Somebody once said that the lust for money is the bane of mankind. This remark was make in the course of an enquiry about a ‘chèque sans provision’ issued for the purchase of a car, which the owner luckily managed to get back, with the swindler safely behind bars on the very day of his crime.
That was of course a comparatively minor affair in terms of impact as it concerned only two individuals. The financial crisis of 2008 turned the world upside down because it affected millions of lives. Now comes another financial scandal of equivalent proportions which has already resulted in the resignation of the Prime Minister of Iceland, following public protests when it became known that he was named in the Panama Papers.
Iceland, of all places! A country that had been spared of the currents of massive corruption that were sweeping the world, about which one hardly heard. Corruption, it seems, is as pervasive as space: it is everywhere, even the smallest of places is invaded, every ‘nook and corner’ of the world. It might be understood, though not justified in any way, that people at the bottom end of the social scale who are struggling to make ends meet, might be tempted to indulge in corrupt practices to be able to survive. But people who are already amply endowed, the rich for example, or those who enjoy the largesse of the state as politicians, prime ministers, presidents? Or as high end officials in civilian life or the armed forces? What explains their greed?
In Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff is currently facing impeachment procedures for her association with ex-president Lula, himself being investigated for deals with the oil giant Petrobas. She tried to install him as a state official so that he would benefit from immunity, and this was violently objected to.
In South Africa, President Zuma too is facing impeachment procedures for allegedly using state money by the millions of rands so as to refurbish his private residence. The South African Parliament has been presented with a choice between supporting an allegedly corrupt President or upholding the constitution of the country.
In another instance, a retired general in China who used to be the head of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) is accused of having given favours to his relatives and is currently being prosecuted. Such examples could be multiplied any number of times by scanning round the world’s countries.
As regards the latest exposure of financial scandals, the Panama Papers refer a huge cache of leaked files, over 11 million, which name individuals allegedly linked with a law firm in Panama which specialises in shell companies for the purposes of avoiding tax payments by individuals. They include several leaders or former leaders, as well as leading officials in Russia, Ukraine, China, Argentina and other major countries. Public personalities have also been named.
These papers reveal the secret dealings of the rich and powerful who navigate the ‘system’ to stash away huge sums of money in offshore accounts, which is a form of money laundering. This is done under seemingly legal cover, as revealed by Gerard Ryle in an interview to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. He is the director of the investigating team that uncovered the documents, and vouched for their accuracy and authenticity, as they did an exhaustive exercise of referencing and cross-referencing with various bodies and governments.
Reactions of denial have been swift in coming, e.g. from Russia in defence of Putin and from the official Chinese agency. Interestingly, French President Francois Hollande has declared that whistleblowers working for the international community need to be protected. Another view expressed is that these revelations are a massive blow to the secrecy surrounding offshore accounts, but again some facts that emerge can be chilling – for example, that monies from such accounts may have been used to buy jet fuel for Isis in the war in Syria – even as coalitions are busy countering the Isis onslaughts in the Middle East!
The outcome of the Panama Papers leakage will be followed with great interest in all countries, including even the small island states like ours, which has been embroiled since last year with its own brand of alleged financial irregularities, scandals and corruption involving the high and the mighty. But the question that needs to be asked: how many more like them are still at large, cleverly dodging the system ‘legally’! Will we ever know for sure? Meanwhile, the common man has to be satisfied with crumbs thrown at him…
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Europe: demographic and other conundrums
The ongoing refugee situation in Europe has taken another turn with the first boat carrying refugees from Turkey being taken away in exchange for Syrian refugees who have been given asylum in Turkey on a one to one basis, in an exchange deal agreed between the European Union and Turkey. These refugees will be held in a centre until they are deported to their countries of origin, and in the present case of the first boat they are in majority of Pakistani origin. They are therefore more likely to be economic migrants, since there is no civil war going on in Pakistan from which they can claim to be fleeing.
One of the major issues that has plagued EU is the demographic shift that the massive influx of refugees will bring about, especially as a majority are young males in a productive and reproductive age. Only in Germany for example, of the over a million that gained entry last year, 700000 thousand were young males; nearly 400000 had no training whatsoever, and need to be trained so that they could fit into the labour force. Eventually they would have to integrate in the society, by getting married and creating families.
The potential to upset the demographic balance, as has already happened in Belgium and the Netherlands is a matter of great concern to EU governments as well as generally in the western world. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, is already facing flak from several quarters for her open door policy vis-à-vis refugees.
This imbalance is being powerfully aided by some factors which are operating in the developed western world: the decline of birth rates because couples are marrying late and are not keen to have children, the rise in the proportion of the elderly, the spread of gay sex and an expanding gay community; the rise and legalisation of same-sex marriages. Further, an ageing Europe is faced with a spread of atheism and a decline of Christianity, with attendance at masses having declined even in staunchly Catholic Italy – a real paradox because the Vatican is located there.
The face of Europe will change irremediably and drastically in the coming years. Will it be for the better or the worse? Only time will tell.
* Published in print edition on 8 April 2016