Friday, September 30, 2011

The 2-G Tragicomedy continues

It is unbelievable that Salman Khurshid dismisses the note -or OM, the Office Memorandum- submitted by the Finance Ministry to the prime minister as bereft of "life". One does not fully understand what he means by this. But it is clear that he does not want us to take the note seriously. The note was prepared with factual inputs from various ministries and also Prime Minister's Office! If such a note is not to be taken seriously, one is at a loss to understand what should be taken seriously.

The CBI says Chidambaram alone could not have reversed Raja's unlawful action in allocation of spectrum. Only the cabinet could have done that! If this argument is accepted, CBI should start investigating the entire cabinet. Obviously when under political pressure, an institution will be confused about what it is communicating.

Chidambaram claims the issue (of relevance of the note to PM and his own integrity) is closed. Great! The accused himself decides that he is not guilty. Why do we need the CBI and the courts? What do they know which PC may not know?

Pranabda asserts (hesitatingly?) that he did not agree with conclusions emerging from the factual note though he forwarded the note to PMO. Did he note his disagreement in the note? No, how could he foresee the subsequent developments and the inevitable pressure from Soniaji to protect PC?

If the government survives despite all these shenanigans, it shows how weak the opposition is.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Manmohan Singh joins the panoply of jokers

One would have thought that Manmohan Singh was incapable of joining the ranks of Manish Tewari and Kapil Sibal in tearing the opposition to pieces. The prime minister has proved us wrong.

1) Manmohan Singh has discovered that the opposition is out to destabilise polity. He argues that since UPA government has been voted back to power after the "issues of 2006 or so" those issues should not be raked up by the opposition now. The murky issues of "2006 or so" are becoming clear only now. So what is the opposition supposed to do? Sit back and compliment the government ?

2) The honorable prime minister has now courageously blamed Dayanidhi Maran for genesis of 2G scam. "There was pressure from Maran to force the pricing of 2G spectrum out of the purview of a Group of Ministers set up to deal with the issue". What a great leadership! First yield to pressure; then when things go horribly and unconcealably wrong, blame the coercer!

Beware, Manish Tewari and Kapil Sibal. The prime minister has started eclipsing you both.

Joke of the year

According to media reports, CBI has asserted in the Supreme Court that the Union Government cannot give instructions to it on what it should probe ! "The CBI is an autonomous body and we don't take instructions from anyone." Who said the CBI does not have a sense of humour?

Monday, September 26, 2011

UBS CEO's resignation

19th September: Daily Mail Reporter:

"UBS boss Oswald Gruebel says he won't resign as rogue trader loss hits £1.5bn

UBS boss Oswald Gruebel said he would not be resigning, as the bank raised its estimate of losses racked up by London-based rogue trader Kweku Adoboli to £1.5billion.

Defiant: UBS boss Oswald Gruebel said he would not be resigning

The Swiss bank said the loss, previously thought to be £1.3billion, was caused by unauthorised trades on stock index futures made over the past three months. It said the transactions were within normal limits and slipped through risk controls due to ‘fictitious trades’ in complex financial instruments called exchange traded funds (ETFs), which were used to cover up losses.

UBS also countered suggestions that it did not notice the trades until Adoboli came forward, saying the 31-year-old trader – charged last week with fraud and false accounting – had been responding to the bank’s inquiries.

Mr Gruebel said calls for his resignation were ‘purely political’ and that he was ‘not thinking about stepping down’. He added that while he bore ultimate responsibility, he did not feel ‘guilty’ for failing to prevent the costly and embarrassing incident.

His defiant stance comes amid suggestions that Swiss regulators could tell the bank to hive off or close down its investment banking division, which houses the ‘Delta One’ desk where Adoboli worked. Such a drastic response would deal a huge blow to the City, where UBS employs some 6000 workers. "

24th September:

"UBS says CEO Oswald Gruebel resigns

agence france presse

ZURICH, 24 SEPT: Swiss banking giant UBS announced today that chief executive, Mr Oswald Gruebel has handed in his resignation, which was accepted by the board of directors, in the wake of a trading scandal. Mr Sergio Ermotti has been named as interim CEO effective immediately, a bank statement said, nine days after the arrest of a trader accused of a $2.3 billion fraud at UBS.

While the board “regrets” Mr Gruebel's decision UBS chairman, Mr Kaspar Villiger said in the statement Mr Gruebel “feels that it is his duty to assume responsibility for the recent unauthorised trading incident.”

