Truth Made-off leaving trail of cooked books

Over the years this column has reported on its fair share of scandals in the financial world, often in the biggest this and biggest that. Today we report on two such biggest – one from, you would have guessed, New York and the other India. The ingredients that make up these frauds are the usual suspects – persons too clever for their own good; greed; an unsuspecting public; poor oversight and accountants sleeping on the job. The historical economist and author Charles Kindleberger expressed it in slightly more elegant language, writing that “swindling is demand-determined, following Keynes’s law that demand determines its own supply, rather than Say’s law that supply creates its own demand. In a boom, fortunes are made, individuals wax greedy, and swindlers come forward to exploit that greed.”

Whatever it is, the vehicle used in the Madoff scandal is one that came to be known as a Ponzi scheme, a swindle offering unusually high returns, with early investors paid off with money from later investors. The scheme got its name from the Italian-born American resident who promised clients a 50% profit within 45 days, or 100% profit within 90 days.

While Ponzi was a known itinerant crook who served time on more than one occasion, Bernard Madoff, was a star of Wall Street, former chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market and founder of Bernard L Madoff Investment Securities LLC, which had operated successfully for over four decades. And to support Kindleberger’s theory, the victims of what may turn out to be a US$50 billion swindle were not the small-town residents buying postal coupons, but top names in banking, show business, the intellectual class and many on the list of the wealthy. HSBC said its losses were about one billion US dollars while the Royal Bank of Scotland estimates its losses at US$600 million.

Investigators estimate that it will take more than two years to complete their work, but it is unlikely that they will ever come up with even reasonably precise figures. It is the nature of a Ponzi scheme that early investors do benefit, quickly receiving their initial capital from subsequent investors.

What must surely annoy is that once again there is failure of regulatory oversight. Last month, SEC Chairman Christopher Cox expressed grave concern at the “multiple failures over at least a decade to thoroughly investigate these allegations [at Madoff] or at any point to seek formal authority to pursue them,” ordering belatedly an internal review into the agency’s failure. And it is the same SEC that facilitated a three-employee accounting firm to audit Madoff on an annual basis. Brokerage firms like Madoff Securities are required to be audited by firms that were registered with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board created after Enron to help prevent frauds.

Amazingly, the SEC allowed a waiver, which it extended on numerous occasions, to the audit requirement in respect of privately held brokerage firms. It is not surprising therefore that the auditors Friehling & Horowitz failed to detect the large Ponzi scheme run by Mr Madoff. Ironically, in its latest extension of the rule, issued December 12, 2006, the SEC said it had determined that allowing such firms not to register was “consistent with the public interest and the protection of investors.” Well, well, well.

Now to India
India was not too long ago held up as the country where the Beatles would go to seek spiritual renewal. The country lost its innocence with the Indira Gandhi emergency of 1975, but still the myth of innocence prevails with former Australian cricket captain writing in the aftermath of the Mumbai bombing in November that India had been “robbed of its innocence.”

Now in a twist of irony, one of its top information technology companies that have led the way in the in-sourcing credited with the country’s economic boom, Satyam Computer Services Ltd, has found itself embroiled in a scandal dubbed by commentators as “India’s Enron.” The word ‘Satyam’ in Sanskrit means ‘truth.’ Last week the company’s founder and chairman, B. Ramalinga Raju, resigned amid revelations of widespread accounting fraud in the company.

Mera Naam Raju
The resignation came in a five-page letter to the company’s board in which Mr Raju apologised to the shareholders, taking personal and sole responsibility for the fraud involving bogus accounting over several years, including inflating profits by more than tenfold between July and September of last year. As if making a concession the soft-spoken Raju with trademark paternal charisma, said he was prepared to face the law.

Raju was like a corporate deity in India, not only for having built a $2 billion IT empire bringing in foreign currency, but also for launching the Emergency Management and Research Institute, a national, not-for-profit 911-like emergency-response service funded by $50 million of his and his family’s money. Three months ago his company received the Golden Peacock award from a group of Indian directors for excellence in corporate governance.

Juxtaposed against Satyam or Mr Raju’s personal accounting misdeeds, such benevolence raises doubts about human nature and the philanthropy with which we associate businesspersons. In his letter Mr Raju disclosed that Satyam had inflated its operating profit for the three months ended September 30, 2008 to 6.49 billion rupees ($136 million) from 610 million rupees reported previously, while revenue was inflated to $565 million from $443 million. It had reported an operating margin of 24 per cent which was actually 3 per cent. On the asset side, Satyam’s balance sheet as of September 30 had a non-existent cash balance of over $1 billion (remember Parmalat?); nonexistent accrued interest of $79 million; an understated liability of $258 million and an overstated debtor position of $103 million.

