Selective Outrage

Matters of the moment

At a time when people in the US and across the world are taking to the streets to condemn the legacy of slavery as well as patent racism, it is anathema especially for a descendant of a ‘colon’ to basically stoke the hornets’ nest of past grievances. Would it be OK for Germans to make jokes about the Holocaust?

By Mrinal Roy

The standard sanction across the developed world for making racist remarks is to be fired forthwith. There is no compromise on this fundamental principle of corporate good governance in the US, the UK and the most advanced countries. Are our norms of corporate governance, despite the loud rhetoric, still backward?

We also need to demolish the fundamentally flawed argument that it is fine to make uncouth and rabidly derogatory rants rooted in the retrograde mindset of a bygone era as long as it is behind private closed doors. This kind of moral relativism will only lead to the corruption of universal values.

We should aspire to a society with less racial prejudice, where interactions between Mauritians of all ethnic and religious backgrounds are rooted in authenticity and respect and not resign ourselves to a society which is corrupted by the cynical belief that people are inherently racist and where the best that can be achieved is a façade of civility in the public space. 

Had the disparaging remarks been made against women, would they not have been considered as sexist? There cannot be selective outrage. We cannot consider such abject claptrap normal 52 years after independence. It is not a solid foundation to build a nation on. It exposes so many things which are fundamentally wrong in Mauritius.

At a time when people in the US and across the world are taking to the streets to condemn the legacy of slavery as well as patent racism, it is anathema especially for a descendant of a colon to basically stoke the hornets’ nest of past grievances. In essence, would it be OK for Germans to make jokes about the Holocaust?

It is obvious that as a nation, we should get rid of prejudices including some deeply rooted diehard ones from colonial times.  The criticisms and clamour of the multitude transcend the cobwebs of such narrow mindsets. It is not about black, white or brown. It is more about more fundamental issues and intrinsic flaws of our economic model which still plague and undermine the socio-economic performance of the country.

How can a section of the population which continues to enjoy all the benefits and trappings of owning sizeable land assets and controlling large sections of the economy stay so patently isolated in exclusive enclaves and mostly cut off from the rest of society?
Is it not high time for those who gargle about Mauritianism to walk the talk in real life? Is it not time for the process of recruitment at all levels of the corporate sector hierarchy (and the public sector) to be merit based, transparent and accountable especially as most of the largest corporations are listed companies?
Is it not high time for the full potential of the intellect, competence and range of professional skills of rainbow Mauritius to be synergized and harnessed to realize our loftiest ambitions as a nation?
Is it not also time in a context of growing inequality for the extremely wealthy in the country and the wealthy institutions to be more directly involved in addressing, as is the case for Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett or billionaire Anil Agarwal who pledges 75% of his wealth to charity, the core problems of the country such as the protection of the environment, the upliftment of poor people through education and generally improving the quality of life of people and allaying the sufferings and precarity of the more vulnerable and the destitute?
Is it not also time to initiate fundamental reforms such as substantive land reform in the country to create a level playing field in terms of access to land and capital to enable economic actors to tap market opportunities and truly democratize the economic and entrepreneurial space?

The list is long. We need to urgently do all this and more.

More than ever before, it is essential in this climate of contestation and clamour for a far better socio-economic and political order to transcend petty mindsets and raise our voices for such game changing policies significantly more germane to the ethos of Mauritius.

* * *

Banks indicted again

After the Paradise Papers (April 2016) and the Panama Papers (November 2017), the world has once again been rocked by the FinCEN files. These comprise 2657 documents leaked in 2019 from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the United States Department of the Treasury’s regulatory bureau set up to combat money laundering, terrorism financing and other economic and financial crimes. The FinCEN files which relate to the 2000 and 2017 period were investigated over the past 16 months by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) comprising 400 journalists from 88 countries.

The investigation revealed that despite being fined by US authorities for earlier failures to stem flows of illicit funds,  five global banks — JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Bank of New York Mellon have allegedly moved trillions of dollars of dirty money for corrupt politicians and companies tied to the massive looting of public funds in countries such as Malaysia, Venezuela and Ukraine as well as criminals and drug kingpins that have caused tremendous suffering and wreaked havoc among the people in countries across the world.

Seedy motley

According to the findings of the ICIJ, these major banks allowed fraudsters to move millions of dollars of stolen money around the world and allowed a company to move more than $1billion through a London account without knowing who owned it. The bank later discovered the company might be owned by a mobster on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list. The intelligence division of FinCEN considered the UK a ‘higher risk jurisdiction’ because more than any other country, over 3000 UK companies are named in the Suspicious activity reports (SARs) of the FinCEN files. Another bank is alleged to have moved money launderers’ dirty money for organized crime, terrorists and drug traffickers.

At least 20% of the reports contained a client with an address in one of the world’s top offshore financial havens.

The records also reveal financial secrets of a motley collection of politicians and political figures on the run or facing trial for financial crimes. These include former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba and Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos.  A network of drug traffickers benefitting from the easy movement of tainted money through these banks was allegedly able to peddle lab-designed opioids such as fentanyl, which is the deadliest narcotic in the world across the US.

The share value of the world’s largest banks has thus plummeted this week in the wake of the revelations.  Regulators and political leaders are up in arms and demanding urgent reforms and stricter rules to stem the flow of illicit funds across the world and clamp down on fraud, money laundering and terrorist financing.

Suspicious activity reports are used by banks to report suspicious movement of funds to the regulatory institutions.  These documents are some of the international banking system’s most guarded and confidential information.  A bank must file one of these reports if it is worried the transactions of one of its clients might be suspect. The report is sent to the authorities to flag suspicious behaviour but it is not proof of wrongdoing or crime

The FinCEN files are therefore different from the previous leaks relating to the Paradise Papers or the Panama Papers as the documents come from a number of the world’s leading financial institutions. The impact of these files will certainly be more important as they provide an incisive insight into ‘the vast flows of illicit money across the globe’.

The FinCEN files therefore focuses attention on the imperative need for banks to have a more pro-active role to detect and prevent the illicit movement of dirty money. They have to exercise more rigorous due diligence to ensure that they do not help clients to launder money or move it around in ways that break the rules. They cannot just file suspicious activity reports and blithely leave the authorities to deal with the problem. If they have suspicion of criminal activity, they should refuse to move the funds. Banks have to know who their clients are and take every precaution to ensure that suspect funds do not transit through them. Illicit funds cannot move without banks. The filing of SARs cannot be used to clear the bank from its overriding responsibility of diligently putting a stop to the movement of illicit funds. Banks have to assume their share of responsibilities. There cannot be any compromise on this cardinal principle.

Insatiable greed

These rules and principles must also apply to a list of nine major banks in Mauritius which have reportedly filed 105 SARs relating to suspicious transactions covering about $ 1 billion during the 2000-2018 period. The insatiable greed of the corrupt and the seediest criminals of the world know no bounds. Banks have to act as an uncompromising bulwark against fraud, the illicit movement of dirty money and money laundering. This is particularly important in the context of the country’s protracted efforts to align and benchmark the Mauritius international financial services sector on the norms of key regulatory institutions such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and eliminate any risks of our international financial services sector acting as a conduit for money laundering, terrorist financing and other illicit activities.

* Published in print edition on 25 September 2020

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