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Economy

Corporate Regulatory Compliance Might Not be Easy But It Is Simple

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The deliberate deception at Volkswagen along with other events such as the insider trading at ImClone Systems and rogue trading at Bearings Bank all demonstrate that employees will break the law in the course of their employment.

The consequences of criminal acts committed by employees can be very significant indeed. In addition to the legal sanctions levied against the employees themselves, business can be lost through loss of reputation, corporations can face fines running into billions of dollars and senior executives can find themselves being prosecuted because the law was broken on their watch. Given that in many cases the courts are finding that the executive leadership of corporations are also criminally liable how can the executive leadership protect themselves and their companies from being held criminally responsible for the activities of their employees?

The employer-employee relationship is undoubtedly complex. Many employees spend more of their waking hours at work than they do with their families and as such the workplace environment can have a significant effect of employees. Most workplace environments and relationships are positive with employees enjoying social events, making friends and even meeting their spouse at work. Unfortunately some are not so good but whatever the nature of the relationship it will have an influence on the employee that will extend outside of the workplace and reach into many parts of their life.

In fact, it is often said the employer-employee relationship is so complex that the second most significant legal transaction that an individual can complete is to accept a job offer, the most complex being getting married. More complex than buying a house and entering into a mortgage, a binding agreement that can last for 25-30 years. So how can it be that an agreement that can be terminated with two weeks’ notice (or even immediately) is almost as significant as a marriage?

Well, the employer will have a significant degree of control over the employee. In addition to determining where they will be and what they will do for a large amount of their time the employer can control or influence who they spend that time with, the opinions they can share, the clothes they wear and even some of their off duty conduct such as how they present themselves on social media. But most importantly, the reason that the employee accepts this level of control from their employer is the employees need to feed, clothe and provide shelter for themselves and often their family also. They are (in most cases) financially dependent on their employer and therefore the employer will have a very significant influence on the employee.

All business are under pressure. The need to be financially viable, to cover the operating costs, to make the payroll and turn a profit are behind every decision. In a today’s fast moving business world corporations need to be innovative, they need to be efficient and they need to stay ahead of their competition. Add this to the raft of regulatory compliance requirements including employment standards (including Human Rights), Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), consumer protection, financial and environmental codes and regulations we can see that business is complicated and it’s challenging. So, given the complicated nature of the employer-employee relationship and the broad range of regulatory obligations placed on corporations, should the executive leadership be held accountable for the conduct of employees, particularly when the number of employees involved can run into the tens or even hundreds of thousands?

The simple answer is yes they should, and for two reasons. The first is that corporations are in business to make money. Whatever their mission, vision or values, ultimately they are there to make a profit for the owner(s) or shareholders. For this reason they can reasonably be expected to conduct themselves ethically and in accordance with all legal obligations and requirements. To do otherwise would simply be wrong. And the second reason is that as a result of the employees financial dependence on the employer, the employee is, in some respects at least, in a position of weakness. In effect, the employer- employee relationship is not one of peers but is one of servant and master.

As previously stated most employer-employee relationships are positive, but they are still not balanced. The employee has a need to provide food, clothing and shelter for themselves and in many cases their family also. As a result they will be motivated to act in their employers best interest. Their success is mutually dependent upon their employer’s success. The business grows, the employee grows. The business stagnates, the employee stagnates. And if the business fails the employee fails. The employee’s need for the business to succeed will be a significant motivator in determining the employees actions and will influence their decisions considerably.

So how does this make the executive leadership accountable for the conduct of their employee? Aren’t the employees as adults with freedom of choice ultimately responsible for their own actions? For the most part, yes they are. Employees can and will be held legally accountable for their actions which in many cases can result in a criminal prosecution. In recent years there have been a number of high profile (and lesser known) prosecutions where employees have been fined or even incarcerated for criminal acts committed in the course of their employment. But the criminal liability doesn’t end there, and for one very important reason.

In addition to being financially dependent upon their employer, all of the employees actions at work will be conducted in an environment and a culture that is created by and is the responsibility of the corporation’s executive leadership and management. That environment and culture will shape every decision that they make to the extent that on occasion they will act in manner that may be contrary to their own values.

In the course of their employment the employee will be required to perform a number of task throughout the day. That’s life, that’s what they’re there for and it’s a perfectly reasonable expectation for the employer to have. But what happens when the employee cannot complete those tasks despite their best efforts? The likelihood is that they will cut corners, bend rules and even break rules, which could include laws, to get the job done because they are motivated to do so as a result of the need to see the business succeed. At one end of the spectrum this could mean minor infractions. Perhaps they will not follow all of the safety rules, they run in the workshop, they don’t put their safety glasses on or they don’t put their seat belt on between deliveries. No harm, no foul, right? Well, no, that’s never the case, but more importantly at the other end of the spectrum we can and do find employees breaking laws relating to matters as serious as insider trader and large scale regulatory non compliance as a result of needing to see the business succeed and to achieve the objectives required as part of their employment.