Several investors in Satyam were considering suing PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC, the company’s auditors, which like all the top auditing firms benefited from the fall of Enron’s auditors, Arthur Andersen. The investors say the auditors are supposed to check on the accounts and that they rely on the auditor’s report. In a careful meaningless statement PWC said that they had worked “in accordance with applicable auditing standards and were supported by appropriate audit evidence.” That statement really says nothing since it is no more than a repetition of the standard words used in any audit report.

Creative explanation
While the firm was right to explain that their obligations for client confidentiality precluded the possibility of commenting on the alleged irregularities, how do they expect the public to have any confidence in a profession where top auditing firms repeatedly fail to detect massive frauds year after year? Like Raju, Pricewaterhouse’s assurance that it “will fully meet its obligations to cooperate with the regulators and others,” seems neither a concession nor an option.

Raju’s explanation was a bit more interesting and philosophical, even if far too defensive. His letter which will go down as one of history’s most creative and longest resignations states in part that what had begun as a small gap between real and reported profits continued to grow over the years, like “riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten.”

It is probably too early to assess the impact of the scandal described by PC Gupta, the federal minister for company affairs as a “shameful act” while Jagdish Malkani, country head at TAIB Capital Corp described it as “a monumental scandal [that] is terrible for the Indian IT industry.”

Some things, however, are fairly certain. There will be calls for more oversight and regulation of public companies, which happened in the aftermath of Enron and the other Dotcom failures. Indeed Mr Gupta has already said that government would take coordinated action with the Securities and Exchange Board of India. Meanwhile and more immediately, there are two major risks making India very uncomfortable – the likelihood that the Satyam is not unique in creative accounting and the same thing is happening in other public companies. That would scare away foreign investors. Equally serious is the potential disruption of services to the lucrative US outsourcing market. The timing could not be worse. As the Obama administration responds to the highest unemployment rate in the US for decades, tempted by protectionist instincts, outsourcing must be high on the agenda.

Satyam was already facing a World Bank ban for improper financial dealings with a top bank official. Along with the World Bank, Satyam’s clients include General Electric Co, General Motors Corp, Nissan Motor Co, Applied Materials Inc, Caterpillar Inc, Cisco Systems Inc. and Sony Corp. Will the other Indian IT firms be chosen to take up any slack or will these customers go elsewhere?

The almost co-incidental revelations of Madoff and Satyam have no doubt come about because a bear market drives the chickens home to roost while no one cares about corporate governance in a bull market. In Guyana here in the nether world – neither bull nor bear – we never seem to care. The scandals show that those who appear as good guys may be putting on a front. Madoff is described on his company’s website as having “a personal interest in maintaining the unblemished record of value, fair-dealing, and high ethical standards that has always been the firm’s hallmark.” Raju was the personification of piety and generosity.

China and India – Reshaping the world economy (conclusion)


Not a day goes by without something being written about the miracle of China and India and the inevitability of these great countries graduating to superpower status. Their praises are sung in hyperbolic rhythms by a body of writers who have created a whole new cottage industry dedicated to them. The only question in the minds of many of these writers is not whether but how soon the two Asian giants – or as they are sometimes called the dragon and the elephant – will return to the glory days of four centuries ago when they were the dominant forces in world trade. One estimate is that by mid-century, India and China’s share of global output is expected to grow from 6% now to around 45%, spurred both by exports and burgeoning domestic purchasing power as more and more of their more than 2 billion people copy and can afford to live western lifestyles. All the measures suggest that China and India will overtake Germany and Japan and dwarf every other economy except America.

China is spending like a runaway train with expenditure on transportation infrastructure in the five years from 2001 to 2005 exceeding all the expenditure in the preceding fifty years. Spurred by the need to impress the world at the Summer Olympics later this year, it has built its new airport terminal which is 17% larger than Heathrow, faster than it would take London to complete an enquiry to consider whether it would add another terminal. Nothing seems impossible anymore so that when China announces that it will complete an expressway from Beijing to Taiwan’s capital Taipei by 2030, no one considers the challenges of crossing the 150 km Taipei Straits. What China does in one year, other countries seem unable to achieve in as many as ten.

