The real truth is that in a mulit-layered and multi-dimensional country like us; one whose people are restless for rapid progress; politicians must learn to do business, even as they play their usual games. The people have no patience for hard positions. They want action. Akhilesh has shown that he can get what he wants in a business-like spirit…..that should be a lesson for all is that the political secretary of Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, is political; so one now understands why it does what it does. That’s the reason the on the verge of resigning from her post so suddenly. But the damage the has done to to chief minister’s office is huge. It will take us a long time to recover from it. Nor has the Lokpal Act been passed (because of political biases and inflexible and unrealistic attitude). line right through the entire agitation – effectively argues was perhaps wrong. That change cannot come about by just activism (“change is too important to be left exclusively to activists. Without activists, no change can begin, but with only activism, lasting change might not come about”). That change comes in steps. And it needs patience. Now does that sound familiar to readers of this blog?!
In an age of corporate scams, swindles and general malpractices – from the Lehman Brothers’ case to that of the Reebok franchise in India which has been charged with a multi-crore misappropriation of goods and funds – ethical business practices might at first sound like an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, like bitter-sweet, or tragi-comic. Across the world there is growing scepticism about big business – particularly trans-national big business – and the way it operates, supposedly with the bottom line of profit being its only moral lodestar and its sole ethical imperative.
In such a climate of cynicism it is inevitable that in popular vocabulary the word ‘businessman’ has become a euphemism for ‘brigand’. This book – co-authored by two highly successful, and highly respected, entrepreneurs with “more than 80 years of business experience between them” – is a commendable effort to correct this semantic misapprehension. It seeks to provide detailed and lucid answers to two basic questions: ‘Can I work in business according to true principles and still be successful?’ and “If yes, then how?”
In the Introduction the authors state that “Business at its best is an instrument for the creation of wealth for the benefit of all… that can be used for the common good. When business flourishes the fruits can be used to improve the working of society, including developments in culture and education as well as general prosperity and well-being”. The book goes on to establish the sound credentials of this premise, by quoting from a variety of sources from management gurus to eastern sages like Confucius and by citing real-life examples and incidents drawn from the personal experience of the writers.
The book traces the genesis of business to the proto-historic formation of society based on the division of labour and the barter system: the agriculturist exchanging the grain he has produced for the footwear the cobbler has made. As societies grew more complex “some people…began to specialise in facilitating this exchange of goods”. They were the world’s first traders, or businessmen. It was “necessary that enough benefit accrued to the trader… to purchase the goods necessary for the trader and his family. Thus profit is a natural consequence of business… and essential to its operation.”
Problems arise when there is a mismatch, natural or man-made, between demand and supply of the goods traded, and the profit made on them. “When… merchants are successful in making products available at a reasonable price…the reputation of business rises”. However, “If demand becomes excessive and supply is inadequate, (it) may encourage greed on the part of the merchants. The reputation of business in general then suffers”.
When this happens it is literally ‘bad business’ for civilisation. The book quotes historian Edward Gibbon who, describing the decline and fall of the Roman empire, identified five symptoms of any culture which was in its death throes. Three of these are business related: “Extravagant display of wealth and outward show, growing disparity between rich and poor, universal desire to live off the state.”
“Do they sound familiar”, ask the authors. What is the prescription that can turn ‘bad business’ into ‘good business’? There is no magic mantra, only a change in perception as to what constitutes true wealth, and how it is to be created.
The authors quote Aristotle: “The life of money-making is undertaken under compulsion and wealth is evidently not the goal we are seeking; for it is merely useful for the sake of something else”. What is this other wealth, comprising riches beyond riches? And how is it to be gained? The book refers to Lao Tse: “To produce without possessing, to work without expecting, to enlarge without usurping, to know when you have enough is to be rich.”
Material wealth is only a means to an end which is the wealth of mental and spiritual harmony. The authors grade a ‘Moral Hierarchy’ of business dealings from 1, the highest level (“Work is a sacred activity and performed for the good of all”), to 8, the lowest level (“Morality is based on my judgment, my personal view to what is right and good”).
