Good leaders emerge in times of crisis | Sunday Observer
One year on:

Good leaders emerge in times of crisis

29 November, 2020

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the legendary civil rights activist once said “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a moulder of consensus”. The statement suits the leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. During the first year of his Presidency, he has not only displayed an effective leadership style but also moulded consensus through his management ability. It is said that while a politician thinks of the next election, a statesman thinks of the next generation. The people of the country, in unison, implicitly believe that President Rajapaksa is more a statesman than a conventional politician.

A steely, iron-willed and daring soldier, Gotabaya Rajapaksa rising through the ranks, contributed immensely during his colourful military career, fighting the terrorists. A retired Lt. Colonel in the Sri Lanka Army, he led operations in the fiercely battled areas throughout his distinguished career that spanned twenty long years. Ironically, President Rajapaksa received awards for gallantry from three of his predecessors, Presidents J.R. Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa, and D. B. Wijetunga, including the Ranawickrama(RWP) and Ranasura (RSP) medals.

President Rajapaksa’s ability as a non-politician was put to test more intensely than any other Head of State in the post-independence era. When he took office on November 18, 2019 as the eighth President of the country, the economy was in total chaos with a GDP growth rate of 2.283 percent in 2019, the lowest recorded since 2001. Hence, the new President was compelled to start functioning with near-empty state coffers. However, no one has heard him crying out loud or apologising for the lack of funds. Being a man who was in control all the time, in the first weeks into governance, he commenced introducing what he pledged in the election manifesto.

Within the first hundred days, President Rajapaksa achieved more than many of his predecessors did, in many important areas for the benefit of the public. He promptly appointed several important operational units such as the expert panel to appoint heads of state institutions, an inter-ministerial task force to strengthen industries and enterprise development, a task force to provide 100,000 employment to youth in low-income families, the establishment of a National Policy Planning Bureau to accelerate government investment, and so forth.


He also offered concessions to the private sector, particularly, to the SME sector, to help rebuild the economy. In addition, the President has directed and empowered the law enforcement arm to take swift action about the illegal drug trade, one of the worst problems to society. Also, within the first few months, he has directed the Government to implement various programs for the benefit of the public offering monetary concessions, assistance on housing, reducing taxes and levies, and many other infrastructure development projects.

Three months into governance came the sucker punch of Covid-19 inflicting serious damage to the economy and the livelihood of the people. Displaying leadership in decision-making, the President appointed a Presidential Task Force comprising the best medical expertise in the country, the military establishment, police department, and other interrelated stakeholders on February 26, 2020. This was done before the emergence of the first Covid-19 patient in Sri Lanka and way ahead of many other countries.

The Task Force, with the committed assistance of both state and private media, managed to control the pandemic, the worst disaster in recent history, with cutting-edge efficiency. However, the cost was exceedingly high in several spheres. The medical facilities and relief packages of billions of rupees had to be disbursed from state coffers to make the people comfortable. Due to the closure of the country’s public and private sector establishments, revenues dropped to near-zero.

As the American politician and New York Mayor Rudolf Guliani said, “It is in times of crisis that good leaders emerge”. We firmly believe that no other leader would have done better than President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the time of this grave calamity. His dedication, commitment, and timely decisions as the leader pulled the country out of danger. President Rajapaksa amply demonstrated his leadership skills with his fearless decision making and strong disposition. He moulded the consensus of everyone, ignoring lame criticisms of the then frustrated political Opposition who tried to belittle any success achieved by the Government.

Unscrupulous elements

However, due to no fault of the authorities and because of the negligence of a few unscrupulous elements, the Coronavirus re-emerged at a time the country was on a recovery path with 96 percent of the patients cured and released from hospitals and reported patients almost non-existent. This time around, the virus seems more severe although the health authorities managed to keep it under control with a well planned and effectively coordinated effort. The current operational team will easily curtail the situation with utmost efficiency under the personal guidance of President Rajapaksa.

Crises demand leaders to take emergency response decisions and adopt them. In theory and practice, during crises, the goal of the leader must be to reduce loss and keep things operational as normal as possible. The country has previously seen sluggish and protracted actions by leaders of the previous regime, resulting in hundreds of deaths that could have been averted with timely action. In sharp contrast, the public has witnessed quick actions taken by this President whenever an emergency surfaced, during his Presidency.

The President depends on credible information when he makes decisions on national issues as any good leader does. He seeks information and advice from expert sources in relevant fields be it health, financial, economic, social, or religious issues. During this stressful and unsettled period he utilised the most appropriate communication channels to circumvent unwanted obstacles.

For example, since the outbreak of the pandemic, information, health guidelines, security restrictions, lockdowns, and welfare programs were repeated and reinforced on a daily basis offering trustworthy messages to the public using multiple methods. The move has curbed wrong information based on non-existent sources reaching the public and kept away politically motivated unsubstantiated social media information. The President led all these efforts, meeting and discussing issues as a daily routine.

President Rajapaksa has taken the initiative and been immensely proactive. He was bold and fearless in making his decisions so far and communicated them truthfully and honestly to the public. As any other leader in the world, President Rajapaksa is also compelled to act with a political sense as he is surrounded by politicians and bound to obey constitutional restraints. Therefore, he has to make unsavoury decisions, sometimes against personal opinion due to political pressure. He seems to be managing this situation with efficiency. However, even he must exercise caution to keep away from flatterers who sing praises and hangers-on who are looking for opportunities.

National interest

The people do not see the President on the news constantly, particularly on television. Nor does he make public statements at every opportunity available. He is seen heading many important meetings concerning public welfare, and always chooses his words carefully when addressing common issues. Nobody so far has witnessed the customary ‘political pep talk’ uttered by politicians around the world. Also, President Rajapaksa rarely responds to his critics unless those criticisms are of national interest. Presumably, being a non-political statesman, he must be concentrating more on his public duties than reacting to empty denigrations.

A year on in office, the public sees a President who leads effectively and manages efficiently. As a great leader, he entrusts the management of critical issues to the best available resources without over-centralising, while focusing attention on leading the national crises towards a promising future. It is only a year yet and there will be many more years to work for the benefit of the nation in line with his pledge: ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’.