail brings,

Though the durance of such joy is all too brief,But the wish of she who thinks,Is that this magical pull of the book,

Will be a life-long thing,And that those who noisily warm their seats,In the House by the ‘Oya’ of esteem,Would make of reading a sacred undertaking,For, a measure of grey matter is very much in need.

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