Is all this too idealistic to be practical? Perhaps. But all around us, in scam after scam, we see the ruinous effect of business being conducted without ideals, without principles. Without a moral or ethical compass to guide it, business does become brigandry.
So, at which end of the ‘Moral Hierarchy’ would we put India and its business dealings, both in the private as well as the public sector? Come to that, at which end of the scale would we, you and I, put ourselves in our financial dealings with others, be they our customers, our employers or anyone else?According to Newtonian physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This law seems to hold true as well in the dismal science of economics, and in the even more dismal occult art form known as financial forecasting where great expectations lead invariably and inevitably to equally great – and often equally illogical and unfounded – disappointments. Like the hemlines of women’s skirts are said to go up and down following a logic known only to the whims and vagaries of fashion, market sentiment rises and falls in what might be called the yo-yo effect: that which rises must necessarily fall, only to rise again, to fall once more, and so on and on.The writer begs a question. I am sure we all know who he is? Terence Netto have been writing twined articles since he surfaced in Mkini for political needs,but why only now the writer seems to have the urge unless of course he just woke up for how politically it is not skewed in the desired manner. Malaysians are not so stupid, do give them more credit than what is in stake for the allied parties as and when they chose it to be. Read between the lines and you will understand. If you can’t then we are as stupid as we can be and deserve the hoodwinking process that is all similar like what we have with the current political goons and their motivated troopers at the expense of a motive based and a bludgeoned Mkini.The country needs politicians like Khaled who does not subscribe to cronyism, nepotism and corruption. He should continue to administer like this even if has to displease his PKR members..set the standards high and the rakyat will recognise it. If not there is no difference from the BN govt. Could not agree more with this article. At a time when we want to move away from cronyism and currying favour, it seems odd that Terrence feels that what Khalid and his pol sec are doing is not correct!
Honestly, I think the only reason this issue is still alive is because we’re facing a slow news cycle.
I try not to get trolled, but this article (by Terence Netto) really went too far. The needlessly obtuse language aside (as usual), the conclusions it posits run entirely counter to the ‘evidence’ it presents. I cannot resist a rebuttal.
The title to begin with, does not to my mind make grammatical sense: Selangor MB’s pol sec Faekah at bay.
Let me present the second half of the above article (points of interest in bold).
Khalid’s main problem is that he is not a politician. He came to politics from the corporate world where you don’t necessarily have to please so much as manage things well.
That he has, as CEO of the Selangor estate, done rather well is not in dispute; the surplus of RM1.3 billion in income over expenditure by the state government last year is evidence of his good management.
However, he has been slow to recognise as the PKR leader of a state regarded as a jewel in the federal crown that politics is also about providing opportunities, rewarding loyalties and managing expectations of the party faithful.
Oblivious of these aspects of his role as MB, he has courted trouble with sections of the party – mainly ex-Umno members – whose 10 years (1998-2008) in the political wilderness before the Selangor government was captured by a PKR-led opposition has had them ravening for whatever rewards were to be had.
The latter bunch have had trouble accessing the MB and had contrived, when Seri Setia assemblyperson Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad quit as Khalid’s political secretary a few years back to become communications director of PKR central, to place their candidate in that position.
But Faekah stepped into the role, courtesy of party president Azizah and accepted with alacrity by Khalid.
This caused consternation in the ranks of Selangor PKR who felt they were being neglected.
When Faekah went on to be placed on the boards of several GLCs, her role as a buffer between the MB and the PKR horde that was already disgruntled from neglect was played out in a way that only fanned the latter’s grievances.
She alienates more than she cultivates
Worse, it is said that Faekah has political ambitions. If so, she has a strange conception of how best to go about achieving this.
Usually, political secretaries to powerful barons with aspirations to clamber up the ladder are careful about the path they trod, taking pains to cultivate all and sundry, particularly those they think would be crucial to their prospects for upward mobility.
