By Dayantha Laksiri Mendis
Dayantha Laksiri Mendis was the former Director of the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS). He was also Ambassador to Austria and Permanent Representative to the UN in Vienna. He has worked and travelled extensively in Latin America and the Caribbean region as UN and Commonwealth Legal Expert/Adviser. At present, he is the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Guyana in South America. Latin America and the Caribbean is a neglected area in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy-making, academic research, and scholarship. The broad focus of this article is to give an overview of Latin America and the Caribbean. The narrow focus is to ascertain as to how Sri Lanka could improve relations with this region in a beneficial manner. This approach would be more relevant than a mere description of Latin America and the Caribbean, since Sri Lanka has recently decided to establish closer relations with this region for a variety of reasons.
First of all, it is useful to define the terms ‘Latin America’ and ‘the Caribbean.’ The term ‘Latin’ refers to those persons who speak the Spanish language, and thus the term ‘Latin’ refers to the Spanish speaking states in the Americas. The Caribbean has a different definition. It refers to independent and dependent territories in the Caribbean Sea. The independent states belonged to several ex-colonial powers such as Britain, France, and the Netherlands. These island states are also called the West Indies. However, in recent terms, with the birth of the Association of the Caribbean States (1994), the term ‘Caribbean’ is re-defined to include those countries which are abutting the Caribbean Sea in South America and Central America, in the same way as states belonging to the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORAC) are determined.
A short overview by reference to the geography, history, and culture is necessary to understand the major issues confronting this region, before we consider their relevance to Sri Lanka.
Geographically the Latin American states spread from Mexico in North America to Argentina in South America. The land area exceeds 7.9 million square miles, and equals the landmass of Europe, and the US combined. In distance, it covers roughly an area from London to Cape Town. It is quicker to fly from Rio de Janeiro to Johannesburg than from Mexico City to Buenos Aires. This would demonstrate that Latin America and the Caribbean constitute a vast area.
It is important to note that Brazil is bigger than India in size, and Amazonia is the largest repository of biodiversity and constitutes the world’s largest ‘sink’ for carbon dioxide (CO2). The Galapagos is an off-shore island of Ecuador, where Charles Darwin wrote his famous book on The Origins of the Species to dispute the birth of homo sapiens to the horror of theologists.
Latin America can be further classified into several sub-regions such as the Andean States, Central American States, and Rio de la Plata. Similarly, the Caribbean can also be classified into Eastern, Western, Northern, and Southern Caribbean States. Eastern Caribbean is further classified into Windward and Leeward Islands. The Caribbean is now one of the most beautiful, up-market and popular tourist destinations in the world, with a galaxy of off-shore financial centres.
Historically, it must be emphasised that Latin American and the Caribbean civilisations were in existence before the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the New World over 500 years ago. In fact, the Mayans in Belize, Aztecs in Mexico, and the Incas in Peru had sophisticated civilisations. It is, therefore, a myth to say that Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Latin America and the Caribbean as if these civilisations and states were not in existence in the early 16th century. Since the conquest of these areas by the Spanish conquistadors and other colonial powers, the whole face of Latin America and the Caribbean changed rapidly. Approximately 14 million slaves from Africa, and later indentured labour from India, were shipped to this region for sugar and coffee plantation, and the original inhabitants of this region were decimated by the European powers, through the colonisation of the New World.
This region has contributed to the international community in literature, art, music, and sports in a substantial manner. In the arts—the famous Pablo Casals, Pablo Neruda, and the artist Pablo Picasso lived in Latin America. They have also produced a number of Nobel Prize winners. In sports, the West Indies, the former British Colonies in the Caribbean Sea dominated the game of cricket. Both Argentina and Brazil dominated the soccer scene. In music, the Latin American rhythms such as the Tango, Bossanova, Cha-cha-cha, Rhumba, and many other rhythms are popular in many parts of the world. The Calypso and Reggae rhythms, as well as the wonderful sonorities of the Caribbean Steel Drums, are taught and played in many Western capitals for the listening pleasure of millions of people throughout the world.
Relations with the US
This region cannot be fully understood without reference to the US. Since the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine (1823), the US excluded any extra-hemispheric rivals from this region. It has followed a ‘hegemonic’ policy in the region in the Cold War period and interceded in the internal affairs of those states. It has sent troops to Dominican Republic, Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Grenada in the recent past.
In the landmark Paramilitary Activities Case in 1986 (Nicaragua v. the US) the International Court of Justice (ICJ) held the mining of the Nicaraguan harbours and support to the Contras by the US was contrary to international law. The US continues to hold a tough stance on Cuba. It has passed the Helms-Burton Act to prevent other states from doing business with Cuba in regards to expropriated property4. However, at present, the most sensitive factor in US-Latin relations is the drug problem. The US holds a very strong position with regard to the extradition of traffickers. Nonetheless, the US is the driving force behind the economic expansion of this region through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), and several aid programmes.
It is important to understand the major issues confronting this region, and how the region has dealt with these issues are of relevance to Sri Lanka. Firstly, the question of promoting economic development is of paramount importance. The debt crisis in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s has created difficulties for this region and will continue into the new millennium. The Latin American debt crisis arose because this region was unable to pay their debts which they borrowed from foreign banks. As this crisis began to grow, countries like Argentina and Brazil were really affected as they had to pay at least 50% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in servicing the debt. The Baker Plan (1986) and Brady Plan (1989) ameliorated this situation but the debt crisis still continues to be a major problem in this region5.
