Wednesday, January 14, 2009

World Bank and Indian IT - is this professional racism?

The biggest names in the corporate world have been doing the rounds in the last few days - Enron, Satyam, Wipro, Infosys, World Bank, SEC, NYSE, SEBI, PwC, ICAI, you name it. All this, thanks to the massive INR 7800 crore fraud done by the infamous Mr. Raju, of the even more famous, Satyam Computers.

In all this, I have been seeing the World Bank hurling ban after ban on Indian firms, especially the IT outsourcing folks. Fine, there is eminent reason for the World Bank to slap a ban on Satyam, even before this fraud took place, given that there was so much scrutiny on Maytas Infra and all associated parties with Satyam. But, a couple of days ago, the World Bank pretty much "de-listed" Wipro. God knows who is next.

I am not for a minute suggesting that any firm is above water in its accounting disclosures, be if of their own accord, or as a result of their "hand-in-glove" relationship with their auditors. That is how accounting has been done for a long time and am not too sure if one Satyam will resurrect the way accounting will change overnight. Yes, there will be greater scrutiny and checks & balances. But that is not my point.

The moot point really is, why the World Bank hurling these "bans" on Indian firms, one after the other? What is the World Bank doing about throwing out names of firms from other parts of the world? Are they even trying to suggest that their relations with companies from all other parts of the world, except India, are cordial and above water? More than anything else, is the World Bank so sure that no other firm in any other country engages in financial fraud? What are they trying to prove by picking so hard on Indian companies?

Granted, there is an Enron-like scenario that has catapulted India into the world vision in the last 3 weeks. But, the World Bank seems to be using this as an opportune moment to hit the iron while it is hot, on India. Does it mean that this famous financial institution is going to wait for all the frauds in different parts of the world to crop up, before it de-lists/bans its relationships with different companies?

If the World Bank thinks that it is the custodian of all financial discipline around the world, especially in the case of its relationships with its clients, then, they should not single out one country like this; especially, when its steeped in a crisis, in a recessionary environment. It is actually OK for the World Bank to be calling out the names of these companies where there is so much of nonsense going on. But, it is in sad taste that one country and its most famous industry is being singled out like this (deservingly so, I add!). The World Bank might jolly well call out all the fraudsters that it has any hint on; let's see what happens then and how many more CEO's buckle down and own up their mischief (like Raju did).

Also, in the interest of cleaning up the system, the World Bank should ideally throw out all the names that it wants to de-list around the world, along with adequate proof. These nicely-worded press releases from PR gurus in the World Bank on de-listing companies will do no good. If anything, such press releases will only alert the other companies that are engaged in financial bungling to be wary of the World Bank. Such companies, in the light of such PR exercises by WB, might even end up cutting down on the business volume with this major financial institution and slowly fall out of the radar. That will still not stop fraud around the world.

If what the World Bank is currently doing is not coined as professional racism, what else qualifies?

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