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Public Council Sets New Tasks to Support Russia-Africa Relations

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In this interview with Armen Khachatryan, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Programme Director at the Roscongress Foundation, and now a member of the newly created Public Council under the Secretariat of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum, argues that the first Summit held in October 2019 ultimately seeks to inject a new dynamism in the existing Russia-Africa relations.

According to him, as the African continent undergoes positive transformation, platforms for dialogue between Russia and Africa are profoundly changing too. The Russia–Africa Summit demonstrated the sheer enormity of potential that exists for collaboration across various areas, and one of the outcomes of that historic event was the establishment of the Secretariat of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum. The Secretariat further created a Public Council, the body also incorporates a Coordinating Council, Research Council and Media Council.

Speaking with Kester Kenn Klomegah early January 2021, Armen Khachatryan unreservedly stressed that building on the existing relations and all that have been achieved over the past few years, needs new platforms such as the Public Council. This Public Council aims primarily to uplift and solidly support the relations into a new stage, change perception among the public and give it an entirely new outlook into the future. Here are the interview excerpts:

A meeting of the Public Council of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum Secretariat took place early November 2020. What were the main outcomes of the event?

It was the first kick-off meeting held last year. We determined the objectives facing the Public Council of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum Secretariat. Specifically, these were to do with implementing the decisions of the inaugural Russia–Africa Summit and organizing the second summit, which is planned to take place in 2022. We discussed the current state of Russian-African relations in the humanitarian sphere, as well as the potential to develop them further. We also set out the council’s plan of action.

In your opinion, what social initiatives were prioritized – particularly at this time when Russia is seriously looking to focus on Africa?

Humanitarian cooperation has recently played an increasingly significant role in the development of Russian-African relations. The lively discussions at the Russia–Africa Economic Forum in October, 2019, in Sochi are testament to the importance of joint social initiatives, and to the shared desire to implement them. I believe this is with good reason, as collaboration in this area can help build an atmosphere of mutual trust. It isabsolutely essential to forge sustainable partnerships in different spheres with Africa.

In terms of priorities, areas in which we have traditionally collaborated include education, healthcare, culture, the environment, safety and security and so forth. All of these fields possess enormous potential for Russia and Africa to work together, and our country is ready to share its experience and expertise on mutually beneficial terms. Unlike some other countries, Russia wants a strong Africa with genuine sovereignty and a competitive economy. With this in mind, I would place particular emphasis on education. From my point of view, Africa’s most valuable asset is not its natural resources, but its people.

Young people currently make up a significant percentage of the population across the African continent. And that figure is going to increase further still. The population of the continent has already passed the 1.3 billion mark, with a median age of about 20. Around 60% of the population are young people under the age of 25. And according to forecasts, by 2050 the elderly will account for just 9% of the population. Given these numbers, we not only need to increase quotas for African students looking to study in Russia, but also open branches of our universities in African countries. That would allow us to offer a Russian education to many more African students as well as establish student exchange programmes.

By all appearances, aspects to do with education and professional training – and issues of humanitarian nature – are currently being examined in keeping with the course that has been delineated. Do you think that civil society should be involved in extending the reach of public diplomacy between Russia and Africa?

There is no doubt that collaboration between Russia and Africa should extend across the board, and take place at various levels. It should not be limited to ties between government officials and members of the business community. In any country, ordinary citizens make up the majority of the population, and for countries to collaborate effectively with one another, there needs to be an understanding of their perspectives and wishes. Therefore, as we look to establish direct ties and foster an environment conducive to regular dialogue with the people of various African nations, it is vital to involve civil society more closely.

It would appear sensible to provide more opportunities to people in Africa in terms of volunteering and doing internships at large Russian companies that are looking to build their presence on the African continent. The aim would be for these people to potentially be offered jobs at the companies’ African branches. Human resources need to be at the heart of our efforts, given their potential role in strengthening ties in both industry and science.

For our part, the Roscongress Foundation, as a socially oriented non-financial development institution, is open to proposals and is ready to provide assistance in promoting Russia’s image in African countries. This includes through organizing business, cultural and sporting events. As far as this is concerned, I imagine that the Foundation will receive support from Russian embassies and Rossotrudnichestvo’s offices in African countries.

Do you envisage any problems during attempts to better leverage Russias soft power and to strengthen public diplomacy in Africa? Do you view competition from other foreign players as a challenge?

I don’t think it’s entirely appropriate to use the term “soft power” in this instance. In this regard, I am of the same opinion as Yevgeny Primakov, Head of Rossotrudnichestvo. The term I take issue with is “power”, which implies pressure of some kind. We have no intention of pressurizing anyone. We are in favour of equal relations with all of our partners, and this includes African nations. In particular, we are guided by the principle of “African solutions to African problems.”

Obviously, there is competition, but I would not call that a challenge as such. Our main objective is not to compete with someone, but to offer our own perspectives on certain issues, communicate our values, and build a positive image of Russia in the eyes of people in Africa. Let me explicitly reiterate here, we are not exerting power in any way. People in Africa will have the benefit of several alternative perspectives, and will be able to choose the approach they feel is closest to them. This, in my opinion, is the principle of equality and mutual respect.

Of course, there are things that are hampering efforts to implement a systemic Russian humanitarian policy in Africa. For example, Rossotrudnichestvo has only eight offices across Africa’s 54 nations. It would appear that Russian-African ties would benefit from Russia opening new diplomatic missions in the region. If we want Russia’s voice to be heard on the African continent, special attention needs to be given to this issue.

