Saturday, September 25, 2010

Constitutional Democracy

A former (and untainted) Chief Justice of India, M.N.Venkatachalaiah delivered the fifth Rajaji Memorial Lecture on 25th September. The function was presided over by E.S.L.Narasimhan, Governor of Andhra Pradesh. The topic was "Degeneration of the idea of constitutional democracy in India".

The lecture was replete with quotes from historians, poets and legal luminaries. MNV explained how the transformation of leadership from muddled mediocrity to dangerous deviancy is posing cataclysmic challenge to Indian polity. He humorously brought out the greatness of democracy by quoting a Malaysian judge who had once told him that in Malaysia too one has freedom of speech but not freedom after speech!

He circumspectly evaded answering a question on recent debates on probity of Supreme Court Chief Justices. He only said that he has not visited the highest court of justice ever since his retirement. But the tone of his response suggested that all was not well.

The governor came down heavily on the acquisitive urges of present day politicians and administrators. His abandonment of gubernatorial caution provided a breath of fresh air.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

CEOs and Board Chairpersons

As we continue to discuss the propriety of the same person being simultaneously the CEO and Chairperson of a company, the current happenings in HSBC Bank have upped the ante by raising the issue of corporate governance involved in the CEO becoming the Chairperson after ceasing to be the CEO. It s customary for HSBC's CEO to get elevated as Chairperson. This tradition is now attracting adverse notice of investors.

Michael Geoghegan, the present CEO is supposed to have threatened that he would resign from HSBC if he is not made the Chairperson. (Stephen Green is joining the UK government as Trade Minister making the Chair vacant.) The two posts require different kinds of expertise, but it is not impossible for the same person to excel in both positions. Governance aficionados argue that conflict of interests is inherent in a CEO taking the avatar of Chairperson immediately after demitting the CEO office.

HSBC's decision will be watched with 'interest'.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Competitive Malgovernance

It's a pity that all three pillars of Indian democracy namely executive, legislature and judiciary are vying with one another to lose public confidence.

One of the three judges of the Allahabad High Court Bench that heard the Ayodhya title case says that he was not consulted by the other two judges before they pronounced the decision in an interim petition in the case. The Supreme Court is in a dilemma on how to respond to allegations of a former Law Minister that corruption envelopes the top echelons of the Supreme Court also.

The Executive sees nothing amiss in ignoring the warning of the leader of opposition while recommending a person for appointment as Chief Vigilance Commissioner. Corrupt and incapable ministers are retained in the cabinet as if any logical action would violate their 'fundamental rights'.

The parliament continues to be held to ransom by various political parties in apparent furtherance of their narrow interests.

If the trend continues, it may not be long before India is written off as irredeemable.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Corruption in India

Pratyush Sinha who recently retired as Chief Vigilance Commissioner has lamented that one-third of Indians are "utterly corrupt". (He has provided some ammunition for a new advertisement slogan from Amul!) He has also said that half are "border line" which means that one-sixth are honest.

Shanti Bhushan who was the Law Minister in Morarji Desai's cabinet has given a list of 16 former Chief Justices of India to the Supreme Court mentioning that 8 of them were corrupt, 6 honest and 2 could be either way.

It is interesting to note that the proportion of the corrupt among CJIs is more than that among the entire Indian population.

Veerapa Moily, presently Law Minister has taken serious exception to Pratyush Sinha's observation. Moily is typically shooting the messenger.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

China's "downward" progress

China has a huge appetite for natural resources whether they be hydrocarbons, metals or whatever. China is acquiring huge stakes in various mining companies worldwide. This is an excellent business and geo-political strategy. Cost of acquisition is now pretty low thanks to the global economic crisis. When the crisis comes to an end, strategic  control of natural resources wll help China to continue to grow much faster than other economies.

It is now reported that China has started delving deeper into the ocean bed through a submersible called Jiaolong named after a mythical sea dragon. China and Japan are miles ahead of the U S, France and Russia in exploring the deep oceans. Here also, the main objective seems to be to get a stranglehold on precious minerals and other natural resources. It appears that China is as far-sighted as its neighbour India is myopic.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Manmohan Singh's moral decline

It used to be said that the toughest job in India was that of the prime mnister Manmohan Singh because he had to carry along with him many centrifugal forces speaking in divergent voices. Each of these forces was equally fastidious and queasy since their individual demands were many and, thanks to political compulsions, very sensitive to parochial issues. But gone are such days. Manmohan Singh has discovered that politics is the art and chicanery of making the impossible possible and trading off ethics for survival.