More statues of Jesus

Some questions have however been creeping into the writings suggesting that the world needs to consider more than the marvel of these two giants which, even before their resurgence, had given the world so much. Among China’s many gifts going back more than one millennium are the clock, technology in hydraulics, shipbuilding, weaving and spinning machines, paper and ink, and more leisurely comforts like the toothbrush and playing card. Then like now India’s gifts were in know-how including mathematics from the decimal point to the Pi (the numerical ratio of the circumference to the diameter). Complacency overtook them both as power and politics placed a brake on their development.

Once again, in the blink of an eye, both countries have become so big that economies around the world – from its neighbours in Asia, Europe and North America – are now dependent on them for a full range of goods and services. In their separate ways, China’s workforce and work ethic and India’s information technology and back-office services have brought down prices for the family, the office and the factory. It is ironic that more statues of Jesus are made in atheistic China than are made in the entire Christian world! There are few products in the world that do not include some component or know-how from these giants and it would not be surprising if the harshest critics of out-sourcing among television commentators were wearing shoes or garments made from China. Indeed even those thousands in San Francisco protesting China’s Tibet policy during the passage of the Olympics Torch in their city last week might have been similarly attired. There simply is no getting away from the growing dominance of China and India.

Economic and military power

Yet, nothing should be taken for granted and admiration can easily turn to hatred if these countries behave like superpowers usually do, flexing their muscles and showing no regard for domestic and international concerns. China, for example, is accused by its critics as being willing to work with the most extreme regimes, as in Darfur, if only to source raw materials for its huge factories. Its size and economic power are fast translating into military ambitions and it has its sights set firmly on Taiwan which is now treated as a pariah by so many of its former friends, afraid to offend China. China’s patience is legendary but will it lose it and “reclaim” Taiwan and will the world stand idly by?

As world demand for Chinese goods and Indian technology increases, it brings with it increasingly affluent domestic populations aspiring to higher standards of comfort, if not luxury. To meet those growing demands, China and India are displaying an increased appetite for natural resources, contributing to the driving up of prices of commodities including food around the world. But as their factories produce the goods to meet both international and domestic demand, they add to the pollution problem of their people and the rest of the world. It is troubling that neither country, along with the USA and Australia seems willing to enter into binding commitments on pollution controls. They will need to learn a lesson from America when it comes to the use of economic and military might.

The mighty challenges

With the Communist Party still calling the shots in China and national and provincial politicians wielding considerable influence in India, corruption remains high in both nations. China is still to safeguard the intellectual property of manufacturers, the music industry and the arts. The state of the laws generally has not kept pace with development and cases of broken contracts and theft of intellectual-property are often not worth pursuing. India has a Western-style legal system that produces decisions that rank with the best the House of Lords can offer. But as they say, one cow does not make a herd and the country’s court system generally moves at a snail’s pace.

India’s growth can also suffer at the fiscal level. Budget deficits are high and with the considerable infrastructure deficit and the army of poor and hungry Indians wanting a piece of the Puri, it will require sustained growth to generate the taxes to meet the necessary demands on the federal and state budgets. Disease thrives on poverty and even as India promotes health tourism, the potential for a pandemic is ever present as AIDS and TB threaten hundreds of millions.

India has been relatively fortunate that it has been able to graduate from a low growth rate despite failing infrastructure, a bureaucracy controlled by a 10-million babu raj exercising impenetrable red tape, and an inhuman caste system that seems as unmovable as Mount Everest. The politicians in India are finding it difficult to erase the Gandhi/Nehru philosophy of self-reliance and restrictions on bank lending and foreign investment which impose limits to growth and development.


Despite all the economic achievements of China and India, each year tens of millions of youth join the job queue, some in front and others behind the estimated 200 million yet to reap the benefits of the Asian Miracle. The heavy hand of China was inadequate to prevent more than 57,000 labour strikes while social rights activists in India lament the failure of economic achievements or social programmes to reach the poor. In a federal democracy that could be a recipe for political instability which can derail any economic train.

China’s critics complain about the country’s labour practices which permit low wages paid to workers forced to perform under dehumanizing conditions, about large state subsidies, violations of WTO Rules including dumping at below market prices and an undervalued currency, the Chinese yuan. As the benefits of industrialisation stretch into the countryside and bring urban/rural wages in a more tolerable relationship, farms are being destroyed and farmers deprived of their lands creating serious tensions between the party and the people.