In terms of the media landscape, what steps need to be taken to improve the work done by various outlets? How can we better inform society about events in both parts of the world? Why, for example, news in Africa rarely reported on in Russia?

In terms of working with the African continent, I believe that raising awareness on both sides is one of the most important issues we face. It is difficult to talk about joint ventures, for example, to develop the SME sector, when the African continent remains so little known in Russia, and in Africa, there is only a vague notion of what Russia is. The Russia–Africa Summit and Economic Forum played a crucial role in addressing this, as did the 2018 FIFA World Cup. That event saw many people from Africa visit Russia for the first time. They were able to see with their own eyes what our country is like, instead of being presented an image by the Western media. People were following events using various information resources.

These events played a huge role in helping to shape the media landscape. However, this exchange of information needs to be done on a more permanent basis. It’s worth pointing out that in today’s world, awareness can be raised in more ways than just via the media. Given the spread of social media, the student exchanges I mentioned earlier could, over time, play a much more important role in cultivating Russia’s image than conventional media channels. However, in order to achieve this, it is vital to work with young people in both Russia and Africa.

Going back to conventional media, I believe that first of all, Russian news agencies need to expand their network of correspondents in Africa. That would allow our journalists to work with primary sources, rather than rely on material put together by foreign news agencies. It will also be important to get Russian and African journalists working together, for example, through placement programmes, master classes, roundtables and so forth.

To answer the question on news in Africa being reported on in Russia, things are developing. Telegram channels dedicated to the African continent are appearing, for example, so it is possible to stay up-to-date with key events. One organization which is doing much to leverage Telegram channels is the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS). Its members include the Roscongress Foundation, which has considerable experience in developing and implementing humanitarian initiatives. AECAS is also currently working to build an integrated space for people in Russia and Africa to obtain information. This appears to me to be a very promising area. Admittedly, when it comes to large news agencies, the problem is that there are not enough events to report on which would garner widespread interest. However, I am in no doubt that as Russian‑African relations develop further, things will improve in this area.

The second Russian-African Public Forum took place in November 2020. In his welcome address, Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov said that amendments needed to be made topolicy initiatives in order to respond to changing realities in Africa. What was he referring to, and what is your take on “changing realities” in Africa?

First of all, I would say that the African continent has undergone an enormous transformation over the last few years. Across all areas, Africa has become much more profoundly involved in the economic processes driving globalization. Partners in Africa are implementing a programme to ease the movement of goods, capital and people, and to employ new technology in business and marketing. This has made the African economy more open and attractive to foreign investors.

The first Russia–Africa Economic Forum in Sochi served as yet another clear demonstration to the Russian and global community that the African economy is becoming more organic. It served as proof of Africa’s increasingly significant role in the global economy. Indeed, the continent has a direct bearing on global growth, and on progress in science and technology. Africa’s economic ties with the rest of the world are certainly no longer solely about supplying raw materials and being a market for finished products.

The socioeconomic growth we are witnessing, together with the global economy’s accelerated transition to a new wave of tech innovation, has meant that Africa’s role and position in the global economy has shifted significantly. The continent is also becoming an important growth pole in terms of global demand. Consumer spending on the continent has already reached US$ 680 billion. According the World Bank, this figure is set to grow to US$ 2.2 trillion by 2030.

As the continent undergoes this transformation, platforms for dialogue between Russia and Africa are profoundly changing too. The Russia–Africa Summit demonstrated the sheer enormity of potential that exists for collaboration across various areas. It was a historic milestone for Russian-African cooperation. One of the outcomes of the event was the establishment of the Secretariat of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum. In addition to a public council, the body also incorporates a coordinating council, research council, and media council. Never before in Russia’s modern history has there been such a serious mechanism for bringing together expertise and best practices from all sides and across all areas. It is set to act as a foundation to develop all aspects of Russian-African partnership, and to effectively position Africa’s transformation, which we briefly discussed earlier.

The high-level summit also led to the establishment of the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States, which will serve as a platform to strengthen business ties between Russia and Africa.

The situation is so diverse – politics, economy and culture – in Africa. In your opinion, what are the best pathways for promoting policy initiatives, as well as the social aspects of diplomacy with Africa?

That is quite important, but I don’t think we should try to identify a single “best” or “universal” pathway. It’s important to understand that Africa is a diverse continent – every country is unique, and requires an individual approach. And that’s before we consider that methods and initiatives that are employed in one region of the world – for example, Europe – are not at all necessarily appropriate for countries in Africa. We need to meticulously analyse each initiative, and be sure to draw the greatest possible benefit from them.

Generally speaking, there needs to be a focus on working with people, and in particular, with young people in Africa. These efforts should be based upon the needs of the population. And as I mentioned earlier, the pathways to achieving our aims could look very different from one another. Africa, just like Russia, is blessed with a wealth of extremely young talented people: some make films, others dance, others draw. But that’s not the important thing. What’s important here is to do everything we can to connect the lives of people in Africa with our country –we show that Russia is ready to help develop their talents. After all, these people could well become the thought leaders of the future, as well as ambassadors for Russian-African relations. These people could help foster a positive image of Russia in their respective countries. We are ready to engage and cooperate with intergovernmental organizations, civil society and African partners, work constructively to consolidate the results from the first summit and what both Russia and Africa further set inthe joint declaration in Sochi, in October 2019.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Indonesia’s political will is the key to a successful carbon tax implementation

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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.

Conclusion

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


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Central Bank Digital Currencies: What do they offer?

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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.

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Rise of Billionaires In India, Lobbyism And Threat To Democracy

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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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