In an interview with Associated Press, our prime minister called upon world community to write off debt burden of poor countries so as to help them cope with COVID19 epidemic (Dawn March 17, 2010).
The total debt liabilities of the country amount to Rs19, 299.2 billion (as of March 2015). Every Pakistani now owes a debt of about Rs101, 338 as compared with Rs.90, 772 in 2013, Rs80, 894 in 2012 and Rs37, 170 in early 2008.The debt-to-gross domestic product ratio stands at 66.4 percent, in which foreign debt is Rs. 6.4 trillion and domestic debt is Rs.12 trillion.
In dollar terms, Pakistan’s external debt soared to 95097 USD Million in the second quarter of 2018 from 91761 USD Million in the first quarter of 2018.That’s an all-time high, and well above the average of 54065.23 USD Million for the period 2002-2018. Pakistan recorded a Current Account deficit of 8.20% of its Gross Domestic Product in 2018. That’s an all-time high and well above the -2.60% average for the period 1980-2018.
Pakistan’s debt burden has a political tinge. For joining anti-Soviet-Union alliances (South-East Asian Treaty Organisation and Central Treaty Organisation), the USA rewarded Pakistan by showering grants on Pakistan. The grants evaporated into streams of low-interest loan which ballooned as Pakistan complied with forced devaluations or adopted floating exchange rate.
Soon, the donors forgot Pakistan’s contribution to break-up of the `Soviet Union’. They used coalition support funds and our debt-servicing liability as `do more’ mantra levers.
Successive Pakistan governments treated loans as freebies. They never abided by revised Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act. Nor did our State Bank warn them about the dangerous situation.
No formal application for write-off: What a pity! Whenever International Monetary Fund’s delegations visit, Pakistan’s representatives keep mum about politically-motivated odious nature of our debt burden. They lack nerve to tell them point-blank Pakistan’s non-liability to service politically-stringed debts. They government’s dilemma in Pakistan is that defence and anti-terrorism outlays plus debt-service charges leave little in national kitty for welfare. Solution lies in debt forgiveness by donors (James K. Boyce and Madakene O’Donnell (eds.), Peace and the Public Purse.2008. New Delhi. Viva Books, p. 251).
Benefits of Write-Off: Debt forgiveness (or relief) helps stabilise weak democracies, though corrupt, despotic and incompetent. Research shows that debt relief promotes economic growth and boosts foreign investment. Sachs (1989) inferred that debt service costs discourage domestic and foreign investment. Kanbur (2000), also, concluded that debt is a drag on private investment.
In fact, economists have questioned justification of paying debts given to prop up a client regime congenial to a `master’ country. They hold that a nation is not obliged to pay such `odious debts’ (a personal liability) showered upon a praetorian individual (p. 252 ibid.). Legally also, any liability financial or quasi-nonfinancial, contracted under duress, is null and void.
Apparently, all Pakistani debts are odious as they were thrust upon praetorian regimes to bring them within anti-Communist (SEATO, SEATO) or anti-`terrorist’ fold. To avoid embarrassing unilateral refusal of a country to repay odious debts, UN should declare which portion of debts is `odious’ (Jayachandaran and Kremer, 2004). Alternatively, the USA should itself write off our `bad’ debts.
Sovereignty compromised: People barter away some of their naturally-derived freedom with sovereign ruler to get security and welfare (Thomas Hobbes, John Locke et. al.). When a despot fails to deliver the goods, the contract stands broken, and the people have a right to overthrow him. Thomas Jefferson (North American colonies) enshrined this social contract in the 1776 Declaration of Independence: ` when a long train of Abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism it is their Right, it is their Duty to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their Security’.
But, Pakistani people are too passive to overthrow their despotic unpopular governments.
The successive governments did nothing by way of welfare for the people. They could not even evolve a universal healthcare system akin to Thailand’s (2002).
The government’s dilemma in Pakistan is that defence and anti-terrorism outlays (26 per cent) plus debt-service charges leave little in national kitty for welfare.