Faekah alienates more than she cultivates. In that, she reflects the weakness of her boss whose past corporate career did not require him to endear so much as to execute.
Faekah is a type of functionary that is a problem for the present-day political parties: they regard the party as a form of social mobility, so that, eventually, the protection of the party’s political structures becomes more important than the people the party is supposed to represent.
But Khalid is sticking by her as his defence of her conduct and endorsement of her capability confirm.
Good managers, especially the ones that do not seem to be failing, seldom dispense with underlings that reflect their style and PKR, the Selangor division at least, has to live with the choice.
The best thing that ought to be done in a party poised for a long stay near or at the central levers of political power in Malaysia – a situation that would inevitably result in more choice when it comes to selection – to think through the question of suitability, something that would surely yield in wisdom for future appointments.
Analysis is remiss
Most, though not all, of the analysis above is remiss.
For example, the contention that Khalid is not by nature a politician is valid. The contention that this is a problem is not.
In a culture so used to bemoaning the evils of politics and politicians, we suddenly want our leaders to be… more political?
We cannot dissect his style in great detail here, but suffice to say that Khalid prefers managing and getting results to playing politics.
Those that think this is necessarily a bad thing would probably be better represented by voting BN.
Similarly, Mr Netto is not remiss in saying that there are a few elements in PKR that represent – in his own words – a “horde”, “ravening” for “opportunities” and “rewards”.
He is also right in saying that Faekah, acting in a manner consistent with Khalid’s principles, poses a problem for these hordes.
The question then is: is this a good thing or a bad thing?
Mr Netto observes that Faekah’s actions are not consistent with someone harbouring political ambitions.
Respectfully, his statement that this is “strange” given how she is said to be politically ambitious represents the thought process of one who has reached a conclusion before examining the evidence, not the other way around.
In my view, the more astute, empirically sound conclusion to draw would be that her lack of inclination to curry favour or pander to the above mentioned horde simply demonstrates a lack of political ambition – or at the very least, a refusal to sacrifice principle for political gain.
We are not blind to the necessities of realpolitik, but neither should we ever let realpolitik blind us to the necessity of staying true to our principles.
Does Faekah reflect Khalid?
Yes, but does her reflection of Khalid’s refusal to allow state resources to be misused by any political party represent a “weakness”?
If so, then I for one shall begin aspiring to weakness.
Describing how I truly feel about the last paragraph that I have bolded above would require the use of words that are impolite to say about a fellow writer.
Mr Netto himself says that Faekah has no regard for pleasing party members. How on earth then does she become guilty of “protecting the party’s political structures”?
Certainly, there are people within the party who do view it as a vehicle for social mobility.
From what I’ve seen, they regularly behave in the exact opposite way from what Mr Netto has described as Faekah’s modus operandi.
From all that I’ve observed in my work both within the party and with the state government, I understand the movement against Faekah as being motivated precisely by Faekah and Khalid’s dedication to prioritising the interests of the rakyat – whether or not they are supporters of PKR.
This dedication to putting integrity and the welfare of the rakyat as a whole before political considerations has indeed alienated the two from some elements within the party.
I believe however, that it has successfully cultivated an extremely rare example of a government that is willing to do what is right, instead of what is easy.
Team Anna is at it again. It is now threatening to go on a fast unless the government institutes investigations against 16 of its ministers, including the PM. At the heart of this charge of corruption against the PM lies the basic mistake in the understanding of the difference between corruption and questionable (to some people) policy decisions. Given its political nature, I have little doubt that Team Anna is intentionally confusing the two.
