I spend a lot of time participating in conferences, and there is one thing that almost always happens at the higher-profile events: the president, prime minister, finance minister or some other dignitary shows up to open proceedings and make a welcome address.
In the speech, Said Dignitary (SD) will stress the importance of foreign direct investment, claim to have an open door to investors and highlight their ongoing dialogue with the business community. The remainder of the event is spent discussing such topics as what reforms are needed to make the place more attractive to investors. Existing investors are there, microphones in hand, offering just the sort of feedback SD claimed to be eager to receive – except it falls on deaf ears because SD has long since fled the scene.
It is understandable that government leaders have extremely busy schedules, yet I always wind up feeling that in such instances they have missed a golden opportunity to truly engage with investors, and maybe learn something in the process. And if FDI is as critical as these leaders clam it is, what is an extra hour or two?
Imagine my surprise, however, when I attended a national investment forum, hosted under the auspices of the prime minister, and not only did the prime minister come along (because experience shows that a conference being under some notable person’s 'auspices' does not guarantee you will see their face at the event) but he stuck around. He, along with the minister of economy, participated in a panel session about the investment environment that I moderated – and he actually allowed himself to be moderated: meaning he took questions from me with no objection and with no pre-ordained requirement for the session to be scripted, he invited questions from the audience, and he answered all the questions posed.
Later that evening, at the gala dinner for the event, on each table there was a signed note from the prime minister thanking attendees for their time, and pledging his support for FDI. But that wasn’t all: he was there in the flesh as well, holding court at the centre table, and chatting amiably with dinner guests. He made a brief speech to reiterate his keenness further.
In more than a decade on the conference circuit, I have never seen this before. But it is a shame this kind of behaviour comes as such a great surprise. And readers may be surprised even more to learn where this happened: Belarus. Say what you will about the country’s politics, but when it comes to FDI its PM is in it to win it.
Courtney Fingar is the editor of fDi Magazine. E-mail: email@example.com