Trappings of power no insurance

I have no qualms in admitting I am included in this crowd of people who felt that our legal system is so lethargic and biased that we will never have the ‘high and mighty’ being ever punished in this country.

The wide spectrum of people who have or are being brought to book does not just include our politicians. It includes many in the corporate or other sectors too-who till the other day thought that they can get away by their sheer ‘wealth power’ and their ability to ‘influence.’ Having always heard about the effectiveness of the legal system in the US or other western countries compared to our ‘inept’ one, this comes as a huge relief.

Yes, we do have a long way to go. Let us take the example of Madoff, ex non-executive chairman of the Nasdaq stock market who operated the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

In March 2009, Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 federal felonies and admitted to turning his wealth management business into a massive Ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands of investors of billions of dollars. The estimated losses ran to more than 50 billion US dollars. On June 29, 2009, he was sentenced to 150 years in prison, the maximum allowed. If we compare this with the largest corporate scandal that shook our own country’s investors around the same time and the current status on that, the same tells its own story.

Limited timelines
Power can be intoxicating at any level and if it is accompanied by ‘wealth’ it can be doubly so. Despite all of us knowing that the ‘crown’ of power comes with limited timelines, we cling to it and misuse, discounting everyone else’s intelligence. Having worked in various corporates, I can share that the trappings of power in a corporate can include things ranging from the high salary, Esops, gadgets, secretary, luxury vehicles to a bunch of corporate cronies who at times can be no different from the ones who surround a powerful politician.

I recently heard about the CEO of a listed corporate in Bangalore, who for the past many years was running the entity like his ‘fiefdom’ forgetting that it was supposed to be a professional entity till he was asked to leave one fine morning by the ‘key’ stakeholders. The ‘aura of invincibility’ that had been built over the past decade or so, disappeared in a matter of few hours.

It is ironical to see how we never tire of blaming the politicians’ lust for power and wealth but do not mind influencing the income tax official to get a closure on a demand notice served on us or to undervalue a site that we bought to avoid paying a higher registration tax. I have been trying to sell a small apartment in Bangalore for the last few months and get laughed at for wanting the entire proceeds through cheque. I am not sure for how long I will be able to resist this ‘bullying’.

We blindly eulogise the legal system or the ‘ethical practices’ abroad without understanding that we too have the best laws here. The problem is one of implementation. A traffic violation in the USA can result in a steep increase in insurance premium in the coming year. Repeated violations can result in cancellation of driving licence. It is not that the people in these countries have a better ‘ethical DNA’.

Rather, the swift implementation of laws makes the citizens of such countries behave ethically and with more sensitivity. We also need to understand that not everything that happens in these countries is ethical or to be admired. I came to know that currently the television channels in US are replete with ‘law firms’ advertising /appealing to the audience to sign up for their services if they have had any surgeries but which has not provided results. Also, the pharmacy majors advertise on television for their products ranging from pain medication to ‘viagra’ but with disclaimers on side effects which seem more than the benefits.

We should also remember how we have had heads of governmental institutions like the Election Commission who showed how effective they could be with the laws that were already there by just implementing them honestly. For those in the corporate sector, one of the best examples can be the one set by Infosys co-founder N R Narayana Murthy. His is the classic instance of one who had access to all the ‘power’ one could imagine but who voluntarily chose to give up the same and walk into the sun!

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