A discussion was held at a seminar jointly organised by the Institute for Social and Economic Justice (ISEJ) and the Islamic Relief Pakistan under the campaign ‘Breaking the Chains of Debt’, at Forman Christian College. The crux of discussion was 47 per cent of whatever the government generates in revenue goes to pay off debt against 44 per cent in the previous year. Ideally, this ratio should be less than 30% to allocate more resources to social and poverty-related expenditures.
Speaking on the occasion, ISEJ Executive Director Abdul Khaliq said the debt situation was alarming and the government must review its reckless borrowing behaviour. We must demand an audit of the public debt,” he said. “All new loan contracts should be subjected to a debate in parliament and its approval.”
The government must stop reckless international borrowing and minimise reliance on foreign debt in the future and take measures to get the illegitimate loans cancelled, he said.
Khaliq emphasised the need for synergising efforts for a debt-free Pakistan and making the people of Pakistan the real drivers of the economy.
Three time prime minister Nawaz Sharif during his election campaign made tall claims that on assuming power he will get rid of the ‘cancer of debts’ and promised to break the ‘begging bowl’, however, there is little evidence of measures towards freedom from debt, said political economist Dr Qais Aslam.
The present Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf government proved no different from its predecessors and started knocking on the doors of international lenders even more vigorously, he added.
In a country where 60% of the population lives below the poverty line and 58% faces food insecurity, this additional burden means more miseries for the generations to come.
Speakers further said the impact of mounting debt burden on the people is horrific. Fiscal space for social spending has drastically squeezed. Pakistan spends just 2 to 2.6% of its Gross Domestic Product on education and health respectively, making it the lowest in South Asia.
International Monetary Fund’s assessment (Express TribuneMarch 16, 2018):
In its post-programme monitoring report, the IMF assessed risks to Pakistan’s economic outlook had increased. Despite changing goalposts twice, Pakistan’s public debt remained higher than the limit prescribed in the revised Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act.
The policy of building foreign currency reserves through expensive loans and ignoring the export performance haunted the policymakers.
The IMF said the elevated current account deficit and rising external debt servicing, in part driven by China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)-related outflows, were expected to lead to higher external financing needs.
External financing would surge to around $27 billion by the end of fiscal year 2018-19 (FY19) and would go up to $45 billion by FY23.
At that time, Pakistan’s external financing needs will be equal to 10% of the national output, which is a dangerous level. “Risks to public debt sustainability have increased since the completion of the EFF (Extended Fund Facility) programme. Public and publicly-guaranteed debt is expected to remain elevated at 68% of GDP by FY23.” Gross fiscal financing needs will likely exceed 30% of GDP from 2018-19 onwards, in part reflecting increased debt service obligations.
However, the more alarming part is the growing challenges to arranging foreign loans. It said Pakistan had so far remained successful in contracting external borrowing that softened the impact of rising external imbalances on foreign exchange reserves.
The IMF’s projections showed a bleak path for the next five years. Public and publicly-guaranteed debt is projected to remain close to 70% of GDP by 2023 under the baseline scenario.
In the absence of strong consolidation measures, the fiscal deficit is expected to remain close to 6% of GDP in the medium term, resulting in elevated debt levels.
Adverse shocks, notably to economic growth and the primary balance, could lead to public debt ratios rising well above 70%, said the IMF.
Contingent liabilities from restructuring of loss-making public sector enterprises represent additional fiscal risks. High gross financing needs may also pose potential rollover risks.
The IMF said high levels of public debt and gross financing needs presented significant fiscal risks and needed to be addressed in a timely fashion through fiscal tightening to improve debt sustainability.
Financial sovereignty threatened: Some people question is Pakistan really a sovereign state? The question is based on premise that government has ceded control of the economy to foreign entities. Both the finance minister and the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan are career officers of respectively the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Is the primary loyalty of these officers to their Washington-based institutions or to their country of origin? And, should we be outsourcing existential financial decisions to people with possibly divided loyalty?