The reason to include the PM in this list is ostensibly that he was responsible for the Coal Ministry and the CAG has recently alleged that the coal ministry’s policy of giving out mining rights favored private companies.The CAG’s allegations is to the extent of some Rs 2 lac crores (yet another sensationalized figure!). Firstly, this is a CAG estimate which rightly or wrongly (mostly wrongly!) is again commenting on government policy and very little on process violations. Secondly, the report needs to be discussed in the PAC and action taken there. Unfortunately, given the competitive nature of media in our country, every CAG report is brandished on the front pages of newspapers and on prime time TV. With due Parliamentary process not allowed to play itself out, the people of this country are led to premature conclusions about the veracity of these reports. But such is the nature of our democracy at this stage. Politicians are assumed corrupt until proven innocent. And even if they are proven innocent, the impact has already been made on the minds of the people.
The charge against the PM is that the policy of allocating mines was flawed and that private companies reportedly profited from this. Team Anna could have argued that this was a wrong policy and it would well have been within its rights to do so. But given its overall positioning (of being anti-Congress), it chose to attach the C word with this matter. How is this a case of corruption at all?
Certain basic elements must be for it to be a case of corruption. The one who took the decision should have personally and monetarily benefited from the decision he took. Like in the Yeddy episode (and now Jagan in AP; and Ashok Chavan in Maharashtra), there is a direct charge being made against the accused. Is it Team Anna’s point that the PM profited from the decisions of the Coal Ministry?
Either the person should have profited personally, or at the very least, his party should have been the beneficiary. Again, is it Team Anna’s charge that the private companies paid kickbacks to the Congress party? If this is their charge, do they have any prima facie evidence to at least build a preliminary case against these ministers? Or is it the mere possibility of corruption having existed which has prompted them to demand an investigation. If I feel that some Team Anna member is corrupt, can I demand an investigation and will any court allow it, or will it ask for some prima facie evidence? And what preliminary evidence is Team Anna relying on to make the accusation? That the CAG pointed out to flaws in the policy? If that’s their point, then its a political point and we should let the PAC decide. That some opposition politicians have made accusations on this matter in media? Well, politicians do this all the time, but is that enough to start an investigation? If investigations were started at every allegation made, there would be no possibility of any governance left. In any case, governance has come to a standstill thanks to the hamhanded Anna movement….
It appears Team Anna’s only motivation – and the reason why it is suspected of being a BJP front – is to bring the government to a standstill. It has succeeded to a very large extent. Most bureaucrats and politicians prefer not taking any decisions only because of the fear that a decision (right or wrong) may later be construed to be a corrupt one. Team Anna must take credit for this! Single handedly, they have done what the entire opposition couldn’t do combined. They have managed to put the government in a state of deep freeze. The BJP must be wringing its hands in glee; as the economy sputters and as inflation soars…..and as the Congress’s fortunes plummet. How can decision making happen when every decision is questioned for corruption? Is corruption the only yardstick to measure government policy with? Has anyone ever asked a question on why government projects almost always get delayed? Is there any premium ever attached to speed and quality of execution of government works?
The Coal gate scam is a non-starter. How to allocate national resources is policy preference. A particular political party may prefer not to auction national assets, but pass them on to the public and private sector for exploitation in a transparent and fair process? And another party may prefer to auction the same? In such a case, would the party that preferred auctions be declared to be non-corrupt and the other one corrupt? Take the 2G “scam” for instance. Is this a policy (and hence political) subject or one of corruption? If it is about corruption, what charges have been made so far against Raja or anyone else? Nothing except for a Rs 200 crore allegation linking Raja’s party DMK with DB Realty. There is no quid-pro-quo charges against Unitech (nothing proven yet in any case); the charges against Reliance, Loop Mobile and Essar are of violating telecom policy (owning more than 10% in another telco in a circle in which it is already present); not of bribing someone (but of course, there is an assumption that someonemust have been bribed!). Again, one could argue whether spectrum should have been given free or not and that would have made for a good public discourse from which the country could have benefitted; but some people (most notably Team Anna) believe every policy matter that doesn’t agree with them is a case of corruption.