For all its greatness and growth, China is considered hugely wasteful. Even as the world marvels at its 9.5% growth rate in 2004, it should not ignore the fact that $850 billion – half of GDP – was mainly plowed into already-glutted sectors like crude steel, vehicles, and office buildings. Its factories burn fuel five times less efficiently than in the West, and more than 20% of bank loans are bad.

China is also confronting its biggest problem and one that can cause it to lose its competitive edge, its one-child policy introduced as a population control measure. By 2015, its working-age population will begin to decline and in 20 years, an estimated 300 million Chinese will be over sixty years old with no guarantee of any state assistance. With a growing middle class and persons less reliant on the State, can China continue its communist ways and treat any future Tiananmen Square-type uprising with the same heavy hand that it used in 1989 and will the world remain spineless as it tramples the rights of the Tibetans as it is doing now?


For all the dazzling performance of China and India, their continued success will take more than cheerleaders. They currently only account for 6% of global gross domestic product, half that of Japan, and while the signs are good, their success is not guaranteed. The expectations of the hundreds of millions of their people will only be satisfied if the economies of these countries continue to grow at rates that guarantee jobs for the tens of millions entering the workforce annually. That is a huge responsibility and for a world that depends on the goods and services from those countries, any setback in the two countries would have a huge and possibly disastrous effect.

China and India – Reshaping the world economy


To be honest, this article was prompted by China’s harsh treatment of the people of Tibet who would just like to live in peace, free from the heavy hand of Beijing and to practice their Buddhist lifestyle. It is taking place in a glory year for China as the Olympics are held in that country whose government will simply not have anyone spoil their party, not even crusaders for human rights or nationalist respect. Even though such consideration and debate do not rightfully belong to this column – the first in a two-part article on the two fastest-growing economies of the world – such consideration is not entirely irrelevant since economics have social and other consequences as economic power sparks other ambitions and attracts fear if not respect. Indeed this perhaps explains why no country is planning to boycott the Beijing Olympics and why human rights abuses in China are discussed in only the most veiled terms.

In Guyana we must never ignore human rights issues anywhere, but an equally important consideration in any discussion on China and India is the importance of the right mix of policies to spur economic growth and development. Indeed the experiences in China and India are not entirely dissimilar to us here where we attempted to practice an extreme form of socialism beginning with the Sophia Declaration in 1973 and ending with Hoyte’s version of Glasnost, his embrace of the IMF and Cheddi Jagan’s continuation of the programme despite his personal and his party’s antagonistic position to the IMF. We too experienced good growth for some years but this fell off amid other conflicts and the economy has survived in great measure because of debt write-offs.

Reclaiming their rightful place

When in 2006 the Prime Minister of India proclaimed that India and China are on the way to reclaiming their rightful places in the world economy, the world did not see that as some idle boast or threat but rather a simple factual statement. America and the West called for globalisation and China and India opened their doors, not completely, but enough to cause huge consternation and fear among segments of the American population at the way these two countries are shifting the tectonic plates of the world economy. What makes the story of China and India is not only their similarities but their differences – ideologically, historically, culturally and economically. One is dictatorial while the other is democratic; the court system of one would be considered too free by the other; China is Communist but pro-business while India is free-market but at times highly suspicious of business; one emphasizes its human infrastructure while the other promotes the low wages of its people; one still operates with a Five-Year Development Plan while the other seems to worship not any omnipotent, all powerful, many handed deity but the invisible hand made famous by Adam Smith.

But it is not the differences that cause leading journalists like Lou Dobbs to worry – rather it is their similarities – up to recently they were considered part of the Third World, too large and too poor to succeed, over-populated and almost unmanageable. Yet before the world could appreciate the release of the latent powers of numbers, India and China have become the fastest-growing economies giving them the claim to superpower status in less, far less than twenty years. It is true that they will never be able to reclaim the position they held in 1600 when their combined economies accounted for more than half of the world’s economic output or even their position in the late nineteenth century as two of the largest economies in the world.

The decline

Several things intervened between then and now, including the meteoric rise of the United States of America, which with a workforce driven by a lust for things material and powered by enterprising migrants escaping from the famine in Ireland and war in Europe grabbed the lead in agriculture, apparel, and the high technologies of the era, such as steam engines, the telegraph, and electric lights. There were too the Marshall Plan in Europe and the rise of Japan and South Korea in Asia.

