Visionary Leaders
Posted on December 1st, 2022

Chanaka Bandarage

There is a misconception that a nation’s leader cannot singlehandedly build a country for it to become rich and prosperous.

The writer states that a visionary leader alone (of course with the support of his/her chosen team) can transform a country from utter poverty to utmost prosperity, within a matter of few years. We have seen this happened in some countries.

One of our prominent political parties states that if they are elected to power a council of professionals numbering about 6 will advise each and every cabinet minister. According to them these ‘consultants’ will mostly be university dons. They imply that even the country will be governed not by one leader but by a council of leaders (like how they run their party now).

This is a most ridiculous idea. It may even be contrary to our Constitution, as the Constitution stipulates that the government is required to be run by the President and the Cabinet (the Executive).  The President is the head of the Cabinet.

It seems the leader of that political party is afraid of becoming the country’s leader or he is unsure about his own capabilities. If this is the case, he should leave and offer the leadership to someone else. Their other elected MP (from Gampaha district) seems very bright and better leadership material.

Appointing advisors to ministers, prime ministers and presidents has been a hallmark of every Sri Lankan government since 1978. It is still happening. All these experiments have badly failed.

These so called experts only know how to waste the precious taxpayer money. The country has to spend enormous amounts to maintain them. In effect, the advisors themselves are white elephants. 

Each ministry is well equipped with a permanent secretary and other high officials.  Then, there are the government departments, authorities, corporations and boards etc that come under a ministry. One main duty of these institutions is to advise policy to the minister. Then, what is the requirement to have another layer of external consultants on top of these well paid public servants?

It is sad that this political party that has built an unblemished name as uncorrupt, and upon it which people have placed so much faith and trust in their future, now professes the same old, failed ideology.

This party must realise that the saying ‘too many cooks spoil the soup’ is true.

During the 2020 general election an idea was propagated – that, highly educated professionals will be largely nominated as one of the major party’s election candidates and National List MPs.  That party won the election and all know what happened afterwards. 

It was those so called experts who pushed that government into great difficulty. Upon their advice the use of chemical fertilizer by farmers was halted in 24 hours. There were several other foolish examples. The extraordinary end result was that the head of the state had to flee the country through the backdoor of his presidential palace.

One main criteria of a visionary leader is that they are not afraid of taking decisions. For this, the leader must be highly intelligent, knowledgeable and talented. He/she must not be arrogant.

A visionary leader possesses the extraordinary talent to identify and select the best personnel to run the government. His/her cabinet of ministers, election candidates (prospective MPs), top public officials are picked solely on merit. Owing to his/her abiding love for the motherland, he//she will never engage in cronyism or nepotism. Those who are picked for the important positions are the best and most qualified people of the citizenry.

A visionary leader thinks and plans the future according to their own imagination and wisdom.  They do not rely too much on outside advice in arriving at crucial decisions. A good leader makes the ultimate decisions him/herself. This is why the leader must possess good common sense. They cannot be stupid, naïve or non- serious.

No matter how busy he/she is, a visionary leader will attend to each of his/her tasks promptly, with immaculate precision/accuracy. They maintain a very fine memory; they know the ins and outs about their administration. They will take risks only after very carefully analyzing them.

A visionary leader always works in a positive framework, even when some of his/her goals and ambitions go astray. 

A visionary leader loves his/her motherland wholeheartedly. He/she will give the most of his/her time and energy for same.  The country’s interests are always his/her paramount consideration.

Another significant characteristic of a visionary leader is that they are always punctual and will always bear a pleasant personality.  They are 100% honest and will never engage in bribery and corruption, nor will they encourage others to engage in so.

