Corruption
A decade after the Satyam scam, despite positive changes in the corporate ethics space, it is plagued by malpractices albeit in the higher echelons.
Facebook/KS Sabarinadhan

Ubiquity is a feature that differentiates today’s civilisation from the erstwhile ones. Gone are the days when information could be limited to a few oligarchs or bad news easily brushed under the carpet. A revolutionary change in the Information Technology sphere gets us connected to practically everything – be it the shockingly funny news of a regional road transport bus being manoeuvred by a langoor comfortably seated on the driver’s lap (shot on an amateurish mobile camera, of course!) or the zoomed-in images of the likes of Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel being subjected to Donald Trump’s not so warm handshakes.

Most politicians fear trial by social media today where one cannot risk facing the wrath of youngsters armed with mobile phones loaded with high-speed internet connections. I personally try to stay clear of major controversies but still get embroiled in a few political ones, which I presume is part of the job description. I was on a ‘social media high’ when someone posted a candid photograph of my attempt to save a dying dog that had been hit by a vehicle on a state highway. However, I found this good karma phase to be short-lived when a viral screenshot of my vehicle found parked on the wrong side of the road for a couple of minutes started doing the rounds on various platforms.

A positive aspect of this instilled fear is that it reduces one’s chance of intentional wrong-doing. Ideally, the solid frame of The Right to information Act, a vigilant media and crores of mobile phones playing Big Brother should make us more hardworking, professional as well as ethical. But one needs to ponder if that translates into reality in diverse domains of our society.

One of the sectors where professionalism and work ethics is touted to have attained newer desirable standards is the corporate world. The wave of internationalisation and entry of multi-national companies created higher degrees of standardised systems and processes in the Indian corporate sector thereby making its employees less likely to be erroneous or prone to corruption.

Having worked in a corporate job for close to a decade, I still dread those Internal Audits and Change Reports, fondly called as CRs, for their scrupulous nature of scrutiny. The corporate “vigilantism” ranges from an Annual General Body Meeting attended by the who’s who of the company and all the shareholders to an Internal Management Committee headed by the CXOs and senior officials. The systems are seamlessly interconnected and tightly controlled. My corporate colleagues will vouch for the fact that getting a travel approval or a performance rating is no mean task that it almost crosses the gold standard of sarkari bureaucracy on many occasions.

However, in spite of these checks being in place, India is currently facing its worst corporate dilemma in a long while, with cracks in the corporate systems unravelling. Even a decade after the infamous Satyam scam, despite several positive changes in the corporate ethics space, we continue to be plagued by similar malpractices albeit in the higher echelons.

Of late, some of the biggest names in the banking sector in the country have come under the shadow of disgrace. The fact that these names were once synonymous with the positive benefits of globalisation and rise of the Indian middleclass worsens the gravity of the issue. These organisations and leaders adorned the front pages of pink papers and business magazines besides topping every survey for long – Best places to work/ Best Corporate practices/ Best business ethics/ Best workspaces for women. Panoramic shots of gleeful employees with their corporate leaders in brightly lit office spaces became the norm of the day. When news of these banks wilfully breaking rules to open their bounties to the high and mighty (and now absconding), one cannot but lament over what had happened to the celebrated corporate systems and practices.

Did the mid-level manager who had to process the loan as per the internal guidelines err? Did the superior in charge of the portfolio overlook the systemic warnings?

Did the bankers sitting in those swanky Bandra Kurla Complex offices overlook the data?

Did the external auditor and big consultant cherry-pick data as per the organisation’s convenience?

Did the nosey Independent Director who brings in multiple years of wisdom and is supposed to play the devil’s advocate turn into silent mode?

Didn’t the newspaper analysts and business pundits who chew on company data to give us stock market updates daily in the morning spot these discrepancies too late?

Well-educated youngsters turned citizen journalists with considerable social media presence seem to be critical of every visible entity (from price rise to actors’ performances to political riffraff) but observe an uncanny yet cosy silence in matters pertaining to the corporate world. This indirectly enables enterprises with mala fide intentions to cover up their follies and miss the big picture in their organisations. Do all of us prefer “public vigilantism” restricted only to certain walks of life? Or are we ready to pan our phone cameras and television mics towards the larger-than-life organisations as well?

The skeletons have to be flushed out of the boardrooms, idols need to crumble, as did Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood. Perhaps a #metoo type of campaign about the corruption in the Indian corporate sector wouldn’t be a bad idea.

KS Sabarinadhan MLA, a former management professional, is one of the youngest members in the Kerala Legislature.