Mr Villiger praised Mr Gruebel for “his uncompromising principles and integrity”, and acknowledged that during his tenure “he achieved an impressive turnaround and strengthened UBS fundamentally.” The board also said it would “fully support” the independent investigation into the rogue trading and would ensure that “mitigating measures” were implemented to prevent such incidents from recurring."
Is it not surprising that within the same week "uncompromising principles and integrity" dictate exactly opposite moves?
 Mostly in politics, but nowadays in business also, resignations are usually preceded by denials of any such intention. Why is it so difficult to accept that resignations occur due to external compulsions and have nothing to do with uncompromising principles and other utopian ideals?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

PM's conversation with Soniaji

The prime minister, Manmohan Singh had left the country for the United Nations when the political bomb blast occurred in India. A note placed by the Finance Ministry to the prime minister sometime in March 2011 emerged in the public domain through an RTI application and immediately created a furore among the impotent cognoscenti.

The note informed the prime minister that the then Finance Minister, P.Chidambaram could have prevented the 2-G scam. The note was prepared when Pranabda had become the Finance Minister. The war between PC and Pranabda (P vs P) was once again out in the open. PC is alleged to have spied Pranabda's activities not long ago.

Manmohan Singh had reached Frankfurt on his way to New York when he emboldened himself to call Sonia Gandhi to take directions from her on how to handle the developing crisis. The text of the conversation was made available under the Right to Disinformation Act.

"M: Madam, I am speaking from Frankfurt. I request you---  you--- you to please guide me what to say regarding the March note-----
S: This is what I don't like, why should you be frank ? Don't you want to continue in politics?

M: (Apologetically) I am sorry. Please guide me. Do I have your permission to observe omerta if the media wants my reaction to the note?
S: I know you will never grow up. Why are you exposing the Italian connection so amateurishly? If you don't know how to respond expediently, claim that you are observing mauna vratha. Better still, go on a fast against ---- ---.

M: Oh, madam, you know doctors have advised me against any kind of fast.
S: This is the problem with innocents like you. Don'y you know that you can claim to be on fast even though you may have normal food in private. Do you want me to teach you political dharma? There should be no connection between private practice and public pronouncements.

M: Madam, I now under--under--understand. I will sidetrack media's attention from the note.
S: Don't do anything stupid. You better leave it to professionals like Kapil Sibal and Manish Tewari. They know what to say. They will convince the media, "What note? Where is the note? It is all in the evil mind of the opposition. Anyway, PC was never the Finance Minister. There was zero-loss in 2-G allocation. Do you want somebody to prevent zero-loss? What nonsense are you talking? Do you understand?" The media will then realise their folly. Don't worry. If Kapil and Manish fail to convince the people, Digvijay Singh is always there with his foot permanently in the mouth. He is also  endowed with 20-20 vision. He can see the hand of RSS everywhere.

M: Madam, what do I do if--if--if Supreme Swami   ---
S: I know you are as usual confused. You are mixing up Supreme Court and Subramaniam Swami.

M: Madam, yes you are right. What do I do if --if--Subramaniam Court---
S: It is the job of Attorney General to defend you from the hostile Supreme Court. If he does not do that, sack him and find another. If he cannot defend the unlawful, what is he for?

M: Madam, do I have your permission to speak to Pranab and PC?
S: Understand one thing clearly. PC is more reliable and capable. Don't you remember he could make unfair gains even from Fairgrowth Financial Services Ltd. promoted by Ratnakar? You cannot trust Pranabda. He is guilty of occasional spasms of honesty.

M: One last advice from you , madam. The note was received in my secretariat only in the month of March. I have not yet seen it. Should I now have a look at it?
S: I am happy I made you the prime minister. As long as you do not notice what is happening around you, you have my assurance that I will not sack you.

M: Oh, no ! I have misplaced the papers containing the speech I have to make in the UN.
S: Don't panic, Manmohanji. You get a copy from the Italian prime minister. If he is not to be found as is likely, get hold of somebody else's address and start reading it. Try to learn from your colleague, S M Krishna. Good Luck."

Needless to say, Manmohanji was feeling relieved.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mismatch in employment skills

The Economist says,

"The mismatch between the skills demanded by employers and those available in the market is a reflection both of bad choices by students, who have not thought hard enough about what will help them find a good job, and of education systems that are too often indifferent to the needs of the labour market and too slow to change even if they try. It is not just Egypt where the universities provide training for public-sector jobs that are no longer abundant yet fail to equip students with what they need to thrive in a market economy. Out of necessity, India is emerging as a model for tackling these problems, both because its companies have become expert in turning useless graduates into useful ones and because it has allowed industry to take the lead in creating a huge new programme to tackle skills shortages."

