Refreshing candour at the KL Institute

The most welcome and salient feature of the Kuala Lumpur Zone Institute was the candour, honesty and openness from senior leaders who did not pull any punches when articulating the shortcomings and problems of Rotary in India. A sizzling session was moderated by Past RI President K R Ravindran, where he put in the dock senior leaders — RI President Ian Riseley, TRF Trustee Chair Paul Netzel, and Past RI Presidents Rajendra Saboo and Kalyan Banerjee. It’s official now that the RI President receives several mails from India where Rotarians accuse others of dishonesty. And these are copied to the entire RI Board, TRF Trustees and “anybody who has an email address!” Banerjee said it was common knowledge that we Indians “love to complain, and at the drop of a hat shoot off a letter, with copies to everyone around the world. We should stop this and sort out our problems ourselves.”

Riseley said in some places there was “a reported dishonesty in membership figures” which only the Rotary leadership there could rectify. “I was asked by one of the DGs yesterday what RI is going to do about that problem. And I told him that the solution, like the problem, lies with you.” Such things led people in Rotary elsewhere to believe that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark!” Another concern was that highly qualified women who were business and professional leaders were missing from Rotary. This was a huge opportunity that needed to be tapped.

During the session ‘Frankly Speaking’, PRIP Saboo, quizzed by Ravindran on his well-known opinion against the holding of Zone Institute and PETS/SETS etc in foreign locales, came down heavily on such practices. When such events were held in exotic places, the focus shifted on sightseeing, entertainment and other distractions, and the training element took a second place. “But it is not fair on your part Ravi, that while enjoying the Zone Institute in Malaysia, you ask me this.” To which Ravindran’s lightning-swift return volley was: “Who said anything about being fair!”

Another interesting question, answering which the panelists disagreed, was on TRF Trustees being appointed and not elected, like the RI Directors. While Chair Netzel  said they should be elected, Banerjee disagreed. “If we do so, we are likely to run into disputes and situations that are not comfortable.” Saboo agreed with Banerjee and said if Trustees were elected “they would come with their own authority and there will be two parallel bodies and I fear that the RI may get relegated to the second positon because TRF has all the money!” Ravindran said through this session he was giving the wider Rotary world a taste of what happens on the Board…healthy discussions where Board members or Trustees disagreed, but in a respectful, agreeable manner.

And, I suppose, without coming to blows! A message to Indian Rotarians to sort out their differences/problems in a civilised manner and by healthy debate without slanderous mails flying thick and fast across the cyber world?

All in all, Institute Chair R Theenachandran and his team deserve full marks for a well-planned and neatly executed Institute, where the most comforting aspect was Indian food. And, the most enjoyable moments at the Hawaiian night where the suits, ties and sarees were exchanged for colourful clothes and flowery accessories, and there was laughter, fun, music and dancing, of course!

But above all, the best takeaway was President Riseley’s rather exasperated comment: “In how many ways do I say that the 4-Way Test is not something you just put up on a wall.” More details in the next issue, where the Institute coverage continues. Meanwhile, we at Rotary News Trust wish you all a great 2018!

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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