So how can the executive leadership protect themselves from being held criminally liable for the ac tions of their employees? This certainly isn’t easy given the number of employees involved, all of whom are free thinking adults with the ability to make their own decisions, but it is simple with just a few simple steps. The first is to never overtly ask an employee to commit an illegal act. It’s that simple. The second is to make it clear that no illegal activity will be tolerated by employees in the course of their employment. And to do this all the employer has to do to do this is to clearly and overtly state in their corporate values that they will conduct all of their business operations in accordance with all legal and regulatory obligations and requirements for all jurisdictions within which they conduct business. By making the statement clearly and overtly no one can hide from the requirement of the statement whatever level that they are at in the company. It’s that simple. The third is to make it acceptable for an employee to say ‘I can’t do that,’ to their supervisor or manager when they are faced with the requirement to do something that they cannot do whilst complying with all necessary legal and regulatory requirements. Whether the task at hand would require the employee to cut a corner by failing to wear their personal protective equipment or to deceive a regulatory body the corporate culture must be such that the employee is able to say ‘I can’t do that,’ without fear or recrimination and the supervisors, managers and executive leaders must accept that and be able pass the message up the chain in the same light because if the business goal cannot be achieved within the law, it is not worth achieving. It’s that simple.

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Economy

The Monetary Policy of Pakistan: SBP Maintains the Policy Rate

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The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) announced its bi-monthly monetary policy yesterday, 27th July 2021. Pakistan’s Central bank retained the benchmark interest rate at 7% after reviewing the national economy in midst of a fourth wave of the coronavirus surging throughout the country. The policy rate is a huge factor that relents the growth and inflationary pressures in an economy. The rate was majorly retained due to the growing consumer and business confidence as the global economy rebounds from the coronavirus. The State Bank had slashed the interest rate by 625 basis points to 7% back in the March-June 2020 in the wake of the covid pandemic wreaking havoc on the struggling industries of Pakistan. In a poll conducted earlier, about 89% of the participants expected this outcome of the session. It was a leap of confidence from the last poll conducted in May when 73% of the participants expected the State Bank to hold the discount rate at this level.

The State Bank Governor, Dr. Raza Baqir, emphasized that the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has resorted to holding the 7% discount rate to allow the economy to recover properly. He added that the central bank would not hike the interest rate until the demand shows noticeable growth and becomes sustainable. He echoed the sage economists by reminding them that the State Bank wants to relay a breather to Pakistan’s economy before pushing the brakes. The MPC further asserted that the Real Discount Rate (adjusted for inflation) currently stands at -3% which has significantly cushioned the economy and encouraged smaller industries to grow despite the throes of the pandemic.

Dr. Raza Baqir further went on to discuss the current account deficit staged last month. He added that the 11-month streak of the current account surplus was cut short largely due to the loan payments made in June. The MPC further explained that multiple factors including an impending expiration of the federal budget, concurrent payments due to lenders, and import of vaccines, weighed heavily down on the national exchequer. He further iterated that the State Bank expects a rise in exports along with a sustained recovery in the remittance flow till the end of 2021 to once again upend the current account into surplus. Dr. Raza Baqir assured that the current level of the current account deficit (standing at 3% of the GDP) is stable. The MPC reminded that majority of the developing countries stand with a current account deficit due to growth prospects and import dependency. The claims were backed as Dr. Raza Baqir voiced his optimism regarding the GDP growth extending from 3.9% to 5% by the end of FY21-22. 

Regarding currency depreciation, Dr. Baqir added that the downfall is largely associated with the strengthening greenback in the global market coupled with high volatility in the oil market which disgruntled almost every oil-importing country, including Pakistan. He further remarked, however, that as the global economy is vying stability, the situation would brighten up in the forthcoming months. Mr. Baqir emphasized that the current account deficit stands at the lowest level in the last decade while the remittances have grown by 25% relative to yesteryear. Combined with proceeds from the recently floated Eurobonds and financial assistance from international lenders including the IMF and the World Bank, both the currency and the deficit would eventually recover as the global market corrects in the following months.

Lastly, the Governor State Bank addressed the rampant inflation in the economy. He stated that despite a hyperinflation scenario that clocked 8.9% inflation last month, the discount rates are deliberately kept below. Mr. Baqir added that the inflation rate was largely within the limits of 7-9% inflation gauged by the State Bank earlier this year. However, he further added that the State Bank is making efforts to curb the unrelenting inflation. He remarked that as the peak summer demand is closing with July, the one-way pressure on the rupee would subsequently plummet and would allow relief in prices.

