Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Investors Have Gone Off India. Blame, In Part, Uncertainly Over Corruption

CORRUPTION is dreadful in India, as shown by a current “season of scams” —over mobile-phone licences, the Commonwealth games and more. Politicians, notably the ruling Congress party, are now feeling the public’s ire ( see article ). Worries have also grown that graft is scaring away foreign businesses. Circumstantial evidence points that way. A spokesman for a big Western firm mutters into his cappuccino about a recent High Court decision, which if upheld would cost his company billions. It was so strange, he says, it could be explained only by judicial graft. A representative of a British media firm, SIS Live, which broadcast the Commonwealth games from Delhi, in October, is furious—along with other contractors—at being left millions of pounds out of pocket because, he says, payments have been frozen by investigators digging up evidence of corruption at the event. Across the board, surveys regularly tell how graft is an unusually heavy tax on Indian business. An annual one published on March 23 rd by PERC, a Shanghai-based consultancy, shows investors are more negative than they were five years ago. Of 16 mostly Asian countries assessed, India now ranks the fourth-most-corrupt, in the eyes of 1 , 725 businessmen questioned. Being considered worse than China or Vietnam is bad enough; being lumped with the likes of Cambodia looks embarrassing. Outsiders may get an exaggerated view. India’s democracy, with a nosy press and opposition, helps to trumpet its scams and scandals, more than happens in, say, China. Yet locals tell similar tales. A cabinet minister frets that there is so much ghotala (fiddling), “it tells the world we are all corrupt. It may be a dampener to investment.” Others agree. KPMG this month reported on 100 bosses who were asked about their own experience of graft. One in three said it did deter long-term investment. Clean-up costs Judging how much difference it makes is tricky. Right now, investors may be spooked as much by the fight against graft as by the corruption itself. Arpinder Singh of Ernst & Young in Mumbai says foreigners, especially those with some connection to America, increasingly hire firms like his to help them comply with America’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Once a foreigner holds more than about 5-10 % equity in an Indian firm, it is seen as having some responsibility for how it is run. Now even Indian firms, if they want to raise money abroad, or if their bosses want to protect their own professional reputations, are doing the same. As other countries, such as Britain, bring in tough anti-graft laws like America’s, the trend will continue. Yet many Indian firms still fail to comply with higher standards, so deals falter. Mr Singh ticks off a list, “in infrastructure, ports, toll roads, irrigation, microfinance”, of deals he has worked on that collapsed over “governance problems”. None of this is enough to prove that graft, alone, is scaring off business. Pranab Mukherjee, the finance minister, insists there is no correlation between corruption and foreign direct investment (FDI). Jeffrey Immelt, the boss of GE, in Delhi last week, cheerily agreed, insisting that a fast-growing market trumps all other concerns. But something is keeping investors wary. In 2010 the country drew just $24 billion in FDI, down by nearly a third on the year before, and barely a quarter of China’s tally. There is no shortage of other discouragements: high inflation, bureaucracy, disputes over land ownership, and limits on foreign ownership in some industries. Even so, India is home to an unusually pernicious form of corruption, argues Jahangir Aziz of JPMorgan. Elsewhere graft may be a fairly efficient way to do business: investors who pay bribes in China may at least be confident of what they will get in return. In India, however, too many crooked officials demand cash but fail to deliver their side of the bargain. Uncertainty, not just the cost of the “graft tax”, may be the biggest deterrent of all.

Drug Addiction And It's Consequences

In recent years drug addiction has significantly increased in Bangladesh. That estimates say nearly 4.6 million people are using these illegal substances reveals its disquieting state. Due to its geographic and strategic location, Bangladesh is vulnerable to illicit trafficking. According to the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) illegal drugs are smuggled into the country through some 49 points along the borders of the two neighbouring countries. Generally the less educated, unemployed, low income group and homeless people as well as those living in an adverse family environment are more vulnerable to using illegal drugs. But the indication we receive about drug addiction is very alarming because people generally conceal the victim because of the social stigma attached, but the fact that nearly ten percent of outpatients in hospitals are cases of drug addiction involving heroin, ganja and phensidyl should concern us all. Addicts come from all strata of society: students, professionals, businessmen, labourers and rickshaw-pullers aside from other professions. Students so affected have caused a deterioration in standards of education and many have given up going to schools and colleges. Sadly, in order to feed their addiction they turn to various criminal activities. In the absence of a countrywide survey there are no accurate figures of drug users but as Bangladesh has become a transit country for illegal drugs produced in the `Golden Triangle’ and to a much lesser degree, the `Golden Crescent,’ the country’s porous border facilitates drug smuggling with these countries. But the addiction level of drugs increases with each day of use and if they are not available the patient shows critical withdrawal symptoms and immediate medical care is needed. Causes are many but all the drug addicts in our country are afraid of social stigma more than any threat from the law. But addicts most of all lose their professional and educational capabilities and self-dignity, to such an extent that they get involved in serious criminal activities as well. The sole aim in life of an addict becomes the procurement and use of drugs and all other aims are thrown by the wayside. Besides, dread diseases such as Hepatitis and HIV/AIDS, among others, can easily attack a drug addict. The target group has to be made aware about drugs, its misuse and its horrifying consequences.  A public awareness programme must be taken up by the government to educate people into the cause and effect of substance abuse.