Some of the visionary leaders that comes to the writer’s mind are (the writer acknowledges that some of them are labeled as serious human rights violators and tyrants. He has ignored these serious allegations, as this article only investigates whether or not they were able to rebuild their ‘fallen’ countries):’

Abraham Lincoln – Architect of the modern Republican Party. He successfully a waged a political struggle and civil war that preserved the US Union and ended slavery. Lincoln had the strong desire to create an egalitarian America and provide civil and social freedom to Negroes (now, Afro-Americans).

Lee Kuan Yew – Yew transformed Singapore from a poor country into a developed, high income country. He wanted to emulate Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). In 1950s he stressed that ‘let’s try to become another Ceylon’.  When he saw the rapid decline of Sri Lanka, in 1980s he stated ‘let’s not become another Sri Lanka. Yew made Singapore’s port a strategic, very competitive port in Asia. Today Singapore’s trade-to-GDP ratio is one of the highest in the world.

Chiang Kai-shek – After his rule was confined to Taiwan following his defeat to Mao Tsethung in the Chinese Civil War, Kai-shek caused a rapid industrialization in Taiwan which was very poor then (in late 1940s). Kai-shek’s vision saw Taiwan emerging as an economic powerhouse. Taiwan developed alongside Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong; the foursome came to be known as ‘Asian Tigers’.

Joseph Stalin – If not for Stalin, Russia would still have been an agrarian society. A hardworking, committed individual, Stalin embarked on a massive industrialization and a collectivization of agriculture programmes. Both were successful (true, many soviet nationals unnecessarily died during the processes).  Thanks to Stalin the industrial revolution finally took place in Russia. It is this effort that enabled him to defeat Hitler. An ardent nationalist, Stalin did not bend rules even to safeguard his own son who became a prisoner of WW II.  Germany was keen to negotiate the son’s release with the Soviets but Stalin was uninterested. For him, the Soviet Union was more important than his own family. Stalin was firmly committed to defeat Hitler militarily, and he succeeded.  Stalin ruled the Soviet Union closer to 30 years. When he died in 1953, the country had emerged as a world superpower.  

Deng Xiaoping – After CCP Chairman Mao Tsethung died (in 1976), Xiaoping who rose to become the leader, initiated far- reaching market reforms (Xiaoping’s ‘marginal revolutions’).  These transformed China into a capitalist economy. Xiaoping is regarded worldwide as the ‘‘Architect of Modern China’. If not for Xiaoping, China would not have become the world’s 2nd largest economy by 2010. True Xiaoping was the Chairman of the Communist Party, but his policies were nothing else but high-end capitalism. It is Xiaoping’s entrepreneurship and market forces that ignite the Chinese economy to grow at 8% – 10% per annum in the past 25 years consecutively.

Ronald Regan – At 69 years Regan was the then oldest person to assume the US presidency – in 1981. Early in his first term Presidency Regan implemented new political and economic initiatives. He knew what he was doing so his policies succeeded. Dubbed ‘Reganomics’, he advocated tax cuts and economic deregulation. Regan waged a successful ‘war’ on drugs and fought against labor union strikes. Over his two terms, the economy saw a reduction in inflation from 12.5% to 4%. The average annual GDP growth was a healthy 3.6%. During his 8 years as the President, Regan had made the US extremely rich again. Why Regan was such a successful President was because he pursued policies that reflected his personal beliefs and own individual freedom. A real visionary, Regan is credited with contributing to end the Cold War in favour of the US.

Robert Menzies – Menzies was the longest serving Prime Minister of Australia (held the office for 18 years in total).For most Australians the Menzies era is regarded as the era of real prosperity. He effected a lengthy economic boom for Australia. Menzies is credited for pushing rural farmers to become wealthy ‘middle or upper class’ land owners. A noteworthy feature of Menzie’s administration was that he maintained a close rapport with his people through open chats in his frequent radio talks.

Margret Thatcher – In late 1970s the UK was in recession. There was high unemployment and high inflation. Thatcher (Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990) embarked on a policy of monetarism – targeting money supply to reduce inflation and increase jobs.  She introduced higher interest rates, higher personal taxes and spending cuts. The trick worked; the stagnant British economy began to improve. By the time she left the premiership, the UK was very wealthy again. Thatcher is the UK’s ‘Father’ of Free Market economy and Privatization.