Is it so?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mani Shankar Aiyer spews venom

It is always a pleasure to hear or read M S Aiyer though no one would like to be at the receiving end of his sharp comments. Here is what he has commented on the Sports Minister Ajay Maken's epistle to the Prime Minister:

"Printed from Times of India

BA can't write such words, Aiyar on Maken letter to PM

Sep 10, 2011, 03.41AM IST

NEW DELHI: Taking on sports minister Ajay Maken, some would say even personally, former minister Mani Shankar Aiyar on Friday said Maken wrote to the Prime Minister at the behest of someone within the government, saying that "a BA (pass) graduate from Hansraj College" could not write the kind of words used in the letter.

In the letter, Maken had blamed Aiyar for playing an "obstructionist role" that eventually led to huge cost and time overruns in the Commonwealth Games.

Speaking to a news channel, Aiyar - without naming Montek Singh Ahluwalia - called him a "scrooge who runs the Planning Commission". The reference to Ahluwalia came in the context of Maken accusing Aiyar of not being thankful to either the PM or UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Aiyar said, "It was clear to me that without the backing of the PM I wouldn't have even got from this scrooge who runs the Planning Commission even a Rs 600 crore a year that I managed to squeeze out of him, and if Mrs Gandhi wouldn't have been an ardent supporter of panchayat raj as her husband was I don't think they would qualled in front of my demands and therefore I don't think i have to grovel at the feet of the PM and the President. The Congress president and PM understand the nature of my gratitude to them."

As for Maken's letter, Aiyar said, "Firstly, we have to establish the authenticity of this letter. It contains words like 'dichotomous' which I cannot believe that a BA Pass from Hansraj College would know. So, is this really a letter written by him or somebody else cooked it up. So, I have written a letter to Maken yesterday to either certify the authenticity of the newspaper reports or to send me an authentic copy of the letter, because frankly the letter that he has written doesn't seem to either fit in with the character of the man I know."
Aiyar singled out the language of the letter and said, "There are such big big words used that unless Maken had a thesaurus by his side, I don't believe that he wrote that letter, perhaps I don't know may be he will let me know, whether he appended his signature to a draft prepared by someone else." Aiyar said unlike Maken, sports secretary Sindhushree Khullar "is in fact a very highly educated young lady, so it will be interesting to discover whether such a letter was ever written, whether it was authentic and whether it was drafted by Maken himself or whether he was given some assistance either from his own ministry or some other arm of the government of India in preparing that letter."
Asked about Maken's statement that Aiyar did not give credit to either the PM or UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Aiyar said, "I don't think it's the duty of a minister to go around tom-tomming his personal thanks to a Prime Minister."

I wondered why Aiyer is so acrimonious towards Montek Singh Ahluwalia. I chanced upon the following old news item:


Issue Date: Monday, November 27, 2006 The Telegraph

All that glitters is not clout

- Mani daughter wedding a mini-summit, Montek son’s is quiet


Mani Shankar Aiyar with his daughter Yamini and son-in-law Adarsh. Picture by Prem Singh

Nov. 26: One is the father of the bride and a Union minister. But the foreign dignitaries who trooped in for the wedding made the venue look somewhat like a mini Saarc summit.
The other is the father of the groom and one of the Prime Minister’s most trusted men. But the wedding was largely a family-and-friends affair, though the grandeur was not missing.

DoNER minister Mani Shankar Aiyar’s daughter Yamini and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s son Aman got married — not to each other — at ceremonies whose contrasting styles could be taken as beguiling pointers to the subtle shift in the power balance.

Yamini’s wedding to former Union minister Krishna Kumar’s son Adarsh was held today at Aiyar’s 14 Akbar Road residence, with the lawns rocking non-stop to Bollywood and Indipop numbers.
The celebrations have, in fact, been going on for three days and will spill over to tomorrow. But the talking point was the foreign dignitaries who were present.
Among the guests were Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, former Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri and wife Naureen, the Bhutan agriculture minister and high-level representations from Bangladesh, the Maldives and other countries.

Cut to two days ago when Montek’s son Aman got married. The reception was held against the backdrop of the majestic Neemrana fort on the Delhi-Jaipur highway but the guests were mostly friends and family. The affair was not shorn of grandeur but not many political faces were on display.
Such nuggets are unlikely to attract much thought elsewhere but not in Delhi.

Political weathervanes are now busy activating their antennae to figure out whether the weddings offered clues to the changing power climate in the capital.