Yunus Place In History Is Secure

The Bangladesh Supreme Court has upheld the High Court's verdict that Professor Yunus's removal from Grameen Bank is legal. So Professor Yunus has been permanently removed as the managing director of his brainchild, Grameen Bank. This is a sad day for Bangladesh. The decision will embolden those who had always opposed Professor Yunus, such as the religious fundamentalists and others opposed to women's empowerment. It will dishearten the shareholders of the bank, the poor women of Bangladesh, who will see their bank deteriorate into an average bank of Bangladesh, rather than remaining a Nobel Prize winning institution it is. The reticent majority of Bangladeshis, who had taken silent pride in Professor Yunus's monumental achievements, many intellectuals among them, will be crestfallen. They will have a hard time comprehending why all the machinery of the country's government was marshaled to bring down Bangladesh's brightest jewel. There is a dichotomy in the way the Bangladeshi government and the rest of the world view Professor Yunus. To the capitalist and socialist world, and everything in between, Professor Yunus, through pioneering microcredit for the poor is a champion of the poor. Since most of the world's population is poor, he is the symbolic benefactor of the majority of the people on earth, and is a hero to them. When Professor Yunus visits Mexico, poor peasants rush to touch him! He transcended his Bangladeshi credentials long ago and has become an iconic figure of the world. The world emulates, celebrates and glorifies him like no other person on earth. To the Bangladeshi government, Muhammad Yunus is just another Bangladeshi operating from a Spartan, non-air-conditioned office in measly Mirpur, pretending to be great! Bangladesh is a poverty-stricken nation facing enormous challenges. Instead of tackling those challenges, it is astonishing how much time and resources the government wasted attempting to bring down the one person who has brought maximum honour to the nation. Professor Muhammad Yunus is being "removed on a technicality." If, after hounding Professor Yunus for over two years, the best the government can come up with is a "technicality," it vividly demonstrates not only how irrational and hollow the government's misguided pursuit has been, but also how scrupulously clean Professor Yunus is. Foreign governments care deeply about Muhammad Yunus, whom they know very well and adore. The writer was surprised at how quickly every section of the civil society in America -- the press, ordinary Americans, prominent Americans and elected representatives -- reacted with universal repugnance at Professor Yunus's "removal." Elected governments gain admiration and legitimacy only when they act within the letter and spirit of the law, not when driven by rancour. Bengalis embody two diametrically opposite character traits. The admirable one is generosity. A visitor to a Bengali household will insult the host if he refuses to eat something. The darker trait is envy, which the first Bengali and Asian to win the Nobel Prize (1913) , Rabindranath Thakur, lamented about. Every Bengali knows this uncontrollable urge to pull someone down who is headed up. This urge unifies some Bengalis like nothing else. The discourse about Professor Yunus has revealed that some Bangladeshis have not been able to exorcise their jealousy demons. Much more pleasure can be derived from praising someone than demonising him. The angels descend on a person being complimented while the devil envelops the person practicing envy. The whole world applauds executives who salute a Nobel Laureate. Perhaps Yunus should have been born in another country that was capable of appreciating his genius. Many in the Bangladesh government do not seem to realise that Muhammad Yunus had flown out of their grasp long time ago. They may imprison his body, but his free spirit belongs to the whole world. Placing hurdles in Professor Yunus's way will only make him soar higher. Unlike neighbouring Myanmar, Bangladesh has not closed its borders to the world. As a democracy, Bangladesh is plugged into the world in every way, and is susceptible to the world's adverse reaction. The civil society, the press and prominent citizens all over the world have reacted adversely to Professor Yunus's removal. Their governments will, too, because in civil societies governments act on public opinion. The government of Bangladesh had garnered the goodwill of the world and America over the last two years for the way it conducted its domestic and foreign policies. By treating Professor Yunus shabbily, in spite of repeated pleas not to do so, they have squandered most of it. It is unwise to characterise US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake's comment that mistreatment of Professor Yunus will impact US-Bangladesh relations as his personal opinion. Top US diplomats' enunciation of American foreign policy is never a " personal opinion." Ninety-nine percent of expatriate Bangladeshis in America believe that the government of Bangladesh has abused the nation's only Nobel Laureate. Surprisingly, leave alone resigning, no one in the government has taken any different view over the Yunus controversy. When they embark on or support unjust vendettas, not only nations, but also reputations of individuals responsible become affected internationally. The world is watching and taking notes. If the government was smart, instead of hounding Professor Yunus, it would have appointed the Nobel Laureate Bangladesh's goodwill ambassador to the world and tapped into the enormous goodwill the world has for him. Harassing Professor Yunus will prove counterproductive. The ongoing protests against the current government at home and abroad will only intensify. Detractors of Professor Yunus beware! His concept of social business is also a novel idea. Do not be surprised if somewhere down the line Professor Yunus becomes the only person ever to win the Nobel Prize for Peace twice. Regardless of what the government of Bangladesh does, Professor Muhammad Yunus's place in history as one of the greatest men of the last one hundred years is very secure.

