Dhananath Fernando, Advocata Institute
A few days ago, I read up on an interesting anecdote from the life of Steve Jobs. When Jobs was a little child, his father had asked him to paint the fence around his house. Steve took the task up and painted the outside of the fence. When he proudly presented his hard work to his father, the father questioned why only the outside of the fence was painted.
Steve replied “Dad, no one sees the other side of the fence!”
To that, his dad said “Steve, but we will see it.”
Many years later, when Steve briefed his engineering team on the deliverables of the Macintosh computer, he said to them “I want the outside of the computer to be outstanding. But, I also want the inside of the computer to be as outstanding.” To that, his team responded “Why do we need to spend so much time, effort and money on the inside of the computer. No one really sees the inside!”
Steve replied, “But, we will see it.”
This insightful anecdote got me thinking of how our country functions. The best way to understand our inner workings is to look at how we view the outside picture. For years, we have struggled with the same set of issues. Transport is a problem, garbage disposal is an issue, getting your child into Grade 1 in a school is a problem, electricity supply is an issue, affording your monthly groceries are an issue, and the list goes on.
However, for years we’ve seem to dwell on and romanticize quick fixes that blur the issue, as opposed to addressing it at its root cause. For 71 years, we’ve been fixing the outside as opposed to making improvements on the inside as well. Here’s an example: How many of us are frustrated by the quality, pace and efficiency of the services provided by our public sector? For years we’ve complained about the length of queues at state sector offices, the amount of letters, files and approvals you need to cut through, the state of our transport system amongst others. However, what have we done to fix the issue? Our state run enterprises have made record cumulative losses of Rs. 795 BILLION so far! We’re all aware that the government does not necessarily need the burden of a loss making national carrier like Sri Lankan Airlines, which has accumulated losses over Rs. 240 BILLION in the past decade.
We are well aware that the carrier performed much better before it’s ownership was taken back by the government and there is common consensus that clutching onto this enterprise is nonsensical. However, we’re still so afraid of the big “P” word; Privatisation, that to date, we’d find protests, and political rallies against it!
This conundrum is the same with other realities in the country. Youth unemployment is a real issue affecting fresh graduates. The root cause is many things, two of which are the lack of gainful jobs and a skills-mismatch. But, instead of proactively ensuring that our economy is open to new investment, businesses and gainful employment, we’re relying on job handouts to keep graduates from taking the streets.
It’s been 71 years since independence, and a decade since the end of the civil war. Why is the inside of our fence still unpainted?