Routine Activity Theory Implications on Increasing Crime Rate in Indian Society

Cohen and Folsen’s Routine Activity Theory of Crime, appeals to me at an intellectual level to understand the increasing rate of crime in Indian society. However, it contradicts my personal philosophy about human beings. The theory presumes that every human being basically has a criminal tendency and is capable of crime. I believe that human beings are inherently good and each human being irrespective of the crimes they have committed is capable of good deeds. Hence, I will try to discuss the theory without bias and balance the two opposing views. If I sound partial towards my philosophy, then forgive me from the goodness of your heart.

1.      Introduction

The theory was based on analysis of US crime data of 1947-1974. During this period the average income of families increased, number of people below poverty line decreased, education levels improved, and unemployment levels decreased. However, the rate of violent crime in urban areas   increased – rape (174%), assault (164%), robbery (263%) and homicide (188%).

The Indian urban society is showing similar trends since liberalization in 1990s. While growth, income, economy, facilities, education etc. has significantly improved in urban areas, the rate of crime has increased exponentially. Before, in 1960s and 1970s, others would ostracize a middle class person if he were publicly involved in criminal activity. Now, nearly every second person is involved in a corrupt and unethical activity openly. Though we blame it on deteriorating social values, this theory helps us understand why we compromise the values and participate in a crime.

2.      Concept

The theory states that “structural changes in routine activity patterns can influence crime rates by affecting the convergence in space and time of three minimal elements of direct contact predatory violations: (1) motivated offenders, (2) suitable targets, and (3) the absence of capable guardians against a violation”. Lack of any one of these reduces crime. However, the level of control exercised by the guardians has a direct impact on crime. Even if motivated offenders and suitable targets remain the same, if control reduces, crime increases. The theory states that income of the offender does not have any impact on his desire to commit crime and contradicts the popular notion that people with less income have a higher propensity to commit crime.

Source: Wikepedia

Now this can be understood in Indian context. The number of people living away from their traditional homeland has increased as more people are living in nuclear families or as singles in different cities. The change in social behavior has changed the routine activity of people as social controls of family and community have decreased. These aspects reduce the worry of motivated offenders on how their community will judge them if they participate in unethical behavior. Secondly, the same aspect makes suitable targets more vulnerable to crime as protective layers have reduced. Hence, due to this changing social structure, motivated offenders and suitable targets have both increased. With it, the corruption in law enforcement agencies has reduced control. The sum total of it all has increased the crime rates in Indian urban areas.

3.      Effect

Then the theory states that motivated offenders cooperate to strengthen their efficiency in criminal activities. On the other hand, the potential victims join hands to gain collective strength to protect themselves from the attack. The challenge becomes bigger for potential victims when high-net worth individuals undertake criminal activities. The potential victims risk of victimization increases.

From the Indian context, the driver for change in social values has been the thirst for money and power. The higher level of ambition for being powerful and materialistically successful has motivated people to break the traditional social norms and move towards corruption and crime. Previously, the lack of a good criminal justice system was compensated by strict controls from family and community. Now all the three guardians have decreased control and the value of rewards gained from criminal activity is high. The other factor to consider is that voluntary help groups and social support groups are less in India; hence, the potential victims do not get the desired protection. As Cohen said – “it is ironic that the very factors which increase an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of life may also increase the opportunities for predatory violations”. Crime has become the by-product of freedom and prosperity as it has enmeshed itself in routine activities of daily life in Indian urban society.

Closing Thoughts

My personal belief is that for every action, especially criminal or unethical activity, a person needs to ask whether they need to involve themselves in it. When one accepts rewards for the wrong reasons, one cannot avoid punishment for the wrong reasons also. Hence, why go for the wrong rewards in the first place; and if one has received them, why not return them? When one is in a financially strong position and survival does not depend on income from criminal activity, why not refuse to undertake that activity. No one can involve another in a criminal activity if the participants do not wish for any monetary benefits. Hence, to enjoy the benefits of life, say no to crime and unethical activities.

References:

Routine activity theory - Crime Prevention Division – By Cohen and Folsen

 

Satyagraha For Freedom From Corruption

Gandhi ji, in his book “History of Satyagraha in South Africa” narrates the coinage of the term Satyagraha and the journey of the movement. It is an amazing story of sacrifice, determination, and moral courage. Hence, I wondered whether we can use the concept to fight corruption in this century.

The irony is that Gandhi ji started the Satygraha movement in South Africa because Europeans passed unfavourable laws for Indians. They were scared of Indian traders and professionals taking a huge slice of the business, hence passed laws to restrict their liberty to live and trade freely. Greed was at the crux of it since there were plenty of natural resources in South Africa for Europeans, Blacks, and Indians. Now India is being destroyed by the greed of its leaders and public.

Gandhi ji’s story stands in stark contrast to the Anna Hazare led fight against corruption. Hazare’s was packaged as Gandhian inspired struggle but as results showed it was far from it. Hazare took the stance of my way and high way on the Lokpal Bill, whereas Gandhi ji believed in negotiation. Moreover, Hazare’s was a publicity driven exercise of a few fasts and he quickly distanced himself from it when he faced failure. Another aspect was that though thousands turned up in support at the initial stage, no one made use of that energy constructively and directed people to do something more than shout slogans on the streets. Hence, the euphoria disappeared after a short while, as the educated middle class needed an action plan to maintain their commitment.