One pundit had this to offer: the glitz and the guest lists are inversely proportional to the amount of clout the two papas enjoy.
Montek is Manmohan Singh’s handpicked lieutenant and among some 20 technocrats/professionals who are calling the shots at the moment.
The others include members of the Planning Commission and the National Advisory Council; heads of the finance commission and the scientific advisory council; and the interlocutors for behind-the-scenes talks with the US, Pakistan and China.

On the face of it, politicians may appear to be in charge of big portfolios but in reality, their influence is on the wane. Their places are being taken over by highly skilled professionals who share Manmohan’s vision.
Some ministers claimed that colleagues like Arjun Singh, A.R. Antulay and Meira Kumar are not helping politicians by indulging in rhetoric on sensitive issues.
Against such a backdrop, any social occasion that offers a chance to showcase friends in high places becomes a handy barometer, though it need not necessarily reflect the full picture."

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

No impeachmant, no punishment too ?

Justice Soumitra Sen of the Kolkata High Court defended himself in the Rajya Sabha. But the Rajya Sabha was not convinced and voted for impeachment. Realising that he was cornered, Justice Sen resigned from the court. The Lok Sabha will not go through the motions of impeachment. So far, so good. Will there be any criminal proceedings against him for his defalcation? It appears the answer is no.

A similar drama may play out in the case of Justice P D Dinakaran. Is this justice?

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Delayed execution of death sentence

A lively debate is raging in the country regarding undue delays in execution of death sentences. There are people questioning the very wisdom of capital punishment. Since capital punishment is not (yet) outlawed in our country, the Supreme Court has wisely laid down that it is to be imposed only in rarest of rare cases.

Delays in implementation of any judicial decree are to be avoided. Whenever death sentences are awarded by the courts, the accused invariably go on appeals and if and when the judicial appeal process comes to an end they plead for mercy from the President. Delayed responses to such petitions has become the norm. Delays extending over a decade are pretty common.

Do such delays justify automatic commutation of death sentence into life imprisonment? Those who agree with this proposition argue that such inordinate delays are by themselves a cruel punishment and that the accused should not be subjected to another cruel punishment in the form of death by hanging. There is a logical flaw in this argument. The accused plead for mercy because they prefer to live as long as possible. When there is delay in response to their petition, they turn around and claim that not effecting the death sentence in time, that is allowing them to live longer, is a cruel punishment. This is a typical case of eating the cake and having it too.

Attributing cruelty to delayed response of the executive amounts to ignoring the cruelty suffered by the victims' families. 

Saturday, September 03, 2011

A curious case of corporate governance

Everonn Education Ltd., a leading provider of education service has claimed that "it would provide all cooperation to all concerned as necessary to clearly demonstrate its commitment and adherence to principled corporate governance". The company has said this after its CEO was caught red-handed bribing an Additional Commissioner of Income Tax. The non-executive Chairman of the company, J J Irani has since resigned from the Board of Directors. Mr.Irani is a former MD of Tata Steel Ltd.

Why should a company "affirm" its adherence to corporate governance after recklessly violating it? Can it not stop with confirming its readiness to cooperate in enquiries that are bound to follow? Does the company really believe that its claim of adherence to governance is credible? Crisis management requires transparency and frank admission of proven guilt. Mouthing non-existing allegiance to exemplary principles of conduct is a classic case of crisis mismanagement. Will corporates ever learn?

Farther away from home, the happenings at Sino-Forest Company, Canada are another instance of gross violation of principles of governance. The role of Ernst & Young has also come in for criticism. It is not clear how many more cases of corporate chicanery will come out in the open in the near future.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Capital Punishment and President's Accountability

It is moot whether capital punishment should be abolished or not. Convincing arguments exist for both retention and removal. As long as the provision finds a place in our legal scheme of things, it is incumbent on the authorities to perform their related functions diligently and in time. Vexatious delays in the legal processes and clemency proceedings are unpardonable.

Dilatoriness in decisions on mercy petitions is under intense debate now in view of the case relating to killers of Rajiv Gandhi. Four persons were awarded capital punishment by the courts. One of them, a lady, had her sentence commuted to life imprisonment. Since her guilt was not seen to be less gruesome than that of others, this is probably a case of discrimination in the eye of law. The other three pleaded for mercy eleven years back. Their petitions gathered dust in the Home Ministry for five years and in the Rashtrapathi Bhavan for six long years. Are not the ministers and presidents accountable for this inexplicable tardiness?

Perhaps this is one of the few cases where the ex- President Abdul Kalam owes an explanation to the nation.