Corrupt ministers are tolerated. Honest and empathetic pronouncements of the Supreme Court are treated with disdain. Unbecoming dissent and discord among cabinet ministers are alchemised as freedom of expression in action. Inappropriate comparisons are made with the cabinets of Nehru and Indira Gandhi.

Manmohan's fall is as abrupt as it is inexplicable. Now the toughest job is that of spokespersons of the Congress party who have to justify the unjustifable and explain the inexplicable and thereby defend the utterances and actions of the prime minister.. One pities the likes of Abhishek Singhvi and Jayanthi Natarajan whose discomfort is all too patent. Manish Tewari of course continues to be comfortable and consistent in his belief that he and Congress are infallible.

Misuse of Freedom?

A pastor's threat to burn a copy of Koran kept the entire world on edge for the past three days. True, the American laws on individual's liberty do not permit the government from embargoing such acts of lunacy. Luckily better sense seems to have prevailed on the pastor and it is now unlikely that he will go ahead with his threat.

In the meanwhile, a comparable ominous development is taking place in Germany. A director of Bundesbank, the German central bank, Thilo Sarrazin has recently written a book titled "Germany does away with itself: How we are gamblng away our country". The author accuses the immigrants of not integrating with the host country. Sarrazin, ironically in charge of risk control in the Bank, has made provocative observations about different religions in his book. His views were generally well received by the German public though the sharpness of comments was criticised. Deeming the book as politically incorrect and reminiscent of Hitler's Mein Kampf, the Bundesbank sacked the writer from its Board. The question that now arises is who is more intolerant, the person who voices deviant/inflammatory views or the organisation that punishes an employee for his incendiary comments made in his personal capacity?

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Google vs Microsoft

Google and Microsoft do not let go any opportunity to belittle each other. The Texas government has recently initiated an enquiry into Google's implementation of "Search Neutrality". As a search engine, Google is expected to be impartial in ranking various websites . Google contends, perhaps rightly, that its obligation is only to users of its services and not to various websites which are ranked in the results. The following excerpts from Google's Public Policy Blog are revealing:

"Texas inquires on our approach to competition

Friday, September 3, 2010 at 4:13 PM ET

Posted by by Don Harrison, Deputy General Counsel

We've always worked hard to ensure that our success is earned the right way -- by building great products, not locking in our users or advertisers. That said, we recognize that as Google grows, we’re going to face more questions about how our business works.

As Search Engine Land first reported, we've recently been approached by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office, which is conducting an antitrust review of Google. We look forward to answering their questions because we’re confident that Google operates in the best interests of our users.

Occasionally, we’re asked about the “fairness” of our search engine -- why do some websites get higher rankings than others? The important thing to remember is that we built Google to provide the most useful, relevant search results and ads for users. In other words, our focus is on users, not websites. Given that not every website can be at the top of the results, or even appear on the first page of our results, it’s unsurprising that some less relevant, lower quality websites will be unhappy with their ranking.

The Texas Attorney General’s office asked for information about a number of companies whose cases have been well publicized. Here is some background on them:

•Foundem -- the British price comparison site that is backed by ICOMP, an organization funded largely by Microsoft. They claim that Google’s algorithms demote their site because they are a direct competitor to our search engine. The reality is that we don’t discriminate against competitors. Indeed, companies like Amazon, and Expedia typically rank very high in our results because of the quality of the service they offer users. Various experts have taken a closer look at the quality of Foundem’s website, and NYU professor James Grimmelmann concluded, “I want Google to be able to rank them poorly.”

•SourceTool/TradeComet - SourceTool is a website run by parent company TradeComet, whose private antitrust lawsuit against Google was dismissed by a federal judge earlier this year. The media have noted that TradeComet is represented by longtime Microsoft antitrust attorneys, and independent search experts have called SourceTool a “click arbitrage” site with little original content.

•myTriggers - Another site represented by Microsoft’s antitrust attorneys, myTriggers alleges that they suffered a drop in traffic because Google reduced their ad quality ratings. But recent filings have revealed that the company’s own servers overheated, explaining their reduced traffic.

We work hard to explain our approach to search and how our ranking works, and we also listen carefully to people’s concerns. We’re looking forward to working cooperatively with the Texas Attorney General’s office, and we strongly believe our business practices reflect our commitment to build great products for the benefit of users everywhere. "