It brings back to our understanding of Satyagraha. We generally confuse it with “passive resistance” and it was the same situation when Gandhi ji developed the concept a century back. Below are few points from the book:

1)      Satyagraha

Gandhi ji considered Satyagraha as a soul-force. The Satyagrahies never used physical force even when they had the capability for it. In Gandhi ji’s word – “Satyagraha is soul-force pure and simple, and whenever and to whatever extent there is room for the use of arms or physical force or brute force, there and to that extent is there so much less possibility for soul-force. These are purely antagonistic forces in my view, and I had full realization of this antagonism even at the time of the advent of Satyagraha

2)     Passive resistance

The term “passive resistance” originated in Europe as a weapon of the weak. It was generally used when other options of fighting were not available. It was a method used by people without voting rights, or lacking public support. The people were not averse to using arms for attaining their goals. But they did not go for it because they didn’t think they would succeed with it. Hence, passive resistance was more of a strategic manoeuvre than commitment to non-violence.

3)    Difference between the two

Gandhi ji described the fundamental difference in the concepts in the following paragraphs -

 “The power of suggestion is such that a man at last becomes what he believes himself to be. If we continue to believe ourselves and let others believe that we are weak and therefore offer passive resistance, our resistance will never make us strong, and at the earliest opportunity we will give up passive resistance as a weapon of the weak.

 On the other hand if we are satyagrahis and offer satyagraha believing ourselves to be strong, two clear consequences result from it. Fostering the idea of strength, we grow stronger and stronger every day. With the increase in our strength, our satyagraha too becomes more effective and we would never be casting about for an opportunity to give it up.

 Again, there is no scope for love in passive resistance; on the other hand, not only has hatred no place in satyagraha, but it is a positive breach of its ruling principle. While in passive resistance there is a scope for the use of  arms when a suitable occasion arrives, in satyagraha physical force is forbidden even in the most favourable circumstances. Passive resistance is often looked upon as a preparation for the use of force while satyagraha can never be utilized as such. Passive resistance may be offered side by side with the use of arms. Satyagraha and brute force, being each a negation of the other, can never go together.

 Satyagraha may be offered to one’s nearest and dearest; passive resistance can never be offered to them unless of course they have ceased to be dear and become an object of hatred to us.

 In passive resistance there is always present an idea of harassing the other party and there is a simultaneous readiness to undergo any hardships entailed upon us by such activity; while in satyagraha there is not the remotest idea of injuring the opponent. Satyagraha postulates the conquest of the adversary by suffering in one’s own person.”

 4)    Freedom From Corruption

Considering the above definition of Satyagraha and the differences highlighted by Gandhi ji, I haven’t seen very many noteworthy cases of mass movement of Satyagraha. Hazare’s movement just entailed short-term sacrifice and not a long-term struggle. When the public disappeared so did he.

The Satyagrahies courted prison and lived a simple life to fight for their cause. Hence, the question is that do we lack commitment and determination for long-term struggle to root out wrong habits. Is it possible and realistic to expect people to make these sacrifices in the present age of instant gratification. Can we expect Indian public to take a vow not to take or give bribes and kickbacks? Will it be expecting too much from the citizens to sacrifice a few luxuries. Will the public stay committed to the cause or leave it when it gets bored, to participate in the next novel thing.

We need to seriously think of eradicating corruption on this Independence Day. India has come a long way in one century but the corruption is eroding its sheen and destroying the country from within. We must not forget the sacrifices a whole generation of Indians made to ensure that the next generations live with freedom. Let us pledge to keep our souls free of greed.

Wishing all Indians a Very Happy Independence Day.

References:

History of Satyagraha in South Africa by M.K. Gandhi 

The Money Worshipers

money worshiper

The Global Index of Religion and Atheism Report 2012 results indicate that just 59 percent of world population was religious last year. Even India, the land of prayers and spirituality is showing a declining trend in belief in God. In 2005, 87% Indians believed in religion. While in 2012, 81% Indians declared themselves religious.

In Indian society,  the focus has shifted on earning money in the last decade. Money has become the new God.

The belief is that money makes one happy, though psychological studies show it is an open question. Some studies show that money does contribute to happiness; some show that beyond a point, money doesn’t add anything to happiness quotient. On the other hand, the law of diminishing returns applies to money as well. Nassim Taleb analysed that after a certain point, the pleasure in earning more money is less than the fear of losing it.

I don’t have the answer to whether money makes a person happier. Yes, it does provide a whole lot of comforts. But beyond that, there are others aspects of life that contribute to happiness. So the question is why we see more people willing to compromise their morals for the sake of money. One hears often this explanation from a person who is compromising morals for money – “You know the world has changed. What to do?” Basically, they are saying – “I have changed and I want to blame my greed on the society rather than take individual responsibility”. We want to avoid analyzing our thoughts and motives deeply, because we will get very unpleasant answers about ourselves.

A joke really sums up these thoughts – A man bought a new Mercedes and parked it in front his house for neighbors to see. While he was getting out of the car, a truck drove close by, and disjointed the door of the car. The man called the police, who came immediately. The man said – “This truck driver damaged my car,  see my car door”. The police officer said – “Sir, do you realize that your arm is also detached”. The man replied – “Oh shit, my Rolex is damaged”. It might sound far-fetched that a person doesn’t realize physical damage to self, but most of us do ignore the internal damage pursuit of money causes us.