BANGLADESH : A Model Of Communal Harmony

Our nation is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual nation of 160 million people. All citizens practice their respective religions freely and peacefully, a right guaranteed by the Constitution of Bangladesh. During his five-day visit to Bangladesh from April 25 , His Eminence Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontfical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in Vatican, passed a busy time. It is noted that his visit was confined to only Bangladesh in South Asia. On April 27 , Cardinal Tauran spoke at the Interfaith Dialogue at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre where Bangladesh minister for religious affairs and minister for cultural affairs were present. Cardinal Tauran, at the beginning of his speech, expressed happiness that Bangladesh is considered "as an example of how it is possible for people of different religions to live together, cooperate together and simply be together." He tried to ascertain the reasons for such an extraordinary characteristic of Bangladesh. He asked: "Is it based in Bengali culture? Is it based in constutional realities? Is it based in the history of the country? Is it based in the realm of religions themselves and in particular in Islam as it is followed here? I leave the answers to the experts." On the importance of the Interfaith Dialogue, Cardinal Tauran emphasised that such dialogues should be understood as an essential ingredient in preserving a plurastic society by allowing religions to be present and active in the "very soul of the nation."He added that such dialogues could discover the richness of each other' s search for, and hopefully discovery of, God and bring the depth of that insight and revelation on the table of the pluralistic public debate in order to see what "we can do together to improve society, to assist it in its growth towards the total development of the human person, and to assure that the universal rights of the human person are safeguarded." One of the great challenges, Cardinal Tauran has pointed out, is to bring this positive development closer to the grass root level. In this regard, he underscored the need to monitor books used in the schools on how they deal with different religions. Very often, he said that at least in some parts of the world, school books portray religions in a bad light, mispresenting their beliefs. Apolostic Nuncio (Ambassador of Holy See) to Bangladesh, Most Reverend Joseph Marino, has equally praised the existing state of communal harmony in Bangladesh. He stated: "Indeed, one of the great joys that I have had since arriving here has been the opportunity to visit many parts of Bangladesh. Each time, without exception, an inter-religious meeting composed of local Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and when possible Buddhist, leaders was always a part of the programme." He further added: "We are all aware that the great feasts of the major religions present in Bangladesh are celebrated on a national level as public holidays. So often there are mutual celebrations of the holiday, usually attested to by the highest civil authorities of the nation." The religious face of the world is changing. At a dramatic pace, more and more regions of the world are becoming environments of multi- culture and multi-faith. At the root of this phenomenon are international patterns of immigration. The worldwide movement of peoples and cultures has facilitated a meeting of followers of various religions. Islam encourages dialogue to reach the truth. In recent times, Muslim theologians have advocated inter-faith dialogue on a large scale. Interfaith dialogue refers to cooperative and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions, at both the individual and institutional levels, with the aim of deriving a common ground in belief through a concentration on similarities between faiths, understanding of values, and commitment to the world. Interfaith dialogue may include: * How different faiths can live harmoniously together; * To build understanding, good will and a sense of community between people of different faiths; * To explore and learn about each other's traditions of faith; * To share religious knowledge and insights with each other; * To work together to achieve common goals, peace and harmony; * To support each other in times of difficulty. History records many examples of interfaith initiatives and dialogue throughout the ages. Emperor Akbar the Great, for example, encouraged tolerance in Mughal India, a diverse nation with people of various faiths, including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Budhism and Christianity. Muslim Spain is an additional historical example of great religious pluralism and harmony. In July 2008 , a historic interfaith conference was initiated by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to solve world problems through concord instead of conflict. The conference was attended by religious leaders of different faiths like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism etc. In 2010 , the king of Saudi Arabia, in an address to the UN General Assembly, proposed a "World Interfaith Harmony Week" to further broaden his goals of faith- driven world harmony by extending his call to people of all beliefs and even to those with no set religious beliefs. We live in a conflict-torn world, characterised by hatred, discrimination and violence. Merely asking three fundamental questions --Who am I? From where did I come? Where I shall go when I die? -- may lead to realisation of the impermanence of human life and the belief that beneath the surface differences different religions and human beings are all the same, and that they can believe in each other and can work together toward global peace, harmony and unity. Finally, I quote from Tagore who, from his deathbed, dictated an enigmatic verse on human existence: "When existence first became manifest the first day's sun asked, 'Who are you?' No answer. Years passed. The last day's sun put its last question in the hush of evening on the western ocean shore, 'Who are you?' and got no answer."