By Nilooka Dissanayake
“All big businessmen these days are having nightmares. Of that I am sure. I don’t want to have nightmares because I have enough worries to deal with as it is. So let me count my blessings before going to bed.
It is true that I am a small cog in the machinery of the business universe. The winds of change blowing across the political arena and the paralyzing uncertainty do not affect me in the same way as it would my large business counterparts. I do not have strong political associations and affiliations to speak of. So I should be safe, whoever comes into power at the next election; at least as safe as the next man or the average small businessman. I have no bones to pick with the greens, blues or the reds. And I dearly hope they have no bones to pick with me either. To my knowledge, there are not.
Perhaps I should be grateful that I am unlikely to receive a special telephone call, an invitation or a subtle hint from some bigwig. I do not have to fork out donations to the same tune as do big businesses. Still, I will have to give something and I shall do so without making a fuss because it is after all part of the game, after all. No, this does not give me nightmares.
My staff are not unionized enough to go on strike. However, they are suffering. The salaries and wages I pay them are not enough for them to make a decent living. They know it and I know it. While this situation cannot go on, I believe they too appreciate I am doing what I possibly can for them. That and their loyalty is indeed a great blessing. Hopefully, the new government will bring in new hope and pave way for me to do better than in the past five years. Am I asleep and dreaming? Let me pinch myself.
My large customers have frozen in their tracks. Everyone is uncertain as how to what will happen at the forthcoming election. What will happen to them? What will happen to the economy? What will happen to the peace process? What will happen to Sri Lanka’s future and her people? This issue is big enough to give me nightmares, but let me ignore it just for tonight. I promise to myself I will worry about it later. I am patriotic, you know, although I do pretty nothing to show for it.
In the early years of business, I kept away from seeking government contracts. But, the government is probably the largest transactor in any country. So, with a bit more business maturity and many promptings from my business counterparts, five years ago I decided to deal with the government and bid for government contracts. But, I have learnt my lessons. Both the current government and the previous ones were relatively short lived.
But I have been blessed. To my surprise, I discovered that it is possible to have arms length business transactions with the governments without actually going behind politicians, offering bribes and suffering untold annoyances at the hands of the bureaucrats. Anyway, this I consider a great blessing.
Still, the red tape is as red as it used to be. And I had to start taking a special pill to counter the effects of frustration. While a few individuals here and there have put in genuine efforts to make a real difference, it is still a lethargic process–this doing business with governments and related institutions.
I wonder if I should also make a wish. Like business everywhere, networking and contacts do make a difference. And I did meet quite a lot of nice people in government. I mean, truly nice and efficient, you know. They were genuinely interested in doing a good job, although they are political appointees. And they were not asking for bribes and favours. No, I am fully awake and truly in my right senses. I wish these people would be there regardless of who comes into power at the next election and the next and the next. Otherwise, all the good things they started will be all gone waste. But is that possible? At least in the dream world.
The other day, I heard that the international funding agencies were bothered about the slow pace at which things were moving, if at all they are moving. And I wonder what they are thinking now. Then again, I should not worry about other people’s headaches. According to the laws of equal distribution, I have my worries and they have theirs.
However, I cannot entirely forget that everything might change now. All the people will change too. The new people will take some time to fit into their positions and we can expect a good six months to go before anything happens. Am I being overly optimistic? Whatever the time frame, all the hard work I put in on some of the key projects will have to be put into cold storage for the moment. The serious thinking needed to counter this will hopefully keep me from worrying too much. That too is a blessing.
I read somewhere that overly dependence on business from the government and government related institutions was one reason for small business failures. I did not understand this point at the time. But now I do. I pity all the fellows who were seriously serving the government. What will happen to them now? Besides real cash losses, they will also have to suffer political victimization also, from within the party and from the opposition. Let me consider it a blessing that I am not in the danger of going bankrupt. It will hit me, but not so hard as it would some people I know. What a great blessing!
It is very difficult to plan for the future right now. Still, one can consider the possibilities of what could happen and the resulting scenarios that could unfold. We have approximately six weeks or so before we know who will come into power, if anyone. Well, that opens up another reason to worry. Let me deal with that later.
The greatest challenge facing me right now is making my business as resilient as possible so that it can withstand difficult times. I have been blessed with a fertile imagination and a ‘never say die’ attitude. I believe in working smart and planning with an option B available just in case of contingencies. Perhaps that is the greatest asset I have right now, and it is a blessing that no one can take that away from me. Let me now go to sleep.”
Note: This article was written in 2004. Isn’t it weird how things are just the same from 2004 to now, when it comes to small businesses and their plight?
Published in Business@Home column in SundayTimes FT in February 2004
Photo by Abdulrhman Elkady from Pexels