Quite a few of our prayers to God revolve around money. God, get me this deal (subconsciously – I will earn a lot of money). God, give me a good spouse (subconsciously – a rich spouse so that I can live in luxury). We are not above bribing God too. We promise to do x,y, z if we get what we want. However, if we face difficult times our faith disappears. We are unhappy and miserable. We don’t think that God may have gifted us the sword to cut our greed. We ourselves can remove the chains tying us to the greed.

Rabindranath Tagore in Gitanjali displays his profound understanding of the same. The English translation of the incredible verse is below:

He whom I enclose with my name is weeping in this dungeon. I am ever busy building this wall all around; and as this wall goes up into the sky day by day I lose sight of my true being in its dark shadow.

 I take pride in this great wall, and I plaster it with dust and sand lest a least hole should be left in this name; and for all the care I take I lose sight of my true being.

 I came out alone on my way to my tryst. But who is this that follows me in the silent dark? I move aside to avoid his presence but I escape him not.

 He makes the dust rise from the earth with his swagger; he adds his loud voice to every word that I utter. He is my own little self, my lord, he knows no shame; but I am ashamed to come to thy door in his company.

 ‘Prisoner, tell me, who was it that bound you?’

 ‘It was my master,’ said the prisoner. ‘I thought I could outdo everybody in the world in wealth and power, and I amassed in my own treasure-house the money due to my king.

 When sleep overcame me I lay upon the bed that was for my lord, and on waking up I found I was a prisoner in my own treasure-house.’

 ‘Prisoner, tell me, who was it that wrought this unbreakable chain?”

 ‘It was I,’ said the prisoner, ‘who forged this chain very carefully. I thought my invincible power would hold the world captive leaving me in a freedom undisturbed.

 Thus night and day I worked at the chain with huge fires and cruel hard strokes. When at last the work was done and the links were complete and unbreakable, I found that it held me in its grip’.”

For all our human insight and wisdom, we have tied ourselves in chains. We don’t want to break them, as it will require a lot of strength, so we continue to complain about them. We forget, a rose blooms on a stem of thorns.

Closing thoughts

 When we think about happy times, most of us have some memories of childhood. It was the age of innocence where we couldn’t even count money. All that mattered was the love of our family and the mischief we could get into with our friends. We walk such a long distance in our adult life to pursue things, than be blissful internally. It is out of fashion to discuss it, as the cynics will call us utter fools out of touch with reality. So let me open the question to you.

References:

  1. Global Index of Religion and Atheism Report: Number of Atheists Increased on Global Level
  2. Gitanjai – by Rabindranath Tagore 

 

Human Rights Risk Management Process

Bangladesh Building Collapse

The fire in a nine-story factory building in Bangladesh killed 400 people. More than 600 people remain unaccounted for. It housed five garment factories that supplied to international brands – J.C. Penny, The Children’s Place, Dress Barn, Primark, Wal-Mart etc. The workers were asked to come to work even when cracks appeared in the building the previous day.

Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of clothes and the workers get the lowest compensations. Just around USD 37-40 per month. The question arises why are the multinational organizations not following the UN Guiding Principles for Human Rights protection. The reason is simple; they want to show higher and higher profits to the investors.

In Delhi, in Munirka one will find numerous small factories full of workers making export garments. A friend of mine also ran one. I had bought a few shirts from her at cost price ranging from Rs 300-500 (USD 6-10). In one international visit, I found the same shirts selling in range of USD 15-30. The fivefold increase in price was because of the brand tag attached to the shirt.

The multinational buyers push the prices down and some supplier gives a rock bottom price. The others are forced to match that price to get the business. End result is that basic facilities are not provided to the workers and they work at really low wages. Unknown workers are paying with their lives in developing countries to satisfy the growth targets set by CEOs to earn their bonuses and keep investors happy.  It is the dark side of capitalism which organizations want to hide.

In most companies, human rights risk management is not a focus area. The 2013 Global Risk Management Survey conducted by RIMS identified seven risks related to human resources among the top fifty risks. Though worker injury and harassment were included there was no specific emphasis on human rights risk management.

The risk management team can conduct annually or bi-annually a human rights risk management assessment. It requires attention not only from human resources perspective but from operational, financial, legal and reputational risks perspective. Any breach can result in huge losses.

Here are some of the steps mentioned in the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and guide “Investing the Right Way” issued by Institute of Human Rights and Business.

1.     Review the Human Rights Policy Statement

Human rights risk management is emerging as an important issue, especially with multinationals entering emerging markets and developing countries. They are expected to protect and respect rights of workers, communities and society. Investors can play a crucial role by influencing companies to promote human rights relating to gender equality, child labor, rights of indigenous people, land acquisition, mineral processing etc.

Hence, companies need to publish Human Rights Policy Statement on their websites. The UN Guiding Principle 16 states –

 “As the basis for embedding their responsibility to respect human rights, business enterprises should express their commitment to meet this responsibility through a statement of policy that:

(a) Is approved at the most senior level of the business enterprise;

(b) Is informed by relevant internal and/or external expertise;

(c) Stipulates the enterprise’s human rights expectations of personnel, business partners and other parties directly linked to its operations, products or services;

(d) Is publicly available and communicated internally and externally to all personnel, business partners and other relevant parties;

(e) Is reflected in operational policies and procedures necessary to embed it throughout the business enterprise.”

As a first step risk managers need to check whether the organization has a human rights policy statement and the above mentioned steps have been adhered to.