IMF’s changed role: The IMF and the World Bank are products of the Bretton Woods conference of 1944. Both organizations made good sense in the tattered world economy of the post-War period. The World Bank set about financing the rebuilding of Europe; while the primary purpose of the IMF was to promote international trade, which had collapsed during the war. The IMF’s role was to assist member nations to maintain stable exchange rates by providing short-term credit to support their currencies.
However, the `dinosaurs’ changed their roles. Over time fixed exchange rates gave way to floating rates, multiplying debt burden of recipients manifold. Markets replaced governments as the primary arbiters of the value of national currencies.
The arrangement works as follows: A poor country, due generally to mismanagement and corruption, finds itself in dire need of hard currency. Commercial lenders are unwilling to commit their funds without adequate safeguards. Enter the IMF. It offers to lend some of its own money, provided that the host government agrees to a set of economic ‘reforms’. These understandably seek to enhance the borrower’s ability to repay the money loaned. When a deal is struck, the IMF disburses its own funds. At the same time commercial lenders, now reassured that the borrower can repay, step in with additional funds.
Typically, the IMF’s own funds constitute only a small proportion of the borrower’s total debt. Commercial lenders provide the rest. Yet the IMF’s participation is crucial. If it does not ‘certify’ a country by its participation then that country effectively gets cut off from all other sources of credit.
The question which recipients need to brood over is: Does the IMF serve their national interests? The IMF has a single overriding objective. This is to enhance the borrower’s ability to service its debts. It does not care a fig for recipients’ policies about poverty alleviation, price stability, employment, universal access to health care and education, and affordable rates for basic services.
Hypothetical example of debt black hole: Our external debt is $100 billion. Let’s assume that the average applicable yearly interest rate is five percent and that we decide to pay it back in equal annual installments over a period of 20 years. We would need to pay annual installments of $8 billion per year for a total payback over the 20 year period of $160 billion. Of which $60 billion would be interest and the balance repayment of principal.
We run a trade deficit of $20 billion a year. If we had a trade surplus we could theoretically have had the ability to pay back some of our debt. But, with shattered industry, teetered infrastructure, and COVID19 hangover, we can’t. So the only way to find the $8 billion per year to pay back our existing loans is to take new loans. We thus fall in the financial equivalent of a black hole.
Light at end of the `Hole’: While light cannot escape a black hole, we can extricate ourselves from this crisis. Pakistan needs to make the most of its strategic advantages. If we did not get out loans written off as quid pro quo for Soviet collapse in Afghanistan, we should better negotiate US exit now. We should have an answer if the US asks, by way of quid pro quo, for putting permissive action links on our nuclear bombs. If Pakistanis to be denuclearized than its binary India too should be.
Pakistan government should take prime minister lead further. It should hold negotiations with lenders that are commercial banks and the international finance agencies. We should aim at repudiation of about 50 percent of debt. This should be in addition to interest rate waivers, revisions and extended terms.
Simultaneously, Pakistan should dust off burden of debt models in textbooks. Debts should be so utilised as to be able to pay off interest and principal over agreed time span.
Bad debts: Pakistani debts qualify for write-off as bad debts. Why should poor Pakistanis, lacking basic needs, pay them?
World Bank President David Malpass (Express Tribune February 12, 2020) portrayed a bleak situation of loaning policies worldwide. Like a pot calling kettle black, he chided other development banks for lending too quickly to heavily indebted countries, saying some were helping worsen already-challenging debt situations. Addressing a World Bank-International Monetary Fund (IMF) debt forum, he said Asian Development Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development were contributing to debt problems.
He said the ADB was “pushing billions of dollars” into a fiscally challenging situation in Pakistan. African Development Bank was doing the same in Nigeria and South
Africa. Pakistan was unlikely to meet debt reduction targets. The Manila-based development lender in December approved $1.3 billion in loans for Pakistan, including $1 billion for immediate budget support to shore up the countries
Public finances and $300 million to help reform the country’s energy sector.