John Howard –After years of failed Labor governments that had made Australia poorer, Howard worked hard and made Australia prosperous again. He ended the recession that had lasted for more than 8 years, until mid-1990s. Howard was brave enough to introduce various reforms – introduced government spending cuts, paid off most of the foreign debt, introduced gun control and introduced the new tax – GST.  Howard was able to increase Australia’s revenue tenfold through mineral exports, mainly to China. Howard introduced significant Industrial Relations reforms and handled the 1998 Waterfront dispute in a statesman like manner.

DS Senanayake – The ‘Father of the Nation’, he had the foresight to recognize the importance of establishing new human settlements in the North Central and the Eastern provinces. If not for them, instead of Padaviya, Sri Pura, Galoya, Kanthale, Aranthalawa and Kandakaduwa, the ‘marginal villages’ during Prabhakaran’s insurgency would have been Anuradhapura, Kekirawa, Horowpathana, Ampara and Polonnaruwa. DS Senanayayake worked tirelessly first as the Agriculture and Land Minister (1931 – 1947), thereafter as the Prime Minister (1948 – 1952) to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in rice and other food crops. His permanent secretary (Ceylon’s fist native born Civil Servant) was Cyril Leonard Wickramasinghe – the current President’s paternal grandfather.  The Senanayake Samudraya that DS Senanayayake built in Gal Oya is one of Sri Lanka’s largest manmade reservoirs.

Ranasinghe Premadasa – The demise of Ranasinghe Premadasa on 1 May 1993 was the saddest event that happened in Sri Lanka in the 20th century. Had Premadasa survived, there is no doubt that Sri Lanka under his able leadership would have become ‘another Singapore’. His untimely demise is a great misfortune for the nation. An incredibly hard working man, Premadasa started his day at 4 am and finished at 12 am the next day (he may have had intermittent sleeps during the day). Premadasa was so dedicated to his motherland; he would get senior state officials woken up in the early mornings to carry out his orders – in relation to urgent development work. Premadasa, a workaholic, worked non-stop. Every morning at 5 am he attended on people at Sucharitha, his Colombo private residence. He resolved most of their problems. During his short sojourn as the President, he was able to establish 200+ new garment factories. For this, he worked closely with the then US Ambassador in Sri Lanka. Today these factories bring much needed foreign exchange to the nation. Premadasa is well known for his very successful housing programme – ‘Uda Gammana’ which was geared to help the extremely downtrodden.

Paul Kigami – Upon ascending to power in 2000, Kigami worked hard tounite the Rwandan people and transform Rwanda from a highly impoverished nation to a middle income country.  His reform programme consists of a list of goals which includes reconstruction, infrastructure, transport improvements, good governance, improving the agriculture and private sector development. Even his critics acknowledge that Kigami was successful in achieving most of his programme ambitions.  Kigami persuaded his fellow countrymen to participate in voluntary work on every Saturday for few hours to clean up the country. Today, Rwanda is the cleanest country in Africa. Its natural environment is well protected. Kigami’s target is for Rwanda to become a high-income country in 2050, and he is working well to achieve it.

Winston Churchill – Never give up, Never give up, Never ever give up …” so said the then UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill to his people when the UK was in the midst of the ‘bloody’ WW II. This statement alone tells the story about this great man. By then, Hitler had conquered Europe and the US was not assisting Briton; the only option available to Churchill was to surrender. Many advised him to do so.  But, Churchill had other ideas. He travelled to the US few times and persuaded the Congress and the then US President Franklin D Roosevelt to give wartime aid to Britain. Finally, not only that the US gave Briton such aid, they also became a war party. If not for Churchill Briton would not have won the WW II.

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