Windows and winners | Sunday Observer

Windows and winners

10 September, 2023

The people are feeling the sting of the adjustments made to the economy on the heels of the economic collapse of 2022. People who are barely eking out an existence cannot be bamboozled with statistics, theories or talk. They feel the pinch in terms of the money they can spend on education, on health, and on bare essentials.

In the melee, they face even more depressing news. Their pension monies in the form of EPF and ETF savings would be taxed at an even greater rate. The people however have, back to the wall, fought the circumstances as if they have no choice. Of course they don’t.

If they could revolt, that opportunity has been foreclosed. There is nobody who has the gumption to revolt because revolting against the regime took all their energy in 2022, and they are left spent. But even more importantly, there is no appreciation for any dissent in the stifling conditions available for expressing it.

So, it’s almost a rhetorical question, whether Sri Lankans have decided to wait it out, resigned to their fate, or try alternatives? Well, they are certainly trying the alternative of leaving, either permanently or temporarily.

But the majority are left here at home, and out of those who are left, the minority has got the better of the majority because the capitalist dynamic is operating.


But a country needs to — particularly if the policy is to be dogged and rock no boats — be resourceful in terms of policymaking. How so? The world economy is not helping with the Ukraine war continuing, and causing a multiplicity of crises, as the global economy is barely rearing its head coming out of the Covid-19 onslaught.

So what chance is there? While the exporters make the best out of the situation, something that’s usually easier said than done, there is one strategy that’s worth putting in place. That’s the plan to wait for the next window of opportunity.

For Vietnam, Covid-19 itself was a window of opportunity. China was in all types of trouble as the pandemic that had been spawned there led to the closing down of city after city. To add to the problems, the leadership didn’t decide until the last moment to abandon the zero Covid-19 policy which entailed strict lockdowns.

The inevitable upshot of it was that the economy teetered, and that meant basically that the manufacturing hub of the world had been shut down. However, there was at least a short term demand for essential items that used to be manufactured cheaply but reasonably well in China and Vietnam stepped in to exploit the window of opportunity created by this lacuna.

Stories are legion of countries stepping in to exploit windows of opportunity that present themselves at the most unlikely moments. Sri Lanka though, in 2022, in the throes of the economic debacle, was the least prepared to exploit the advantages offered by the manufacturing hiccups that were happening in China.

Not so Vietnam. There were some other countries such as Bangladesh that stepped in too, up to a point. There are countries that exploited the winds of opportunity created by the Ukraine crisis, and that’s such a mean advantage that can be taken that it could even be called opportunism.

Obviously armament manufacturers benefited, and energy companies doubled down and made money because the cheap energy pipeline from Russia was, shall we say, ‘taken out.’

But firms manufacturing renewables suddenly found that they are booked up for a long time, and who stepped up to respond to the demand? Why, it was the Chinese of course.


Chinese companies coming out of the Covid-19 slump were ready to take this easy catch, if cricketing parlance is permitted. But energy companies — the conventional oil companies — doubled down in a different way too. This doesn’t mean only the oil sheiks of OPEC. There are other countries that are neck deep in the oil business. Some of these play the role of middleman and may not have so much as a drop of oil to call their own.

Some defined the entire Covid-19 experience as offering multiple windows of opportunity. There was, it was estimated, need for change in environmental policy as Covid-19 had an impact on the environment in the form of dropping emissions.

That trend would continue, it was estimated, but it didn’t, and that’s the cost of seeing a window of opportunity that was not quite there. But at least Covid-19 offered another context for renewables to thrive in, as energy prices rose, and so those who invested on renewables gained on the swings what they lost on the roundabouts.

What windows of opportunity are lurking around the corner? That’s hard to predict, and it’s futile even to try to. There are so many variables, and contingencies are not contingencies if they give an indication they are lurking around the corner.

If there is no such thing called preparedness when waiting for a suitable window of opportunity, what’s the alternative? Is it all hit or miss? What’s the point of talking about a possible window of opportunity if there is nothing you could do to anticipate it?

The way windows of opportunity are exploited is to have a quick response time. That’s how Vietnam responded to the opportunities created due to the Chinese-slump during Covid-19. They knew how to be first out of the gate to exploit a window of opportunity. A country needs to be ready to respond and respond fast.

It means in short that there is such a thing as preparedness for a window of opportunity. It’s to prepare mentally and psychologically to take up any new set of opportunities that may present themselves due to changing circumstances.

The science of meeting crises head on, is that there is pre-planning that can be done and teams can be got together to be on the ready as opportunity strikes. All this sounds very theoretical. Unfortunately most times opportunity comes out of crisis, and as far as crises are concerned we have had one too many, and another crisis is exactly what we don’t want.


But how about the one we just passed? It hasn’t passed yet, totally, this rather scary economic crisis that we experienced in 2022. There may have been windows of opportunity in this crisis, depending on how we look at things. But we were unprepared. The Vietnamese made hay, and we got bogged down due to the excess of controls we had here, and the balance of payments situation that became an acute problem due to Covid-19.

Sometimes opportunity keeps knocking at our door and we repeatedly refuse to take it. This is the opposite of making use of a window of opportunity, and we are good at snatching rejection and desolation from the jaws of opportunity. We had the opportunity of becoming the next Singapore, but preferred to get involved in our own petty squabbles, and that’s history. We also had other opportunities that were squandered, such as becoming an aviation hub.

Windows of opportunity don’t exactly last for long, which is why they are called windows. But though the window is small, the impact is lasting and perhaps Vietnam can testify to that.

Indonesia’s President Widodo wants to build a smart city based on forests and nature, he says. Talk about creating new windows of opportunity. Indonesia has been described as an outlier which has thrived despite global adversity. Good for them. How did they do it?

Not just by exploiting windows of opportunity, but that too. Indonesia has thrived with traditional commodities and learnt fast that they could be a big player in the emerging renewables economy due to considerable nickel reserves, with that trace element being a key component in the manufacture of EV equipment.

It seems as if luck favours those who are ready for it. The Indonesians were ready, and windows of opportunity favours those who know how to plan a quick response.