The loans came as the country is struggling with billions of dollars in debt to China
from the Belt and Road infrastructure projects, which pushed Pakistan to turn to the IMF for a $6-billion loan programme in 2019.
Malpass said there needed to be more coordination among international financial institutions to coordinate lending and maintain high standards of transparency. “And so we have a very real problem of the IFIs themselves adding to the debt burden and there’s pressure then I think on the IMF to sort through it and look at the best interest for the country,” he stated.
Inference: If Pakistan wants to get its loans written off, it should do more than indulge in rhetoric. `Negotiation’ is a subject taught in all universities as a business course. Pakistan should learn to argue its case and decipher donors’ BATNA (best alternative to negotiated agreement
Indonesia’s political will is the key to a successful carbon tax implementation
Authors: I Dewa Made Raditya Margenta, and Filda C. Yusgiantoro*
A carbon tax should be overviewed as an oasis of post-pandemic recovery. The proper carbon tax scheme will solve two of Indonesia’s extensive homework; reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and boosting revenue to support economic recovery. In the end, Indonesia’s political will is crucial in completing this mission.
Recently, the carbon tax has become an exciting topic of discussion in Indonesia. This carbon tax is introduced in a revised General Taxation Law bill and becomes this year’s Indonesia National legislation Program. According to the bill, the government plans to collect a carbon tax of IDR 75,000 (US$ 5.25) per tonne of GHG (tCO2e). The carbon tax could target emissions on the use of fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, and gasoline by factories and vehicles.
The introduction of the Carbon Tax is quite astounding. Previously, the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment of Indonesia, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, said that President Joko Widodo planned to issue a Carbon Trading regulation in December 2020. However, there has been no signal that the regulation will be issued until now.
Implementing a carbon tax is seen as a strategic step for the government to reduce GHG emissions and boost state revenue to increase development funds. As a result, the carbon tax scheme must be well constructed, specific, and well-targeted so that the carbon tax implementation can recover the environment and Indonesia’s economy.
However, the carbon tax implementation will not succeed without strong political will and commitment from the government.
Carbon tax as a climate action plan
As the sixth-largest GHG emitter in the world, Indonesia becomes vulnerable to climate change impact. According to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry of Indonesia, the transportation and manufacturing sectors contributed to around 64% of 2017 national GHG emissions. This number will rise considering the increase in energy demand and manufacturing activities to stimulate the economy. Therefore, a new climate policy, such as a carbon tax, needs to be promoted as a climate action plan.
As an economic-environmental instrument, a carbon tax is more straightforward to address this issue. Also, the revenues gained from this tax can be recycled to support green development. Thus, the target of this tax must be well identified, and the carbon tax scheme must be designed correctly to avoid a deadweight.
Singapore can be the lead example to emulate its carbon tax scheme. Based on Singapore’s climate action plan, the tax is applied to the facilities that emit abundant GHG annually. They also promote clean and simple carbon tax to preserve fairness, uniformity, and transparency. Its carbon tax scheme, which takes place from 2019 to 2023, will be reviewed by an impact assessment in 2022.
From Singapore, Indonesia can learn that the scheme may have the flexibility to respond to the dynamics that will occur, including the opportunity to move towards a carbon trading scheme in the future. Besides, having a solid political like Singapore will give Indonesia’s carbon tax implementation an upper hand.
Building Indonesia’s political will for a climate action plan
Indonesia’s successful climate action plan relies on various variables such as GHG emissions reduction, identifying the most appropriate instruments, and introducing new climate policies. However, all of these variables are highly dependent on political will.
Indonesia’s political will on climate mitigation would be a perfect start and a powerful tool to take immediate action in climate mitigation initiatives. Instead, Indonesia’s political will may face a political challenge during the policymaking process. A lengthy policymaking process of the New and Renewable Energy Bill is one of the examples. Hence, Indonesia’s political will to address climate change at the beginning of the policymaking process is crucial.
Gaining public trust and being severe are essential steps that should be carried out before introducing a carbon tax.
