Robbing A Little, Looting Or Manipulating The Market?
By Gamini Weerakoon
Towards a sustainable corrupt government’ was the title of the skit we wrote on July 5, in this column stressing the importance of ‘sustainability’, the buzz word in politics and economics. In almost every sphere of human activity environment, trade, commerce, education or ADT (Any Damn Thing), ‘sustainability’ is a vital factor.
Our thoughts were echoed two weeks ago in Uttar Pradesh – India’s state with the biggest population (bigger population than even Brazil) by an important minister of state, Shivpal Singh Yadav of the ruling party of the state. He declared: Bureaucrats should be allowed to ‘Steal a little, as long as they work hard’.
‘If you work hard and put your heart and soul in it then you are allowed to steal some. But don’t be a bandit,’ was Yadav’s advice to Indian bureaucrats. Yadav is no common or garden Indian politician. He is the uncle of the current Chief Minister of UP, Akilash Yadav, the leader of the Samajwadi Party who scored a surprise victory in the recent state election. Akilash is the son of Mulyalam Singh Yadav, the former leader of the Samajwadi Party and former Chief Minister of UP.
The views of Shivpal Singh Yadav may not be that of the party because soon after his dramatic statement was reported on Indian news channels, he summoned a press conference and claimed his statement was misinterpreted. Perhaps it was a Freudian slip on his part because our experience is that in these parts of the world – particularly in countries that have been ruled by colonial powers, a little bit of stealing from government – provided you don’t get caught – is not a bad thing.
Apparently this South Asian thinking spreads down from the foothills of the Himalayas to Cape Comorin in the southern tip of the sub-continent and across the seas into Sri Lanka down to Hambantota. Many rich and powerful family dynasties and even middle class families now in power have benefited from this South Asian practice.
However, with sons and daughters of the soil now in seats of power in South Asia this Yadav thinking of: ‘Rob but don’t loot’ has gone with the wind. Bureaucrats may diddle only sustainable amounts but for politicians in power the limit is not the sky but extends deep into space. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the amounts mentioned are in billions of dollars and in Sri Lanka we may be near to breaking the billion dollar barrier. Whereas the amounts mentioned in the days of
the controlled economy, were in the range of thousands to hundreds of thousands of rupees, in the free economy period such as of now, the amounts mentioned are in the range of millions if not billions of dollars.
To put it in scientific terms: The inflation of the mass of a bribe in any country in this region has been in direct proportion to the growth of the GDP.
India being the Big Brother naturally takes the lead in everything including corruption. In 2007 it registered a record growth of 9 percent and has maintained an average economic growth of 8 to 9 per cent in recent years. In corruption too it has not lagged behind. The 2G Scam involving telephone mobile frequency allocations according to the Indian Auditor General resulted in a shortfall of $(US)31.97 97 billion – the biggest scam in India and described by Time Magazine as ‘the No 2 Scam in the top ten abuses of power just behind Watergate’. There have been other scams such as the Bofors Scandal where even Rajiv Gandhi’s name was involved.
Now the man who took India from a lowly cow dung power to a nuclear and regional power is also being assailed with charges of corruption. Manmohan Singh, who as the Minister of Economics broke through the Licence Raj of India and took it to dizzy heights, is now being mired with charges of corruption. Last week Opposition BJP leaders threatened to bring the working of the Indian parliament to a standstill unless he resigns.
The man who has been described as a politician of ‘incomparable decency and grace’ is now accused of a ‘Coalgate’ on the issue of coal block allotments. Financial rectitude takes a back seat in Pakistan, riven by terrorism, assailed by geopolitical forces because of its strategic location, militarisation, terrorism and assassination of its leaders. Today, it is in a unique position where the Supreme Court has sacked a former Prime Minister for not investigating into charge of corruption against President Asif Zadari and is threatening to do the same to the incumbent prime minister. This unfortunate country has to do much to establish itself as a stable democracy.
In Bangladesh the battle of the Begums – Sheik Hassina, daughter of the country’s founder Sheik Mujibur Rahman and Khalida Zia, widow of a former president – has continued for years while corruption reigns supreme. Bangladesh has been listed in some years as one of the most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International.
The sun appears to be shinning at least in breaks on Nepal. This month former Minister of the Nepali cabinet and Minister of Information and Communications, J. P. Gupta was found guilty of amassing property worth Rs (Nepali) 20.8 million by illegal means by the Supreme Court and jailed for 18 months and fined Rs 8.4 million. Former Home Minister Khum Bahadur Khadkar too was jailed for 18 months and fined 9.4 million.
Khadkar was the fourth minister of he former Nepali Congress to be jailed recently. Even rarer for a South Asian country are the jail sentences imposed on three former Inspectors General of Police for embezzling millions of dollars in public funds for procuring military hardware for the country’s peace keeping force in Sudan. But the Kathmandu Post reported on August 22 that the convicted police officers were walking scot free on the streets of Kathmandu and were even enjoying even state provided facilities!
Whether the new Nepali Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, a communist party ideologue and vice president of the Maoist Party of Nepal, can improve on the 154th position of Nepal in Transparency International’s list of corruption of `183 countries, is to be seen.
Back in Sri Lanka the latest scandal on corruption is the allegation of the former Chairman of the Stock Market Thilak Karunaratne that a ‘Mafia’ was pressuring SEC (Security Exchange Commission) and resigning from office. He is the second chairperson to do so within a year and earlier the Director General of the SEC too resigned making the same allegations.
Thinking in South Asian terminology what are we to make of the happenings in the Colombo SEC? Do we call it: Robbing a little, Looting or Manipulating the market? Time will tell.