The MPC has retained the discount rate at 7% for the fifth consecutive time. The policy shows that despite a rebound in growth and prosperity, the threat of the delta variant still looms. Karachi, Pakistan’s busiest metropolis and commercial hub, has recently witnessed a considerable surge in infections. The positivity ratio clocked 26% in Karachi as the national figure inched towards 7% positivity. The worrisome situation warrants the decision of the State Bank of Pakistan. Dr. Raza Baqir concluded the session by assuring that despite raging inflation, the State Bank would not resort to a rate hike until the economy fully returns to the pre-pandemic levels of employment and production. He further assuaged the concerns by signifying the future hike in the policy rate would be gradual in nature, contrast to the 2019 hike that shuffled the markets beyond expectation.

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Reforms Key to Romania’s Resilient Recovery

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Over the past decade, Romania has achieved a remarkable track record of high economic growth, sustained poverty reduction, and rising household incomes. An EU member since 2007, the country’s economic growth was one of the highest in the EU during the period 2010-2020.

Like the rest of the world, however, Romania has been profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the economy contracted by 3.9 percent and the unemployment rate reached 5.5 percent in July before dropping slightly to 5.3 percent in December. Trade and services decreased by 4.7 percent, while sectors such as tourism and hospitality were severely affected. Hard won gains in poverty reduction were temporarily reversed and social and economic inequality increased.

The Romanian government acted swiftly in response to the crisis, providing a fiscal stimulus of 4.4 percent of GDP in 2020 to help keep the economy moving. Economic activity was also supported by a resilient private sector. Today, Romania’s economy is showing good signs of recovery and is projected to grow at around 7 percent in 2021, making it one of the few EU economies expected to reach pre-pandemic growth levels this year. This is very promising.

Yet the road ahead remains highly uncertain, and Romania faces several important challenges.

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of Romania’s institutions to adverse shocks, exacerbated existing fiscal pressures, and widened gaps in healthcare, education, employment, and social protection.

Poverty increased significantly among the population in 2020, especially among vulnerable communities such as the Roma, and remains elevated in 2021 due to the triple-hit of the ongoing pandemic, poor agricultural yields, and declining remittance incomes.

Frontline workers, low-skilled and temporary workers, the self-employed, women, youth, and small businesses have all been disproportionately impacted by the crisis, including through lost salaries, jobs, and opportunities.

The pandemic has also highlighted deep-rooted inequalities. Jobs in the informal sector and critical income via remittances from abroad have been severely limited for communities that depend on them most, especially the Roma, the country’s most vulnerable group.

How can Romania address these challenges and ensure a green, resilient, and inclusive recovery for all?

Reforms in several key areas can pave the way forward.

First, tax policy and administration require further progress. If Romania is to spend more on pensions, education, or health, it must boost revenue collection. Currently, Romania collects less than 27 percent of GDP in budget revenue, which is the second lowest share in the EU. Measures to increase revenues and efficiency could include improving tax revenue collection, including through digitalization of tax administration and removal of tax exemptions, for example.

Second, public expenditure priorities require adjustment. With the third lowest public spending per GDP among EU countries, Romania already has limited space to cut expenditures, but could focus on making them more efficient, while addressing pressures stemming from its large public sector wage bill. Public employment and wages, for instance, would benefit from a review of wage structures and linking pay with performance.

Third, ensuring sustainability of the country’s pension fund is a high priority. The deficit of the pension fund is currently around 2 percent of GDP, which is subsidized from the state budget. The fund would therefore benefit from closer examination of the pension indexation formula, the number of years of contribution, and the role of special pensions.

Fourth is reform and restructuring of State-Owned Enterprises, which play a significant role in Romania’s economy. SOEs account for about 4.5 percent of employment and are dominant in vital sectors such as transport and energy. Immediate steps could include improving corporate governance of SOEs and careful analysis of the selection and reward of SOE executives and non-executive bodies, which must be done objectively to ensure that management acts in the best interest of companies.

Finally, enhancing social protection must be central to the government’s efforts to boost effectiveness of the public sector and deliver better services for citizens. Better targeted social assistance will be more effective in reaching and supporting vulnerable households and individuals. Strategic investments in infrastructure, people’s skills development, and public services can also help close the large gaps that exist across regions.

None of this will be possible without sustained commitment and dedicated resources. Fortunately, Romania will be able to access significant EU funds through its National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which will enable greater investment in large and important sectors such as transportation, infrastructure to support greater deployment of renewable energy, education, and healthcare.