At first, the government must improve its accountability and transparency, reflecting on what Singapore has shown. Indonesia should also consider complementary economic policies that minimize a carbon tax’s negative impacts on business and household sectors.
Then, Indonesia could consider removing fossil fuel subsidies and replacing them with direct subsidies to low-income households.
Finally, Indonesia should guarantee that the obtained revenue from the carbon tax will be recycled for green development and improving community welfare.
In brief, implementing a carbon tax in Indonesia will determine the nation’s and its citizens’ future.
Ensuring the carbon tax implementation will be on point, Indonesia’s political will is the brain, which can be seen from a carbon tax scheme and the supporting policies. The success of this policy will be seen from intensive GHG reduction, positive economic growth, and improve Indonesian people’s welfare simultaneously.
*Filda C. Yusgiantoro, Ph.D., chairperson of Purnomo Yusgiantoro Center and an economic lecturer in Prasetya Mulya University
Central Bank Digital Currencies: What do they offer?
The decision of the government of El Salvador to adopt bitcoin as legal tender has invited mixed reactions from around the globe. Notwithstanding the pros and cons of the issue, the message is loud and clear – digital currencies are here to stay.
The total market cap of bitcoin has reached 600 billion US dollars by March 2021. Cryptocurrencies have captured the imagination of rich and poor alike. The percentage of cryptocurrency users has been steadily increasing in countries facing financial instability and grappling with weak currencies. Latin America has seen large scale activity in bitcoins, especially in countries like Venezuela and Columbia. Nigeria likewise has emerged as a hub for bitcoin trade given the challenging economic climate in the country. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in a February directive, had warned banksand financial institutions of facilitating payments for cryptocurrencyexchanges.Cryptocurrency trade has grown to such volumes that it can’t be overlooked by the state actors.
States and Central Banks unable to buck the trend are contemplating their own version of digital currencies. So, do ordinary citizens gain something from the Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC’s)?
Societal and Environmental concerns
Experts have already pointed out serious pitfalls of allowing a free hand to decentralised currencies outside the regulatory framework of the governments. Crime syndicates use cryptocurrencies as safe conduits for money laundering, cross-border terrorist financing, drug peddling and tax evasion. Recently an FBI operation, “Trojan Shield”, which busted a criminal underworld along with the seizure of millions worth of cryptocurrencies, further echoed the proximity of criminals with the crypto-world. Several cryptocurrency frauds have unearthed in recent history. The widespread popularity of cryptocurrencies has diluted the globalstandardson KYC (Know Your Customer) and AML (Anti Money Laundering), providing room for criminals and lawbreakers.
The energy-intensive nature of cryptocurrency mining has raised concerns about its impact on climate change and pollution. China and Iran have recently put stringent controls on bitcoin mining owing to environmental pollution and power blackouts. It is bizarre that the total electricity used for bitcoin mining surpasses the total energy consumption of all of Switzerland.
Threat to sovereign power
Decentralised currencies pose a grave threat to the sovereign power of the governments. Several States and Central Banks have thus stepped in to maintain their relevancy, by announcing their version of digital currencies, backed by sovereign guarantee. In the latest Bank of International Settlements (BIS) paper, 86% of 65 respondent central banks have reported doing some research or experimentation on Central Bank Digital Currencies.
China leads the rest
China is quite ahead in the development of its CBDC compared to all other nations. China has already distributed some 200 million yuan (US$30.7 million) in digital currency as part of pilot projects across the country. By early implementing the digital yuan, China expects to challenge the US dollar’s hegemony as the international currency. In future, China hopes to achieve more international trade through a digital yuan, which would further China’s global ambitions and effectively push plans like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Moreover, it provides China with sufficient strength to effectively bypass US sanctions in any part of the world.
The Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank have taken a more cautious stance and indicated that they are not in the race for the first place. In late May, Fed Chair Jerome Powell announced plans for a discussion paper on digital payments, including the pros and cons of the US Central Bank currency. European Central Bank Chief Christine Lagarde said her institution could launch a digital currency only around the middle of this decade.
