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Breaking Glass

Stuart White
THE WORLD IN BLACK-N-WHITE

Unless you’ve been living in some sort of mental or physical bubble you can’t help but have noticed the furore over the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal that broke earlier this week, one which also affects its associate motor manufacturer, Audi.

Without going into technical details of which I have only a layman’s grasp, it seems that as far back as 2009 the company’s engineers in the United States devised a way of programming vehicles’ internal computerised controls to alter performance input and output under laboratory testing parameters, tricking the combustion cycle to dampen down the fuel feed and alter exhaust capacity to give the cleanest-possible reading. Then when the car was back on the road its performance reverted to normal which effectively meant it was kicking out a lot more pollutants, even at the apparent same speed and simulated driving conditions. 

It actually sounds fiendishly clever and I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that it took German automotive technical expertise to dream it up but of course it’s morally reprehensible and supremely irresponsible, deceiving not only their trusting customer base but US clean-air authorities as well.  It has tarnished a formerly unblemished corporate image forever and it remains to be seen whether the problem is confined to US vehicles alone or whether it is more widespread.

The most obvious and immediate fallout from this bombshell revelation is a financial one.  Hundreds of billions of dollars, pounds,  euros and yen have been wiped off the company’s value in global stock markets and the recall and re-fit of the US vehicles alone has been estimated at 18 billion US dollars.  

That being the case, the  announcement on Thursday of the resignation of the company’s German CEO,  Martin Winterkorn should come as no surprise – facing the undoubted wrath of the entire VW Board, not to mention the shareholder base, he wouldn’t have had much option.  Less a rat leaving the sinking ship than managerial hara-kiri, falling on his sword and admitting mea culpa which once more shines the spotlight on just where exactly the corporate buck starts and stops.

Only Herr Winterkorn could actually confirm whether or not he knew of this underhand practice and looking from the outside in, either case is conceivable.  On the one hand the VW empire is vast with many different vehicle models produced in several different parts of the world by thousands of members of staff, so it’s perfectly possible that the CEO sitting in his ivory tower corporate headquarters in Wolfsburg would not and could not be expected to know everything that happens in all their many production plants around the world.  After all the post of CEO requires financial, leadership, negotiating and diplomatic skills. 

The job is to guard the company’s profitability, oversee its fiscal portfolio and take the big decisions, based on knowledge, experience, gut-instinct and a wealth of reports and information from advisors and senior staff, regardless of the nature of the business.   For instance, could the CEO of Heinz quote the formula for their baked beans recipe off pat and why should he need to – that’s for the foreman on the factory floor.

On the other hand, shouldn’t a competent CEO be aware of the nuts and bolts of the mechanics of his entire operation.  Surely a thorough working knowledge of the entire operation should be a pre-requisite of the job and a certain amount of micro-managing essential if they are to properly captain the ship and steer a safe course through treacherous corporate and economic waters? 

And how foolish would the CEO of Heinz appear, if in a press interview on the purity of its products, he or she was unable to answer a straightforward question on the addition or otherwise of unhealthy additives?

And in essence that is precisely what had happened here to Herr Winterkorn. He was forced into a position whereby he would have to either own up to full or partial knowledge of an immoral and illegal deceptive practice of which the legal implications are massive or deny all knowledge which would anyway call into question his managerial competence. 

After all, the genius technology that went into this deception would have had to have been developed at a certain cost, presumably quite a substantial one.  Ergo, as the ultimate overseer of corporate spending, how is it be possible that it could have happened without his knowing, or at least something about it?  Even assuming it might have been hidden in complex technical reportage full of scientific jargon and unfathomable graphs and diagrams, we come back to exactly how much working knowledge of an entire organisation the head honcho needs.

It is possible, as the global press is delighting in doing, to speculate but impossible to conclude, but I have no doubt that Herr W. will be spending many long hours and many many euros on legal advice as to where he stands and his way forward, so too, the Board of Volkswagen. 

And we might spare a thought for the poor sap who is being groomed this very minute to step into the dead CEO’s shoes, dead in any corporate credibility sense, that is.  But I want to finish with a question, rather than a conclusion because this whole affair throws up more questions than answers and mine is just this. 

What are we to make of the resounding silence from all other major motor manufacturers as more details of this statistical manipulation unfolds?  After all, here is the perfect PR opportunity for them to leap up and declare the purity of their own exhaust emissions and the absolute trustworthiness of their test reports but not one has come forward so to do. 

And although it is Volkswagen itself which owns the Glasëme Manufaktur in Dresden– literally the Glass Factory, referring to its modern design – it might just be an ironic aphorism for the entire industry that managers in other glass car plants shouldn’t throw stones, not even those metaphorical PR pebbles.

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at www.hrmc.co.bw

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020
JEFF---Batswana-smoke-unit

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

POSITIVITY
Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”

UNDERSTANDING

Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”

COMMITMENT

Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.

ACCEPTANCE

Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)

COMPASSION, MUTUAL LOVE AND RESPECT

Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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