The sordid telecom saga continues and in fact gets worse by the day. It all started off with the totally sensationalized assertion by the CAG that the government had lost revenues of Rs 1.76 lac crores by not auctioning 2G spectrum (On the other hand, I have always argued that maximizing revenues could never be the government’s sole objective when it came to policy making). Then the Supreme Court went overboard in canceling the 122 licenses that had been allotted to the nine new operators – paying no consideration to our international obligations or the suffering that this decision would cause honest telecom operators which made the mistake of trusting the government. Now the TRAI has thrown another googly – by recommending that only 5 MHz of spectrum be auctioned in this year. This means that only one of the nine affected operators will be able to come back into business.
It’s a crazy situation really. It’s designed to kill the telecom sector. What was once touted as the most successful liberalization program of the government (along with IT) will soon become the sickest of them all.
What could possibly be the logic of allowing the auction of only one slot of 5 Mhz this year when the government has recovered so much more spectrum by canceling the licenses? How would it be fair if eight out of the nine affected operators who rolled out their networks all over India are disallowed from protecting their investments by winning back their licenses? Just think about it. The government announced a policy and went out to invite the operators. The operators dutifully rolled out their networks. Suddenly, their licenses were canceled. And now they are not even being allowed to win back their licenses. It’s bizarre – in fact a loud statement to foreign investors that they are absolutely not welcome in India.
But then the politics in this country has been headed southwards for some time now. In a country where there is zero focus on good governance (how many agitations have taken place which demand that government projects be completed on time?), but 100% on corruption, we have developed a culture where it’s better not to take decisions. The bureaucrat who thinks big also trips at times. There is a very good chance he would be called corrupt. We are ok with bureaucrats who sit on decisions and pull the country back from the path of progress. This is acceptable to us. The Anna movement has caused a huge disservice to the country, by making this feature even more prominent (By the way, even former President Kalam believes that the Lokpal is no solution to the problem of corruption). Today, the bureaucracy (and the political class) is happy to avoid decision making; and if it does take decisions, it wants to be absolutely safe. Countries that play safe do not progress.
Add to this bureaucratic play-safe, the over-zealousness of Constitutional authorities like the CAG. The CAG has been eager to step into policy making territory. After all, the highlight of its 2G investigation should have been to unearth corruption (of Raja and the bureaucrats), not comment on the FCFS policy. In so many countries, FCFS is the preferred route to allocate natural resources- this ensures that consumers get the benefits of those services and products at low prices. When the entire country is the beneficiary of such a policy (there are nearly 900 million telecom subscribers today), it should be called a good government policy. But the CAG had a different plan. The SC did no better. It should have ruled on charges of corruption. But instead it chose to cancel the licenses. After all, what was the fault of the companies that bought into the extant government policy? In future, do we expect global corporates to question government policy when it is announced? Does the Government of India have no credibility? Does the SC realize what damage its decision has done to the country’s reputation?
And what is the logic for TRAI’s restriction on license auctions this year if it is not to dramatically increase spectrum fees? Any half intelligent person will tell you that auctions should not be carried out under scarcity conditions. It will create anomalies in pricing. But that is precisely what TRAI wants. The TRAI’s objective appears to be to help the government maximize revenues. By raising bid prices through artificial scarcity, it will set the ground for similar high prices in subsequent rounds. It appears that the TRAI has lost its independence and is kowtowing the government line. This is warped logic. If prices do increase that much, telecom prices will rise dramatically and the telecom revolution will be over. It will be the modern day killing of the golden goose. Besides, what happened to the TRAI’s job of protecting the consumer?
That’s why I am happy that Telenor has appealed against this TRAI decision in the Supreme Court. Hopefully the court will undo some of the damage its earlier decision has inflicted on the sector.
The real truth is that the telecom sector is in doldrums. It needs to be rescued from the politicians and the politics they play. The biggest losers are going to be 900 million common citizens of this country. It’s time saner counsel prevails and we all collectively pull back from the brink. But given the destructive politics that prevails in the country at the moment, I have few hopes….