Why CBDC’s may not offer anything new
Only stringent regulations or an outright ban on decentralised currencies could control money laundering and financing of crimes through digital currencies. It is unlikely that the introduction of CBDC’s would hamper the flow of illicit money through decentralised channels. In all probability, criminal elements would still run their show through decentralised currencies where there is anonymity and the lack of regulations.
CBDC’s may perhaps offer fast and real-time settlement of payments. While this is a plus, the existing bank payment systems already provide for swift and sophisticated transaction processing. So, real-time settlements are nothing new and certainly not a novel innovation. Moreover, cross-border transfers might not see any revolutionary change because these transfers still have to go through the existing regulatory frameworks.
CBDC’s would boost the surveillance mechanisms of the State. It would put every transaction under the government scanner. Individual privacy will be a major causality if proper safeguards are not incorporated. Brighter sides are that the government could effectively target economic crimes like tax evasion with greater ease and a reduced carbon footprint.
Threat to the banking system
Though the actual modalities have not come out, reactions from Central Banks indicate that CBDC’s will co-exist with the existing fiat currencies. The new system can potentially destabilise the present banking system and the financial intermediaries. Proposed digital currencies are backed by the Central Bank, which could never go bankrupt. In the existing system, money is secured by the guarantee offered by private banks. In a period of economic instability, citizens might pull too much money out of banks to purchase CBDC’s, backed with better security and consequently triggering a run on banks.
Back to centralisation
The introduction of digital currencies is out of necessity to preserve Central banks’ legitimacy in the face of the cryptocurrency boom. It possibly will protect the citizens from the extreme volatility of decentralised currencies and may serve as safer mediums of exchange. Since it is backed by sovereign guarantee, it might also act as a better store of value. But, CDBC’s would expand the state power and cause the continuance of the regime based on “trust” in governmental institutions, which was precisely what decentralised currencies like bitcoin had intended to annul. Essentially, CBDC’s would bring in more government to our daily lives, which is rather regressive and goes against the spirit of modern libertarian values.
Rise of Billionaires In India, Lobbyism And Threat To Democracy
Let me start by asking you – Have you watched Oliver Stones’ 1987 masterpiece, ‘Wall Street’? Great! For those who haven’t, here is a quick reflection of its storyline. This movie is a premise with a promise, and exert its audience to seek an answer to one of the most neglected question in the philosophy of ethics and greed – ‘How much money is enough money?’. Michael Douglas plays an unsparing millionaire raider Gordon Gekko. Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen, is a stockbroker full of ambition, doing whatever he can to make his way to the top. Fox is enchanted by Gekko, and entice him into mentoring him by providing insider trading information. Although Fox is loyal to his mentor Gekko, throughout the film, he is seen asking the millionaire trader Gekko, “How much money do you need to be satisfied with? How much is enough?”. And each time Gekko ponders and thinks hard, but the truth is, he himself doesn’t know. There is a scene in the movie where Gordon Gekko uses Fox’s inside information to manipulate the stock of a company that he intended to sell off, while throwing its workers, including Bud’s father. When Bud hears about his father losing the job along with other workers, he experiences deep agony and immediately repents his participation in the millionaire’s duplicity and deception. He storms to his office and asks again, “How much is enough, Gordon?”
And, Gekko answers – (Source :Wall Street, 1987)
“The richest one percent of this country owns half our country’s wealth, five trillion dollars… You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. Now, you’re not naïve enough to think we’re living in a democracy, are you, buddy? It’s the free market. And you’re part of it.”
Now, what this scene exposes is the adrenaline rush of power that wealth provides. But, what this scene also highlights is how this power of wealth has created a society where corporate empires are thriving through lobbyism, while middle-lower class are palpitating in a life of destitution. And in case you are thinking how a 1987 American classic like ‘Wall Street’ is relevant to the rise of billionaires in 2021, here is the answer – wealth, national morality and democracy – all symptomatic of a thriving country. But, with the rise of billionaires in India, this is exactly what is at stake.