Achieving a resilient post-pandemic recovery will also mean advancing in critical areas like green transition and digital transformation – major new opportunities to generate substantial returns on investment for Romania’s economy.

I recently returned from my first official trip to Romania where I met with country and government leaders, civil society representatives, academia, and members of the local community. We discussed a wide range of topics including reforms, fiscal consolidation, social inclusion, renewably energy, and disaster risk management. I was highly impressed by their determination to see Romania emerge even stronger from the pandemic. I believe it is possible. To this end, I reiterated the World Bank’s continued support to all Romanians for a safe, bright, and prosperous future.

First appeared in Romanian language in Digi24.ro, via World Bank

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US Economic Turmoil: The Paradox of Recovery and Inflation

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The US economy has been a rollercoaster since the pandemic cinched the world last year. As lockdowns turned into routine and the buzz of a bustling life came to a sudden halt, a problem manifested itself to the US regime. The problem of sustaining economic activity while simultaneously fighting the virus. It was the intent of ‘The American Rescue Plan’ to provide aid to the US citizens, expand healthcare, and help buoy the population as the recession was all but imminent. Now as the global economy starts to rebound in apparent post-pandemic reality, the US regime faces a dilemma. Either tighten the screws on the overheating economy and risk putting an early break on recovery or let the economy expand and face a prospect of unrelenting inflation for years to follow.

The Consumer Price Index, the core measure of inflation, has been off the radar over the past few months. The CPI remained largely over the 4% mark in the second quarter, clocking a colossal figure of 5.4% last month. While the inflation is deemed transitionary, heated by supply bottlenecks coinciding with swelling demand, the pandemic-related causes only explain a partial reality of the blooming clout of prices. Bloomberg data shows that transitory factors pushing the prices haywire account for hotel fares, airline costs, and rentals. Industries facing an offshoot surge in prices include the automobile industry and the Real estate market. However, the main factors driving the prices are shortages of core raw materials like computer chips and timber (essential to the efficient supply functions of the respective industries). Despite accounting for the temporal effect of certain factors, however, the inflation seems hardly controlled; perverse to the position opined by Fed Chair Jerome Powell.

The Fed already insinuated earlier that the economy recovered sooner than originally expected, making it worthwhile to ponder over pulling the plug on the doveish leverage that allowed the economy to persevere through the pandemic. The main cause was the rampant inflation – way off the 2% targetted inflation level. However, the alluded remarks were deftly handled to avoid a panic in an already fragile road to recovery. The economic figures shed some light on the true nature of the US economy which baffled the Fed. The consumer expectations, as per Bloomberg’s data, show that prices are to inflate further by 4.8% over the course of the following 12 months. Moreover, the data shows that the investor sentiment gauged from the bond market rally is also up to 2.5% expected inflation over the corresponding period. Furthermore, a survey from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) suggested that net 47 companies have raised their average prices since May by seven percentage points; the largest surge in four decades. It is all too much to overwhelm any reader that the data shows the economy is reeling with inflation – and the Fed is not clear whether it is transitionary or would outlast the pandemic itself.

Economists, however, have shown faith in the tools and nerves of the Federal Reserve. Even the IMF commended the Fed’s response and tactical strategies implemented to trestle the battered economy. However, much averse to the celebration of a win over the pandemic, the fight is still not through the trough. As the Delta variant continues to amass cases in the United States, the championed vaccinations are being questioned. While it is explicable that the surge is almost distinctly in the unvaccinated or low-vaccinated states, the threat is all that is enough to drive fear and speculation throughout the country. The effects are showing as, despite a lucrative economic rebound, over 9 million positions lay vacant for employment. The prices are billowing yet the growth is stagnating as supply is still lukewarm and people are still wary of returning to work. The job market casts a recession-like scenario while the demand is strong which in turn is driving the wages into the competitive territory. This wage-price spiral would fuel inflation, presumably for years as embedded expectations of employees would be hard to nudge lower. Remember prices and wages are always sticky downwards!

Now the paradox stands. As Congress is allegedly embarking on signing a $4 trillion economic plan, presented by president Joe Bidden, the matters are to turn all the more complex and difficult to follow. While the infrastructure bill would not be a hard press on short-term inflation, the iteration of tax credits and social spending programs would most likely fuel the inflation further. It is true that if the virus resurges, there won’t be any other option to keep the economy afloat. However, a bustling inflationary environment would eventually push the Fed to put the brakes on by either raising the interest rates or by gradually ceasing its Asset Purchase Program. Both the tools, however, would risk a premature contraction which could pull the United States into an economic spiral quite similar to that of the deflating Japanese economy. It is, therefore, a tough stance to take whether a whiff of stagflation today is merely provisional or are these some insidious early signs to be heeded in a deliberate fashion and rectified immediately.

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