2.     Human Rights Impact Assessment

The second aspect of UN Guiding Principles is for companies to establish human rights due diligence processes. Guiding Principle 17 states:

 “In order to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their adverse human rights impacts, business enterprises should carry out human rights due diligence. The process should include assessing actual and potential human rights impacts, integrating and acting upon the findings, tracking responses, and communicating how impacts are addressed. Human rights due diligence:

(a) Should cover adverse human rights impacts that the business enterprise may cause or contribute to through its own activities, or which may be directly linked to its operations, products or services by its business relationships;

(b) Will vary in complexity with the size of the business enterprise, the risk of severe human rights impacts, and the nature and context of its operations;

(c) Should be on going, recognizing that the human rights risks may change over time as the business enterprise’s operations and operating context evolves.”

Human rights risk management is complex and challenging. If ignored, they can increase political risks and deteriorate relationships of the organization with the government. For example, Tata Motors wished to establish Nano manufacturing plant in Singur, West Bengal. The government allocated agriculture land using 1894 land acquisition rule, meant for public improvement projects, to take over 997 acres farmland. The farmers protested with help of activists and the then opposition leader Mamta Banerjee. Tata Motors moved out of West Bengal and established the factory in Gujarat. Multinationals looking for large tracts of land to establish factories are facing similar challenges in India.

Another aspect to look into is that scrap, waste disposal, sewage, environment pollution etc. from factories can impact food, water and health of local communities.

Decision needs to be taken whether investments should be made in countries or states with poor human rights record. In India, the Naxalite area is extremely conflict prone and business operations can have severe human rights impact.

Risk managers should evaluate the strategy and operations of the company from human rights, environmental, social and governance factors. The companies can face operational risks (project delays or cancellation), legal and regulatory risks (lawsuits and fines) and reputational risks (negative press coverage and brand damage). The impact assessment should be done from investors, customers, employees, society and supplier perspective. Identify business owners for the risks and devise appropriate risk mitigation plans to address adverse impact.

3.   Grievance Mechanisms

UN Guiding Principles state that victims of corporate related human rights abuse should have access to judicial or non-judicial remedies. Companies should provide some remedies themselves and cooperate in the remediation process.

UN Guiding Principle 29 states –

“To make it possible for grievances to be addressed early and remediated directly, business enterprises should establish or participate in effective operational-level grievance mechanisms for individuals and communities who may be adversely impacted.”

However, this isn’t followed by the companies in true spirit. “A Vigieo analysis of human rights records of 1500 companies listed in North America, Europe and Asia revealed that, in the previous three years, almost one in five had faced at least one allegation that it had abused or failed to respect human rights.”

Ideally the investors in the company should ensure that grievance mechanisms exist and address human rights issues. The transparency and disclosure of the same in annual reports would highlight the financial, legal and reputational risks. However, the investors don’t seem to be bothered by it.

See the case of Apple. It reported  Gross Profit Margin – 42.5%, Net Profit Margin – 26.7%, Revenue Per Employee – $ 2,149,835 and Net Revenue Per Employee – $ 573,255. It has 43000 employees in US and 20,000 outside US. However, Apple contractors hire an additional 700,000 people to engineer, build and assemble iPads, iPhones and Apple’s other products.

An Apple supplier in Taiwan, Foxconn was recently in the news for its workers attempting suicide. As per reportsWorkers are required to stand at fast-moving assembly lines for eight hours without a break and without talking. Workers, sharing sleeping accommodations with nine other workmates, often do not know each other’s names. They do not have much time to get to know each other. The basic starting pay of 900 RMB($130) a month – barely enough to live on – can be augmented to a more respectable 2,000RMB ($295) only by working 30 hours overtime a week.”

See the difference the company earns per employee and the payment made to the supplier’s employees. Apple shows profits at the expense of lives of Taiwanese workers.  The workers don’t have much of a grievance mechanism in China as the government stated that the suicides are within the normal suicide rate. Can Apple investors sacrifice some profit margin for safety and security of the contractual workers?

Another old example is the class action suit since 2001 on Wal-Mart Stores that involved 1.5 million current and former Wal-Mart female employees. It is the largest workplace bias case in US history.

 4.    Human Rights Reporting

 The biggest challenge is that most of the human rights abuses are not reported. The victims of human rights exploitation hold little power in comparison to the exploiters. They can hardly take up the might of powerful businesses when they are struggling to get basic food and shelter. Secondly, in the developing and emerging countries, corruption levels are generally high. Hence, media, law enforcement agencies etc. are bribed by the power players to silence the victims. However, with internet and social media, things are gradually changing. People have a voice and collectively they can fight.

UN Guiding Principle 21 lays out the requirement for companies to communicate human rights impact externally. It states -

 “In order to account for how they address their human rights impacts, business enterprises should be prepared to communicate this externally, particularly when concerns are raised by or on behalf of affected stakeholders. Business enterprises whose operations or operating contexts pose risks of severe human rights impacts should report formally on how they address them. In all instances, communications should:

(a) Be of a form and frequency that reflect an enterprise’s human rights impacts and that are accessible to its intended audiences;

(b) Provide information that is sufficient to evaluate the adequacy of an enterprise’s response to the particular human rights impact involved;

(c) In turn not pose risks to affected stakeholders, personnel or to legitimate requirements of commercial confidentiality.”

 As per the UN principles, the reports must cover appropriate qualitative and quantitative indicators, feedback from internal and external sources including affected stakeholders.

