The omnipresent craft: Graft

The omnipresent craft: Graft

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 – 09:00

Nayan Chanda For The Straits Times

The Straits Times

GLOBALISATION has been facing strong headwinds as a result of anti-immigrant and anti-free trade pressures.

Now, a third issue challenging the benefits of global connectedness is taking centre stage in many countries: corruption. Globalisation does not cause corruption.

But the opening up of a country to trade and investment by foreigners has created opportunities for bribery and malfeasance on a scale greater than at any other time in the past. Fortunately, the Internet and the global diffusion of media have also enabled citizens and organisations to shine a light on bribery and the darker side of the nexus between politics and business.

From Brazil and India to China, Thailand and Turkey, the fight against corruption has become uppermost in the minds of ordinary people. Politicians are under pressure from their citizens to end rampant corruption, which is hampering growth and widening the income gap.

Exhibit A for the rising tide of anti-corruption sentiment is the stunning success of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) in India. While the Indian Parliament recently created the Lokpal, a high-level anti-graft agency, India’s notoriety on corruption remains unchanged.

The latest survey by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International places India at 94th place out of 177 countries. As many as 54 per cent of respondents in India admitted to having paid a bribe to officials.

After local elections in 2013, the AAP formed a government in Delhi. When the new administration opened its corruption reporting hotline, the telephone networks were jammed.

The petty corruption that annoys average citizens, however, pales into insignificance when compared with the alleged graft by India’s ministers and civil servants. The central government controls the disposition of telecoms, natural resources and construction contracts, all of which have been turned into lucrative bribery opportunities running into billions of dollars.

In China, too, corruption gets top billing. Concerned that it could erode the regime’s legitimacy, Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched an anti-corruption drive, punishing mostly mid-level officials and banning lavish wining and dining on official tabs.

But, to make the point that the party will not tolerate citizen activism, the leaders of a fledgling anti-corruption group, New Citizens Movement, are being tried and are likely to be imprisoned.

In Thailand, a state of emergency has been declared to cope with massive anti-government demonstrations in Bangkok. The Thai anti-corruption authorities recently announced that they were opening investigations into 308 legislators, most of them from the ruling party, for malfeasance.

Similarly, the Brazilian government, stung by unprecedented street protests against corruption, has arrested 25 senior ruling party politicians and businessmen accused of involvement in a vote-buying scheme. In both Thailand and Brazil, Facebook and microblogs were the main vehicles used to spread the reports.

In Turkey, mass anti-government protests have led to bribery investigations into the role played in construction projects by the children of ministers. Several ministers were forced to resign and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he would disown his children if they were found to be involved in corruption.

The anti-corruption movement has called on the government to audit the assets of all public officials, and disclose this information on the Internet.

Rulers everywhere have to be concerned about the way the Internet is facilitating the spread of the anti-graft movement.

The Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists recently began publishing a devastating series of reports on how China’s senior political and business leaders have stashed away a trillion dollars in offshore havens.

The reports, prepared by a group of journalists collaborating through the Internet and posted on the group’s website, and including Chinese translations, played an unprecedented role in global diffusion of the news.

For all its negative effects, globalisation may yet take credit for spawning a global movement against corruption.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

The author is editor-in-chief of YaleGlobal Online, published by the MacMillan Centre, Yale University.

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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