Corporate Political Activity (CPA) – When Corporations Colonizes The State
Luis Fernandez said, “Either we can have democracy or a great amount of wealth concentrated in the hands of few. We cannot have both”. So, what did he mean by this? For starters, hoarding of wealth not only gives you the liberty to buy luxury goods, but it also gives you the freedom to buy votes, laws, and legislation. How? Well, corporate involvement in any democratic ecosphere is usually manifested into a corporate political activity (CPA). This corrupts the democratic process by excluding the citizens from policy decision-making. Thereby, privatizing profits for corporation and socializing the loss among citizens(Daniel Nyberg,2021). So, how is this accomplished? It’s achieved through a specialized team of people called – Corporate Lobbyists. They act as a mediator between the political parties and the corporation they work for. But, what do these billionaires lobby against? Mostly tax deregulations. However, the devil hides in details – Most billionaire monopolists lobby against anti-force entrustments, giant banks lobby against risk regulations, polluters in the private sector lobby against environmental regulations, and private corporations lobby against public services. Each one of these is detrimental to the growth of any democracy because lobbyists act out in the interest of billionaires and influence government policy-making by taking in no account of public interest (Mehrsa Baradaran, 2019). In simple words – they suggest extraneous elements in decision-making and subvert the public interest in areas like infrastructure (highways, airports, and massive scale projects under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission in 63 cities), natural resources, and energy (gas, oil, petrol, energy), telecom (3G and 4G technology),military (weapons and aircrafts), mining (where giant corporations have developed stakes making billions on India’s tribal heartland), and agribusiness (seeds, privatization of agriculture sector), etc. And, how does this work? Keep reading.
You must be aware of the ongoing farmers’ protest since last year. It is strictly against two issues. First being the ‘three new farm laws’ introduced by Modi government. Second, being the agitation against India’s two richest billionaires – Mukesh Ambani and Adani, who are close to Modi and is believed to profit from these new farm laws. These two billionaires have been eyeing India’s farm sector for a while now. In 2017, Ambani expressed his interest in investing in the agriculture sector. His Jio Platforms, today, is leveraging its partnership with Facebook to dilate into this domain with Jiokrishi app, which will ease out the farm-to-fork supply chain. The company’s records suggest that it source(ed) 77% of its fruit directly from farmers. Now, currently, the farmers take their produce to wholesale markets, governed by APMC (government body). APMC in every State decides the price it will pay to the farmers for their produce. Remember, this market becomes the central point for government acquisition of food grains. With the new farm laws, a giant corporation can directly approach the farmers, buy and pay for the produce at an agreed amount. In short, this new farm law aims to abolish this structural network and privatize it. But, this is just structural damage for farmers. As I mentioned earlier, the devil hides in details – The news laws do not make a written contract between the farmers and corporations mandatory. This means that if there is a conflict of interest between both parties, it will be extremely difficult for farmers to prove that a corporation has breached that agreement. Additionally, this law states that a farmer has no right to take these disputes to an independent judiciary for justice. Instead, they would have to reach out to two bodies – a conciliation board (district-level administrative officers) or to the appellate authority. Now, both of these bodies are dependent on government, which can potentially revert the case in favor of corporations. This law also has a grave danger of impacting the minimum support price that government bodies offer to farmers in case of a declined price fall for their produce during a particular season. The farmers here are sailing on a boat of uncertainty, economic chaos, and policy madness —- all favoring the interest of the giant corporates instead of the public; more specifically, the farmers, who are the beating heart of an agrarian economy like India.