Risk managers can evaluate the reports and the reporting process to ensure that all risks are properly addressed. They should evaluate whether cautionary steps are taken and nothing is being done to exacerbate the situation. They should highlight severe or irreversible risks to the management to ensure appropriate decisions are taken.

Closing Thoughts

 Inequalities in income are the main cause of human rights abuse. The rich want to get richer at the expense of blood and sweat of the poor, and sometimes life. The diamond manufacturers and sellers took the right step to publish that they do not source blood diamonds. Since 2003, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), supported by national and international legislation, has sought to certify the legitimate origin of uncut diamonds. Trade organizations – International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA) and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) – representing virtually all significant processors and traders – have established a regimen of self-regulation.

Other industries, be it technology, electronics or textile manufacturers,  need to come out with similar steps to stop human rights abuse. The risk managers have a vital role to play in it. If we do not do anything, we are cheating this and the next generation of their right to live happily.

References:

  1.  Investing the Right Way – A Guide for Investors on Business and Human Rights – By Institute of Human Rights and Business
  2. Singur farmland-  Tata Motors conflict
  3. Apple financial ratios
  4. Foxconn Case Study
  5. Diamond industry sales clauses
  6. 2013 RIMS Global Risk Management Survey

 

Indian Banks Give Customer Service for Money Laundering

money laundering

Recently a string operation exposed money laundering services provided by some Indian private banks. The employees and bank managers were caught on camera advising the disguised reporter on ways and means he can convert his illicit money into legal money.

1. Caught in the act

Some of the helpful advice given by bankers included:

  1. Open multiple accounts so that the amount remains below the reporting limits. Do not deposit over Rs 10 lakhs (Rs 1 million) in a single instance.
  2. Obtain a demand draft from a Cooperative Bank and deposit the draft with us. Cooperative Banks do not require an account hence it will be easy to obtain a draft. Since cash would not be directly deposited and private banks do not have to check the source of funds, the deposit will not raise any alerts.
  3. Route the cash money through another bank to avoid detection.
  4. The Income Tax act prohibits keeping cash in bank lockers. However, if you do not inform the bank staff, they can look the other way.
  5. Open an NRI account and slowly transferring the money offshore. We need a passport and visa for opening an NRI account. No pan card required.  Deposit Rs 25 lakhs per month. Better still start by opening a NRO account.

The bankers offered to visit the client’s residence to open an account and collect the money. One has to watch the video clippings to see the level of customer service provided by the bankers. No one can say they were not being helpful.

2. Standard response from senior management

As expected the senior management of the banks denied all knowledge, claimed they maintained highest ethical standards, suspended the branch managers and the staff, and commenced an internal investigation. But this is an open secret. Every business person in India knows that the banks will help them convert black money into white and transfer illegal money. If it was not so, how can a parallel black money economy exist in India for so long. Did the expose really shock anyone?

3. Lip service by regulators

Of course Reserve Bank of India has given detailed guidelines on Know Your Customer and submission of suspicious transaction reporting. There is only theoretical application of guidelines of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Anti Money Laundering (AML) standards and on Combating Financing of Terrorism (CFT). The Financial Intelligence Unit of India received just over 30,000 suspicious transaction reports in 2011-2012. It received 100,00,000 cash transaction reports. If you read these numbers in reference to the size of banking business in India, it would not be even .01% of the total yearly transactions.

In February 2012, the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation had said that Indians have $500 billion of illegal funds in foreign tax havens, more than any other country. Some reports estimate the amount over a trillion.

Hence, can we actually believe that regulators and bankers are serious about preventing money laundering in India? The annual report 2011-2012 of Financial Intelligence Unit doesn’t really mention any investigations done that would make the bankers uncomfortable. In India the detection and investigation capabilities of financial regulators is still in nascent stages.  Unlike US which has full-fledged organizations and systems to check money laundering.

Closing Thoughts

In the pursuit of growth numbers bankers are willing to compromise ethics and legal requirements. However, in Indian society because of the high level corruption, most businesses are doing the same. In such a scenario, it amounts to pot calling the kettle black. Unless we really get serious about removing corruption, as a society we can’t succeed. Some things required are – public to withdraw support from companies using unethical practices to succeed, regulators take organizations to task, and government prosecutes politicians and other individuals for dealing with illicit money. Till this happens only media will benefit by doing exposes to improve their ratings.

References:

  1. Cobra Post Expose
  2. Financial Intelligence Unit India
  3. Black Money Market in India

Bharti Walmart India – Internal FCPA Investigation – Part I

Walmart after the Mexico US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigation identified India operations as a high risk. It commenced an internal investigation with the help of KPMG India and law firm Greenberg Traurig. Recently CFO and five officers of legal team were suspended. The legal team’s job entailed procuring licenses required for stores and other real estate approvals, taxation etc. Bharti Walmart has opened 18 stores till date. Hence, the suspicion is that these officers paid bribes to get the licenses.

According to the Economic Times article, multiple government permissions are required from the government. The Retail Association of India lists 51 different approvals from 32 different agencies. Seeing the corruption index of India and the way government departments’ function, I would be very surprised if an organization manages to obtain all the relevant licenses without any grease payments. Hence, the question is how will the organizations manage to function without paying bribes?

