SATYAM AND ASATYAM
J. N. Manokaran
It is an irony. The word 'Satyam' means truth, but the IT company occupied the front pages of newspapers and prime time of television news channels for 'asatyam,' which means untruth or falsehood or fraud. The Chief of Satyam, B. Ramalinga Raju confessed that he doctored the balance sheets to the tune of about Rs. 7000 crore to keep his company's reputation, client attraction and stock rates at the highest level for several years. The country's fourth largest IT company with 53,000 employees-after TCS, Infosys and Wipro and ahead of HCL-was for several years cooking its books by inflating revenues and profits. It was a creative and innovative accounting fraud. This pulled the stock market down and it would be affected more in the coming days.
Business Leaders As Role Models?
In the last decade, business leaders have become household names. With Indian politicians' reputation sullied due to scam after scam and criminals establishing themselves as politicians, the public was longing for better leaders. The opening up of liberal market economy and the IT boom (with tax holiday) brought many business leaders to public focus. The media playing an unaudited watchdog role eulogised business leaders like Raju. They were promoted as 'value-bearers of Indian culture,' role models of global entrepreneurship, examples for ethical governance and what not. Suddenly, Raju's fall leaves the field still wide open.
IT companies are portrayed as models of corporate governance. The media has lost its investigative element in India and is superficial in presenting and interpreting news. Though these companies brought foreign exchange for the nation, they had five booby traps they were not aware of. At last they have begun to catch up with them.
1. Consumerism. Consumerism of the worst kind came into existence due to this corporate elitism. City after city fell to this economic onslaught. A driver in such a company would earn Rs. 15,000 a month, while a teacher who shapes an entire generation would not even earn half that amount. A data entry person would earn twice as much as a medical doctor who saves the lives of people. Moreover, with that kind of disposable income, consumerism became the ideology and life-style of youngsters who were running a rat race. In addition, their captains, in Raju's own words, were riding a tiger and did not know how to dismount.
2. Corruption. The corporate world denies they are corrupt and preaches ethics and values to the world. Even in campus interviews, the people who came representing their companies indulged in corrupt practices of taking bribes, showing favouritism and nepotism and even asking for sexual favours. As World Bank declared, Satyam tried to bribe officials to bag a contract and the company was blacklisted for eight years. Instead of acknowledging their crime, they demanded apology from World Bank. The auditors (chartered accountants) were like bond slaves doing what they were bidden to; they did not abide by their professionalism or the law of the land.
3. Career over family. These corporate houses promoted career over family values. With long working hours, spouse and children were neglected. Marital discord was a common problem in almost all families working in these post modern information era corporations. Extra-marital affairs wrecked many families. The companies are more concerned about projects and profits; they did not bother about the families of their staff.
4. Casteism. These captains of industries are so 'broad minded' or 'liberal' that they consider only merit as criterion for selection of their staff. Therefore, they vehemently opposed reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Castes in the private sector. Nevertheless, a reputed study revealed that the surname (with caste) determined whether a person got an interview before appointment. Through that it became den of arrogant sophisticated westernised elite who lived in imaginary India disconnected from Bharat.
5. Communalism. The huge profits with tax holiday for these businesses were spent liberally in helping Sangh Parivar affiliated non-Government organisations that spread hatred and revenge among masses. That is their contribution to save India from western influence and maintain the cultural integrity of the nation. Many of their staff working for these companies in North America taking clue from management became huge donors for Sangh Parivar organisations in the US.
The Government just left these companies with tax holidays and even special incentives. Chief Ministers like Krishna and Chandrababu Naidu became Chief Executive Officers of Bangalore and Hyderabad respectively forgetting other parts of their respective States and other departments in the government on the advice of the corporate heads. These corporate leaders started demanding free land or subsidised land for their companies. They dictated terms to the government for them to continue their existence in their cities. Many political leaders accepted their demands and neglected the poor, and other sectors like industry and agriculture.
The media should have been the watchdog or prophet in a multi-cultural society with a developing economy in a democracy. However, it forgot its cardinal role, and played a secondary role to IT boom. They did not analyse the situations wisely, but show-cased the best and ignored the rest in this boom sector. Media created heroes out of non-heroes in the IT sector and the young people were attracted to IT in large numbers neglecting other disciplines.
The civil society failed to do social audit of these firms. As long as the money flow increased, employment opportunities in urban areas increased, malls increased, and options for consumption increased, people were glad. They did not realise that such astronomical salaries to IT professionals created wider gap between the rich and poor and between them and other professions.
Strangely, this company has won a long line of awards, including the E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year Services award 1999, the Dataquest IT Man of the Year Award 2000, the Asia Business Leader Award 2002, and the Golden Peacock Award for Corporate Governance as recently as September 2008, and this did help in adding to the buzz about the company. That sounds interesting and disgusting. Who are the people who give these awards? They could not smell the dead rat odour underneath.
Government Should Respond
The Government of India should step in to stem the rot. Corporate governance and ethics are myths projected by the elite to escape government monitoring and control. The government should immediately withdraw tax holidays for these companies. A law should be enacted in the Parliament fixing the ceiling for salaries and a CEO should not draw more than ten times the salary of the least paid employee. Strict monitoring should be introduced and there should be provision for transparency in their administration. The media should have their feet on their ground, and not fly in imaginary clouds neglecting ground realities. Civil society should be vigilant not to allow aberrations and lopsided priorities to prevail. Contribution to society should be the criteria, and not the contributions to GDP, for judging the worth of individuals and companies. This is a wakeup call for the nation; will the nation respond?