Friday, 25 May 2018

The pot calling the kettle black

The pot calling the kettle black

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has got some cheek. Instead of apologizing to the nation for letting Nirav Modi rob the Punjab National Bank (PNB), which being a public sector lender is under his watch, he is pointing fingers at others.

“What are our auditors doing? Both internal and external auditors really have looked the other way or failed to detect. I am sure the profession of chartered accountants and those who control the discipline of the profession will start introspecting and see what are the legitimate actions that needs to be taken,” this was his first reaction to the Rs 11,400-crore scam.

But what on earth were your doing, Mr. Jaitley? What was your Ministry doing? Isn’t it the line ministry for PNB? Doesn’t it control PNB and other public sector banks (PSBs)? Don’t you have directors on the PNB board? Even if those directors proved to be incompetent, don’t you have any ministerial oversight? What was the Department of Financial Services, which is part of your Ministry and which controls PNB and other state-run banks, doing?

The Finance Minister must answer these questions before hurling allegations, sermons, and homilies at CAs and others. He should ponder over Kabir’s famous couplet: Bura jo dekhan main chala, bura naa milya koye/Jo munn khoja apnaa, to mujhse bura naa koye (I went on looking for bad people but couldn’t find any/But when I introspected, I found that nobody was worse than I).

But, evidently, age-old wisdom is not relevant for him. So, he went on to pontificate that “supervisory agencies… [should also] introspect what are the additional mechanisms they have to put in place to make sure that stray cases don’t become a pattern and it is nipped in the bud.”

But, Mr. Minister, haven’t you already tried a zillion mechanisms? Whatever happened to Indradhanush that you had launched with much fanfare in August 2015? Your Ministry also talked about Indradhanush 2.0 in February 2017. You had also constituted something called Banks Board of Bureau under former CAG Vinod Rai. What did it do, if at all it did anything? It certainly has failed to even discover the fraud at PNB, let alone check it. Had a junior official not retired last year, we won’t even have come to know about the scam.

The Modi government controls the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Serious Frauds Investigation Office, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the Financial Intelligence Unit, etc. Then there are the Reserve Bank of India, the Central Vigilance Commission, the Comptroller & Auditor General, a myriad of vigilance departments, auditors, parliamentary committees, and so on. And yet the fraud continued for almost eight years. So much for na khaoonga, na khaane doonga.

When Jaitley is not sermonizing, he is offering a running commentary to the unfolding events: “…these kinds of developments have a cost to the country and cost to the taxpayers. It is a direct cost and it has an indirect cost, which impinges upon the bank’s capacity as a lending institution and, therefore, it obviously impinges upon developmental finance.” Isn’t all this obvious? Is it the job of a finance minister to give lessons in economics to the nation?

There was also a lesson in moral science: “With regard to lack of ethics that a faction of Indian business follows, it is incumbent on us as a state, till the last legitimate capacity of the state, chase these people to the last possible conclusion to make sure that the country is not cheated.” With as much success as they chased Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya! And with as much sincerity they showed in bringing the chief of, in the words of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “Naturally Corrupt Party” Sharad Pawar to book! The Modi government gave the country’s second highest civilian award to Pawar. What next? Some Padma award for Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, and Vijay Mallya?

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