1.      Dubious Dealings

Considering the huge operations of Bharti group, I would be very surprised if the bribes were paid without senior management approval. Most of the liaisons work has senior managers’ tacit or explicit approval. Therefore, is it right to suspend some after obtaining licenses. What happens in such a case to the license? Will the license be revoked, cancelled, or returned? If not, what is stopping the organizations from first taking the licenses by paying bribes and then doing a clean-up exercise to show their commitment to ethics?

2.      Joint Venture Liabilities

The second issue that crops up is the working of the joint venture in such circumstances.  Let us assume the investigation reveals bribes were paid. In such a situation, will Bharti group be expected to pay back the bribe money? Secondly, if the US authorities under a civil case fine Walmart for FCPA contravention, will Bharti be expected to pay the fine. Seeing the trend the fine could be huge and would wipe out profitability of the company. Moreover, US Department of Justice can pursue criminal liabilities. Then will the Indian officers be implicated for the same.

3.      Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Retail Industry

The government has recently allowed FDI in retail industry. The challenge is that in India, most of the retail operations operate by paying bribes at different levels. Hence, a foreign investor will not get a level playing field as the anti-corruption laws of their country bind them. The situation is serious. For instance, the next stage after obtaining licenses would require importing goods.  The FCPA strictly prohibits paying bribes to custom officers whereas in India this is a common business practice. Can an organization wait for months to get its stock cleared by the custom officers? Now the foreign investors will analyse the reward versus risk scenario of their business plans for investing in retail industry in India.

Closing Thoughts

The case opens up interesting aspects of risks of doing business in India. Corruption poses serious obstacles in doing fair business dealings. The FCPA and laws of various countries strictly prohibit paying bribes to foreign officials. The US government has followed some stringent measures against companies contravening the laws. Under such circumstances will the joint ventures between foreign investors and Indian counterparts work?  India cannot change overnight, so what is the solution? Share your thoughts with me on this.

References:

Bharti Walmart suspends CFO, legal team due to FCPA bribery probe

Two Lessons from Purti Group Investigations

Nitin Gadkari, the BJP President, is under the scanner in respect to his Purti group. The allegations are that multiple layers of companies were created with numerous ghost investors. Some of the companies exist only on paper and the directors are all employees of Mr Gadkari. The Income Tax department and the Registrar of Companies have commenced investigations after the stories appeared in the media. I have a couple of questions about the whole thing.

1.     Unqualified Directors

Until fourteen months back, Mr Gadkari was the chairman of Purti Power and Sugar Limited (PPSL). Presently Mr Sudhir Wamanrao Diwe, Mr Gadkari’s personal assistant is the managing director. Moreover, as per media reports “four directors of Purti’s investment companies  - Kawdu Zade, Manohar Panse, Nishant Agnihotri and Sagar Vikaskotwaliwale – are either close associates or employees of Gadkari. While Zade is the accountant of Gadkari’s household, Peens is his driver.” Additionally, the four were directors in 16 corporate companies holding major shares in PPSL before 2010.

A fundamental question out here is why the director’s profession is a big deal. As per company law, any one can obtain a Director Identification Number (DIN) and be a director of the company. The DIN application requests for the residential address of the person. No details regarding professional qualifications or background are required.

The joke doing the rounds is that every driver now wants to be Nitin Gadkari’s driver. Seriously speaking, the onus of responsibility of appointing well-qualified directors rests with the promoters. It is their choice. In most cases, directors are friends and acquaintances of Chairman or CEO. Hence, the question is should the Corporate Laws be modified to ensure the quality of directors appointed?

2.     Fictitious Addresses of Companies

The second issue is that a number of group companies of PPSL are not operating from the addresses given to the Registrar of Companies. IT department visited the addresses in Mumbai including Damji Shamji Trade Centre at Vidyavihar (West), Dube Chawl at Andheri Kurla Road, two locations at Fort and Gupta Compound at Thane.

Further, as per Times of India – “four shareholding companies — Seven-Eleven Sales and Marketing Pvt Ltd, Ashwami Sales and Marketing Pvt, Nivita Trades Pvt Ltd and Rigma Fintrade Pvt Ltd — were shown as operating from the Vidyavihar office. Interestingly, at least three of these offices had earlier shown a room at Dube Chawl at the Andheri Kurla Road as their address. TOI’s investigation had found that the offices never existed in the chawl.

TOI had earlier reported that some two dozen companies had unverifiable addresses.”

As per the Companies Law while getting incorporated promoters have to give the correspondence address till its registered office is established. Secondly, the law states:

“(1) A company shall, on and from the fifteenth day of its incorporation and at all times thereafter, have a registered office capable of receiving and acknowledging all communications and notices as may be addressed to it.

(2) The company shall furnish to the Registrar verification of its registered office within a period of thirty days of its incorporation in such manner as may be prescribed.”

Since the companies were incorporated a decade back, the basic question is where the communication was sent from the Registrar of Companies. Secondly, at the time of registration and future years why the Registrar of Companies missed out that a multi-crore business is being run from a chawl . Is that not sufficient to raise alarm bells? How did the auditors of the company approve the corporate governance standard and where did they audit the books?

This would not be a one off case. There would be numerous cases where the registered address is fictitious despite that fact that Company Law prescribes serious penalties for furnishing incorrect information at the time of incorporation. Hence, the question is why are the review and investigation procedures at Registrar of Companies not improved to reduce wrongdoing?

