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OP-ED: The rule of the powerful

  • Published at 04:04 am May 25th, 2021
economy
Photo: BIGSTOCK

Leaders must be in sync with the majority when making decisions

There are many transnational companies that have turnovers larger than the economies of many countries. Apple has a turnover of $354 billion, slightly higher than Bangladesh’s estimated economy of $350bn. The figures are startling and a significant starting point for commencement of thought.

There’s no clear defining point between well-performing businesses and others. More often than not, smaller enterprises and entrepreneurs have an inimitable ability to gauge business growth through understanding consumer preferences. That comes from direct interaction. Governments have much to learn from how such businesses create strategy and adapt to changes. 

When “experts” urge change, they often miss the wood for the trees. The examples they quote find little resonance with the general public. The depth of thought is missed. And why not? How often have we seen a public debate between the experts, ministers, bureaucrats, and the general public?

While governments have a plethora of matters to consider in running the state, the worst they can do is misunderstand and grossly misinterpret the vox populi. 

History is important from the perspective of learning and the evolution of ideals. What is amiss is that over time, heroic contributions pale in the wake of present day considerations. Further amiss is that ideals too, need to be re-evaluated and contextualized.

Colombia’s president had to repeal an ambitious taxation regime when people took to the streets in protest. The casualty was the resignation of the finance minister. Ex-generals of France have warned President Macron that he could face a mass uprising for the whole host of pandemic measures and economic outcomes. Boris Johnson is beginning to pay the price for doubling back on fishing rights previously committed to the EU, angering France in the process. 

Verizon has taken the hitherto unthinkable decision to offload AOL and a profitable concern to focus on the core business. Apple has reinvented itself from being just a device manufacturer. Both organizations have listened to consumers and factored it into their strategy. That’s where governments essentially fail. 

Policies crafted by bureaucracy are usually devoid of reality. They “hear” but do not “listen.” Businesses and governments both have long-term plans. That’s where the similarity ends. 

While businesses worth their salt will monitor plans against indicators and trends, governments do not use the mechanisms at their disposal. Zero budgeting is one area. It is almost like starting anew for the next phase of the revised plans. That is opposed to the incremental budgeting favoured by most governments. 

The most promising minds are entrusted with reshaping business plans unlike the government. This particular organ of the state is weighed down by political commitments that are at times unachievable simply because the populace’s requirements change so quickly. It then becomes a scramble to push ahead with incremental thinking, stitch in some new factors, and attempt to balance it all due to changed geo-political nudges.

The other difference between business and government is that the former has to adjust with new regulations and laws. The latter creates the new situation and expects everyone to toe the line. The outcome is obvious. Loopholes in laws and sheer disregard to them become a hotbed of mal-governance and corruption. 

Action against mal-governance and corruption in business can be hard and stark; not so in government. The arm of the law may be long but no one likes the long and winding road to justice. 

There may be outrage and grumbling over the influence that big businesses bring to bear in government policy and implementation of the law. There is also a feeling of helplessness. Mergers and acquisitions are a fact of life. Too often, the pitfalls are overlooked. Businesses that branch out from their core shell do so with clear vision, not out of charitable or noble concerns.

Change is possible but the road is littered with obstacles.

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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