Remember, The Rafael deal? The deal was given to a Ambani brother, who had minimal to no experience in aircraft. Rafael offset contract has been given to Reliance Defense, which was formed 12 days before the announcement of the Rafael deal. ‘Mediapart’, a French-language publication, quoted Francois Hollande (2018), “It was the Indian government that proposed this service group (Reliance), and Dassault which negotiated with Ambani. We had no choice. We took the interlocutor who was given to us.” Two weeks back, the French newspaper ‘LeMonde’ dropped a bombshell stating that the French authorities passed off Anil Ambani’s $162 million tax after Modi-led NDA government negotiated Rafael deal with France based Dassault Aviation. Another example- Back in 2018, when the Modi government approved the privatization of six airports, it also relaxed the prerequisite requirements. BJP allowed companies with no prior experience in this sector to present their bid. After deliberation, all six airports were given to Gautam Adani, the second-highest billionaire in India with no history of running airports. Today, in 2021, Adani Airports has acquired 23.5% stake in Mumbai International Airport Ltd(MIAL), and is set to extend the stakeholding percent to 74%, which will give Adani group the ownership of the upcoming Navi Mumbai airport in which MIAL holds majority stakes. His other ventures in sectors like Adani green energy, power, and transmission hold a close-by narrative. His Carmichael coal mine project in Australia has earned him an infamous ‘climate change villain’ title. Tax deregulations is the primordial goal of corporate lobbyists, and they seem to be winning. The Indian government last year announced that it had reduced the rate of tax for certain existing companies at 25.17% , the lowest since 2010. There is an extra tax deduction of 15% from earlier level of 25% for start-ups. One would argue that the low tax rate would increase international corporate investments. But recent studies show that businesses are moving to countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia for labor-intensive operations. Thereby, failing to bring employment to the country.
Figure 1: The rate of tax imposed on corporates by the Indian government in the last ten years
Figure 2: Mukesh Ambani’s $2 billion house overlooking the slums of Dharavi – The world’s largest slum. Source of the image : www.thecharette.org
Tax deregulation, tax invasion, and corporate lobbying are not the only problems that manifest with the rise of billionaires in India. The most chronic and malignant effect is the ever-widening gap between the rich and poor, threatening economic justice and social cohesion in a society. This economic gap is so dilated that it becomes a life of excess for these billionaires and destitution for the rest of the 1.38 billion Indians. According to Forbes magazine, the third richest Indians – Mukesh Ambani ($84.5 billion), Gautam Adani & family($50.5 billion) and Shiva Nadar($ 23.5 billion) own 60% of the country’s wealth. India’s top three richest people have added over $100 billion between them. In fact, since the initial lockdown in March 2020, India’s top billionaires increased their wealth by 35% during COVID-19 pandemic. According to Oxfam report, India’s top 100 billionaires witnessed their fortune increase by staggering number of Rs 12.97 trillion. This amount could have provided every 364 million poor Indians a cheque for ₹94,045 each. So, what was the economic status of the working class? They suffered abominably during COVID, while billionaires thrived. The study, ‘State of Working India 2021 – One year of Covid-19’, by Azim Premji University, revealed that the economic recession caused by the COVID-19 has pushed 230 million Indians below the poverty line. This number accounted for and contributed to the global increase in poverty by a whopping 60% in 2020. The study shows the loss in monthly income earning for all kinds of workers. The fall was 17% for temporary salaried jobs, 18% for self-employed, 21% for daily wage workers, and 5% for permanent salaried workers. This ever-widening gap of economic inequality in India goes against every fiber of true democracy, where public resources and rights like healthcare, education, COVID relief financial aids, etc., instead of being elevate, are subverted. Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International said, “Rigged economies are funnelling wealth to rich elites who are sailing through the pandemic in luxury and ease, while those on the frontline of the pandemic — medical assistants, healthcare workers, and market vendors — are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table”. Existence of these billionaires in any society is symbolic of a theocracy thriving and a democracy that’s palpitating. Times like these demand a moral obligation to question, resist and fight against the economic injustice, not just for ourselves, but for our children and many generations to come by. Remember, power seeks self-preservation first and foremost. The billionaires will do anything and everything to continue hoarding resource, wealth and pass it to their heirs. So, the question is not – when will this stop? But, what are you going to do about it?.
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