Closing thoughts

The case has highlighted the prevailing malpractices in the corporate world. As the investigations are going on more dirt will be uncovered. However, the government instead of making a Congress – BJP power struggle, should introduce legal processes and procedures to curb these misconducts. The government should modify the new companies bill to address these loopholes. Lastly, the auditors liability for signing off on corporate governance standard of the company should be clearly mentioned when the basic tenants are not met.

References:

I-T heat on companies linked to Nitin Gadkari

Coal Gate Scam – Should Auditors Comment on Policy Decisions?

The Coal Gate Scam report has squarely put the loss of Rs. 1.86 lakh crores (USD 35. 097 billion) at the Prime Ministers door. Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report states that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to introduce competitive bidding for allocation of coal blocks way back in October 2004. However, his office indulged in delay tactics of approving the revised policy. This resulted in allocation of coal blocks according to the old policy introduced in 1993. Failure to use competitive bidding resulted in a loss of Rs. 1.86 lakh crores (USD 35.097 billion).

This raises interesting questions from the corporate sector perspective. Should auditors see the validity and applicability of policies? Alternatively, should they restrict their role to the compliance of existing policies?  What happens when a policy or standard operating procedure of an organization is redundant however is still being followed? If competitors are using better processes, technology and policies than the organization, what role should auditors play in it?

1.     Delaying Policies Becomes a Political Game

According to the CAG report, the Screening Committee allocated blocks and the process lacked transparency. Allegations are that private companies with political links benefited at the expense of others. However, competitive bidding policy could have been introduced with an amendment from the administrative desk. Prime Minister’s role becomes critical as he was also fulfilling the responsibilities of Minister of Coal. CAG says he made it into a bigger issue that the policy should be changed for all minerals and not just coal; hence the process for making such large-scale policy change was different. This allowed the coal ministry to follow the 1993 process.

This happens in the corporate sector too. For instance, an employee or a small group suggest a change to an existing control process that will take just one man-month effort. Some others with vested interests do not wish for the change to occur. However, they can’t reject the suggestion for strengthening controls without looking bad. Hence, to stall the project, they add a few more suggestions which make the project larger into 24 man-months effort. Now the change can only happen once the huge budget is approved. Since, the project is not priority; it stays on the bottom of the budget approval list. Hence, status quo remains and subsequently someone exploits the control weakness to conduct a fraud.

In such a situation, as an internal auditor would you highlight the initial attempt to strengthen controls and put responsibility on the other group for delaying the change? Do we as internal auditors go back in such depth to find out what projects or policies were kept pending approval and they had such a huge negative impact?

2.     Auditor’s Role in Policy Review

The Supreme Court has upheld CAGs power to comment on policies. Justices R M Lodha and A R Dave bench said “Do not confuse the constitutional office of CAG with that of an auditor of a company or corporation.” This response was in respect to a petitioner’s contention that CAG should restrict itself to auditing expenditure and not comment on the government’s rational of policy decisions. The bench had further added – “CAG is not the traditional Munimji to prepare only balance sheets. It is constitutionally mandated to examine the efficiency, effectiveness and economy of the decisions of the government in using resources. If the CAG will not do this, then who will?

This viewpoint raises some interesting points for internal auditors in the corporate world. Should auditors be commenting on strategic or policy decisions of the company?

For instance, the company decides to use print media for advertising open job positions. However, it is much cheaper to use job portals and social media. These significantly reduce the cost of recruitment. Should an auditor restrict himself to checking that all expenditure is authentic or question the hiring policy?

Another aspect is the strategy decisions. Let us say, Company A decided not to enter into the emerging markets, whereas Company B operating in the same industry entered the emerging markets and increased the profitability tremendously. Should an auditor audit strategic decisions, and not just say that it is management responsibility. Where is the line of demarcation drawn in respect of corporate internal audit?

Institute of Internal Auditors new standard applicable from 2013 ‘Achievement of the organization’s strategic objectives’ states that – “The internal audit activity must evaluate risk exposures relating to the organization’s governance, operations, and information systems regarding the achievement of the organization’s strategic objectives”.  Hence, should we conclude that evaluating strategic decisions comes under internal audit purview?

3.     Auditor’s Role in Calculating Presumptive Loss

The CAG audit reports on 2G licenses and Coal Block allocations have raised a storm due to the calculation of presumptive loss figures. The government’s contention is that CAG should not be calculating the opportunity loss, as policy decisions are taken to benefit the public.

CAG however, contended that – “We had never commented on government policies, neither did we ever say that auction was the only route or that all natural resources should be auctioned. In both 2G spectrum licences and coal block allocations, we had only commented on the ‘effectiveness or non-implementation’ of policies. The presumptive loss or windfall gain figures are only to highlight the serious issues of an act of commission during implementation of government policies.”

In the corporate world, internal auditors make an observation and restrict their recommendations to suggest improvements. In rare cases, a cost-benefit analysis is done on the impact of the control weakness. We generally fail to draw management attention to the seriousness of the issue, as they are no numbers given. Should corporate internal auditors change their approach to audit work to give a cost-benefit analysis for their observations? Will that garner more attention from the management and initiate action?

Closing Thoughts

These are questions worth debating about and there are no easy answers. The business world internal auditors can learn quite a few lessons from the government auditors. They are doing a good job of raising contentious issues. Below is a poll to assess your views.

References:

  1. CAG not a ‘munimji’ of govt’s balance sheet: SC
  2. CoalGate: CAG does not let Manmohan, PMO off the hook
  3.  Performance Audit of Allocation of Coal Blocks and Augmentation of Coal Production (Ministry of Coal)

Why Auditors Fail To Detect Frauds?