Another important issue is the shift from dictatorship to democracy. In most Latin American countries, there are no tin-pot dictators. Most have gone back to multi-party democracy through Presidential systems or the Westminster model.
Under Carlos Menon, Argentina has reverted to a Presidential system of government. Chile, Nicaragua and Panama have now established a democratic system of government. In most Latin American countries, democracy is the order of the day and dictatorships have taken a back-seat.
Finally, the viability of mini-states in the Caribbean is another major issue on the international agenda. After COVID, the mini-states are likely to suffer tremendously in the global economy. Previously, the Banana Issue has created huge trade disputes between the US and the European Union in regard to its preferential treatment. The viability of these states has been taken up at several Commonwealth Summits. A recent report on vulnerability by consultative groups of the Commonwealth Secretariat suggests many recommendations to overcome these difficulties.
Can we benefit from this region?
Sri Lanka can benefit a great deal from this region. The language barrier, lack of diplomatic representation, and geographic distance elude us from benefiting from this region in the following spheres.
Firstly, Latin America has taken a lead role in creating a ‘new platform’ to deal with the questions of globalisation and liberalisation of trade in a more effective manner at international fora. Jorge Castaneda’s initiative Alternativa Lationamericana provides a Latin answer to neo-liberalism. This initiative is of significant value to South Asia, and in particular to Sri Lanka, as we share similarities with this region
Secondly, the Caribbean experiment with off-shore financial services is relevant to Sri Lanka at this moment. It is indeed a success story. The Caribbean off-shore companies and banks have attracted high net worth individuals and corporate clients. It has created new employment opportunities and numerous benefits to a large number of Caribbean citizens. It is an experiment which can be copied easily, and therefore it has some value in making Sri Lanka an off-shore financial centre (OFC) in South Asia. If Sri Lanka can be developed as an OFC to India and other Asian states in the same way as Mauritius is to India, we can expect some offshore banks and trusts and offshore companies to establish offices in Sri Lanka to do business with other Asian giants especially in providing insurance and syndicated loans.
Thirdly, if Sri Lanka were to encounter difficulties of importing oil from the middle east countries, we may have to import oil from Latin America and Caribbean and our good relations with this region can help Sri Lanka to rely on them in a crisis situation. The Republic of Guyana is now emerging as a new oil producing country in this region.
Improving relations with this region
This is a neglected area in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy-making. Successive governments have failed to establish closer relations with this region. In this regard careful cost-benefit analysis should be undertaken in foreign policy making
Sri Lanka cannot afford to neglect this region since it provides a veritable avenue for export for manufactured goods, tea, coconut, cinnamon, and rubber products to Latin America, and precious stones especially to the Caribbean destinations, since these island states attract up-market tourist trade, through a network of cruise ships. India dominates the gem trade in the Eastern and Southern Caribbean. St. Maarten and Aruba are havens for gems and jewellery businesses and provide an avenue to market these products to high net-worth individuals. We have a comparative advantage in certain goods and services, too numerous to mention in specific terms in this short article. Hence, the selection of the appropriate countries for trade and diplomatic representation and penetration is of crucial importance.
It is also important to have closer relations, since any Sri Lankan who is vying for an international position in the future has very little chance to succeed without the support of this region. Almost, two decades ago, Judge Professor Christy Weeramantry, who was not a traditional diplomat, knew this too well in his election to the ICJ and worked extremely hard through expatriate Sri Lankans to win their support. On my invitation, he attended the Caribbean Heads of State Meeting in St. Kitts and Nevis and was able to form links with several Heads of State.
It is axiomatic that Sri Lankas relations cannot improve without adequate diplomatic and trade representations. It is unfortunate we have Ambassadors in Brazil and in Cuba and the Honorary Consuls in some Latin American and Caribbean countries. Cuban representation is for political rather than economic reasons, but this Embassy can be upgraded with proper accreditation to establish better relations with the neighbouring English-speaking Caribbean countries in the region. In the long run, Cuba might be the number one tourist destination for North American tourists, and therefore we must get prepared to build good economic relations with Cuba, as the sale point for some of our goods to the tourists who may arrive from North America. It is unclear as to why the Caribbean states are served from the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington DC and New York and not from Havana, Cuba—the heart of the Caribbean.
Recently, Sri Lanka obtained Observer status in the Organization of American States (OAS). It is a step in the right direction. It is also useful for Sri Lanka to join the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) at least as an observer to improve relations with small island states in the Caribbean.
It is impossible to improve relations with this region without a good knowledge and understanding of Latin America and the Caribbean. Sri Lanka needs to send ambassadors who can speak the language and understand the culture of Latin America and the Caribbean to maximise the benefits and good relations with this region
Pursuing political agendas at the expense of national security
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
Correlating, deconstructing, linking, organizing, appraising, probing, questioning, structuring, integrating, attributing, estimating and explaining.
Arguing, validating testing, criticizing, commenting, debating, detecting, experimenting, measuring, hypothesizing, moderating, predicting, reflecting and reviewing.
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.
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.
‘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.
The Book’s Hold
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.
Eating right and playing well
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