Yet, the decline in both absolute and relative terms of China and India had little to do with such external forces but was directly the result of inward-looking yet adventurous policies by these countries often on the brink of war, with daggers drawn and guns pointing at each other. For several decades political considerations dominated and shaped domestic policy as the countries were held spell-bound by their history of invasion and colonialism and the philosophies of great founding leaders – Mao Tse-tung in the case of China and Mahatma Gandhi for India, one a revolutionary who believed that power lay in the barrel of a gun the other a believer in the principle of non-violence. What would these great leaders think about the country they either killed or died for?

Ten years after announcing the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Chairman Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward caused the death of 30 million in four years of famine while his Cultural Revolution in 1966 saw the decimation of the intellectual and bourgeois class, the closure of universities and destruction of books. His policies according to the author Robyn Meredith in the book The Elephant and the Dragon, may have succeeded in the creation of a society in which private property was practically non-existent but also in a generally downward spiral in the well-being of the country and the people.

Signal left and turn right

The transformation began with the rise to power of Deng Xiaoping who beginning the reform in the countryside, broke up the collectives and introduced the rudiments of a market economy. Over 125 million jobs were created by 20 million entrepreneurs who rediscovered the capitalist instinct of the Chinese. While significant the changes were not nearly enough and it was time to look outward. Instead of heading to Europe and North America, however, Deng went into his own backyard, Malaysia and Singapore, whose Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew he admired deeply and with whom several learning visits were exchanged. His “special economic zones” were characterized by employer-friendly labour laws and low taxes all the while formally remaining loyal to socialism. There is the joke of Deng being asked by his chauffeur which way to turn as they reached a junction. Deng, the quintessential pragmatist instructed the driver: “Signal left and turn right.”

Now fifty years on, the transformation is like the world has never seen. What makes the situation even more mind-boggling is what has taken place within the past decade. In 2000, 30% of the world’s toys came from China. In 2005 that grew to 75%. One out of every three pairs of shoes made today is the product of Chinese labour and between 1996 to 2004 exports of electronic equipment had increased 800%, from $20 billion to $160 billion. When last did we hear that Small Is Beautiful, the title of a series of books by E. F. Schumacher.


Pained by the experiences of colonialism and exploitation in which the masses of India lived in abject poverty while as a colony the country was the gem on the Royal Crown, Gandhi was a great believer and practitioner of economic independence while opposing mass industrialisation, preferring traditional means of production, symbolised by the spinning wheel on the Indian Flag. Even after his assassination in 1948, the Congress Party of India, first under Jawaharlal Nehru and later other members of the dynasty continued the policy of self-sufficiency, shutting India from the outside world, equally difficult for Indian producers to export as for foreigners to invest in the vast country. One of India’s best known companies, the Tata Group, formed in 1868 became a key part of the country’s freedom movement and out of its nationalist commitment built its mills to supply the steel for the country’s successive five-year development plans.

The productive capacity of the country was, however, kept in check by a rigid policy of licensing so that even a manufacturer of motor bikes could only produce as many as his licence permitted. With socialist instincts running through its veins, the government found its finances in perpetual deficit as it made efforts to create jobs which were in turn protected by costly guarantees that were a severe strain on companies. Ironically, it took the cataclysmic second oil shock sparked by the 1991 Gulf War to cause India to awake to the reality that having 330 million people, or 40% of the population, in total poverty was neither moral nor compatible with sustaining its position as the world’s largest democracy. Narasimha Rao who became Prime Minister after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, appointed the economist Manmohan Singh, current Prime Minister, as Finance Minister. Unlike China, India took the route of the IMF, devaluing the currency, removing import and export restrictions and expensive bureaucracy.

It is the result of the vision of these leaders and the number and energy of their people that is causing such consternation among Westerners and Americans in particular who see their solo superpower role under threat from the rapid growth of these two economies. For China the growth rate has been averaging 10% per annum while India’s at 6% may seem modest except when it is compared with the 3% in the US and other western countries. Indeed the admired has become the admirer and Lee Kuan Yew told a Forbes Conference in 2006 that he has been visiting China “every year and each time he is surprised at the rapid changes”.

These two countries both have young populations, high Asian saving rates and have put in place measures which barring some catastrophe can keep growth in the high single-digit range for decades. Admittedly they have come from a low economic base but with the substantial catching up they still have to do, there is no reason for them to slow down.

To be concluded next week.