When media reports a new fraud, the first few thoughts of public are – “What were the auditors doing? How did they miss it? Were they involved?” The auditors get labelled as morons, conspirators or criminals. Generally most people jump to the conclusion that auditors had malafide intentions and became accomplices to get more business. While this may be true in some cases, auditors need the benefit of doubt. They sometimes genuinely miss the cases despite their best effort to diligently perform their duties. This post is an attempt to explain why auditors miss the frauds.

I want to share a joke with you before I explain. Two drunkards were walking on a railway track. The first said to other – “I am really tired, I hope the steps will end soon.” The second replied – ‘Yeah. I wish they had put the handrails at a better height, my back is killing me.”

1. Auditors responsibility to detect frauds

We can laugh at this, but if I say most of us don’t see clearly, there will a lot of angry reactions. So I am not saying anything, and am requesting you to watch this video.

Now did you see the moon walking bear?

Auditors have the same problem. They have to to give a true and fair opinion on the financial statements. They are not required to focus on detecting frauds. Hence, the audit programs are not designed to conduct tests to  detect fraud symptoms and probability. Therefore, with no specific coverage auditors fail at detecting frauds. Extract from Section 143 of New Companies Bill is given below:

The auditor shall make a report to the members of the company on the accounts examined by him and on every financial statements which are required by or under this Act to be laid before the company in general meeting and the report shall after taking into account the provisions of this Act, the accounting and auditing standards and matters which are required to be included in the audit report under the provisions of this Act or any rules made thereunder or under any order made under sub-section (11) and to the best of his information and knowledge, the said accounts, financial statements give a true and fair view of the state of the company’s affairs as at the end of its financial year and profit or loss and cash flow for the year and such other matters as may be prescribed.”

2. Auditors punishment on failure

The second question frequently debated is – “Should auditors be punished if they fail to detect frauds?” Section 147, clause 4 of New Companies Bill states auditor’s liabilities in respect to fraud in the following words:

Where, in case of audit of a company being conducted by an audit firm, it is proved that the partner or partners of the audit firm has or have acted in a fraudulent manner or abetted or colluded in any fraud by, or in relation to or by, the company or its directors or officers, the liability, whether civil or criminal as provided in this Act or in any other law for the time being in force, for such act shall be of the partner or partners of the audit firm and of the firm jointly and severally and such partner or partners of the audit firm shall also be punishable in the manner as provided in section 447.”

This clause puts auditors on shaky ground. It is difficult to prove innocence once a fraud is detected. How can an auditor state – “I did my work properly, saw these documents, looked at the same audit evidence but didn’t find anything wrong with it.” Most will jump to the conclusion that the auditor knowingly ignored all the evidence. So here is another video. Watch it, and then you will see how this situation can occur.

According to various experiments, 75% of the people failed to observe the person swap in the experiment.

Think of this from an audit evidence perspective. An auditor is checking 100 vouchers with supports. One voucher among the 100 is fraudulent. What is the probability of the auditor noticing it? One can safely assume that it will be less than 25%.

Is it surprising that auditors fail to detect frauds after seeing these experiments. Though they are trained, they are human. The same psychology works with them too.

Closing thoughts

The success rate of detecting frauds will be higher when the auditors – external and internal – have specific responsibility to detect frauds. Without the specific responsibility, regulators can continue to complain and investors will share their anguish, however all will be futile. The laws need to be devised to hold someone responsibly for detecting frauds. What is your opinion?

A modified version of this article was published in the Middle East Accountant Magazine.

LIBOR Scandal – What Went Wrong?

This week Barclays Plc made banking history for the wrong reasons. The unheard occurred – the chairman, chief executive officer and chief operating officer – all resigned within one week. While chairman of Barclays, Marcus Agius took the blame saying “the buck stops with me“, initially Bob Diamond said the incident was “inappropriate“. An understatement or lack of adequate vocabulary for describing a manipulation with such huge impact on the financial markets? LIBOR is used as a benchmark for prices of approximately $ 350 trillion of financial products. British and US authorities fined Barclays $453 million!

In the parliamentary hearing yesterday, Mr. Diamond did modify his viewpoint and said “behavior is inexcusable“. In the hearing, Mr. Diamond implicated Bank of England and the Financial Regulatory Authority. With a dozen more banks under investigation, this story of rigging interest rates  isn’t going to blow over. It is just going to get murkier with time.

Watch this video to get an inside view on the procedures for calculation of LIBOR and the lack of monitoring by the regulators. Some speakers have given volatile views, but these are definitely worth listening in case of such a serious breach of business ethics.

In the last couple of months, titans of banking industry are facing the public ire. First Jamie Dimon was called in for questioning by US senate, yesterday Bob Diamond was questioned by UK parliament. The winds are blowing in a different direction; public is outraged by lackadaisical attitude of bankers towards ethical practices. Since the financial crises, many have written about the need to change culture within the banking organizations. However, from the frequent scandalous news stories, it doesn’t look that the wizards of the industry are understanding the social strategic inflection point.

With senior bankers’ ambition to join billionaires club, even the best minds have developed blind spots. The ambition is for more and more money; they have forgotten that more is not always better. We need banking CEOs to have the ethical mindset of Dalai Lama to bring about a positive change in the industry. Is it possible, what do you say?

References:

Barclays CEO Bob Diamond Resigns After Rates Scandal – Business Standard