The existing systems in India have clearly not prevented black money and the proceeds of corruption from leaving the country. Hopefully the next generation revolutionaries can actually use technology to bring about the change we want to see
First the Gandhian, Anna Hazare and then the yoga guru turned social activist, Baba Ramdev; India has witnessed two major voices against corruption in the last year. While Anna and his team's movement primarily focused on bringing a strong Lokpal Bill, Baba Ramdev has been crusading to bring back the black money stashed away in Swiss banks, to India.
Corruption has assumed unprecedented proportions with the Coalgate allocation scam running into billions of dollars and everyone from the erstwhile Bhartiya Janata Party government (now the main opposition party), led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the current United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, led by Dr Manmohan Singh, being under the scanner. The Indian parliament hardly worked in the monsoon session, with the ruling party and the opposition at loggerheads with each other.
A ray of hope, in the midst of the political circus, seems to be the Indian banking system that has been resilient in the past, conservative and cautious. The recent cases of laxity in vigilance and violation of regulations at the HSBC and the Standard Chartered Bank have resulted in trillions of illicit money gaining access to the US markets. This raises questions about the steps taken towards the prevention of money laundering by countries across the globe.
India became a full-fledged member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body which works towards combating money laundering and terrorist financing in the year 2010. Since then, India has been co-operating with the other member nations in sharing information regarding suspicious, money laundering and terrorist financing activities.
According to FATF, “corruption has the potential to bring catastrophic harm to economic development, the fight against organized crime, and respect for the law and effective governance”. Early this month, both NSE and BSE, the leading stock exchanges of the nation, urged investors to exercise caution in dealing with entities linked to Iran, following warnings from FATF.
The question is, being a member of FATF and at the same time struggling with corruption at home, is India doing enough to combat money laundering? A survey on Anti Money Laundering by KPMG in India (2012) revealed that about 11% of the respondents find that more than 25% of their SWIFT messages have incomplete originator information. The survey also finds that more that majority of respondents found the client screening, handling of filter hits and maintenance of sanction lists was either moderately challenging or challenging. And less than 50% use either internal or external sophisticated IT systems to identify potential money laundering cases.
In the US there exists a list of Specially Designated Nationals and a list of Countries identified which should be screened for identifying potential risky transactions, better known as OFAC (Office of the Foreign Asset Control) List. US people and companies are banned from dealing with entities in this list.
In India too, Financial Intelligence Unit - India (FIU-India) along with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), has been working towards making the screening system more rigorous. If the processes are implemented in letter as well as spirit, financial companies like banks, NBFCs and insurance companies, which collectively control the flow of money in the economy, can directly hinder the plans of rogue elements by making their financial life miserable.
Also, there exists Know Your Customers (KYC) and Customer Due Diligence (CDD) guidelines in India, which can be easily flouted, due to the multiple ways in which one can fulfill these requirements. India still does not have a single identity for its citizens, on the lines of the US Social Security Number. Same person can have multiple address and identity proofs in the form of state-issued passport, driving license, ration card, or the most recent being the Aadhaar card.
Going by the KPMG report, while India is taking baby steps in the right direction, there are major milestones to be covered in terms of training, reporting and technology to be able to use some of the most sophisticated algorithms involving abnormality detection, predictive models and social network analysis. In fact, it is said that if Facebook was a country then it would be the 3rd biggest in the world. The combination of data from social networks and technology can help us create sophisticated bad behavior detection tools.
The recent technological advances have helped many institutions to harness the power of large datasets. The companies can process and collect data at close to real-time and with the help of certain algorithms, classify and detect malicious behavior instantly. This is like any other antivirus system found on computers, but different in terms of target units, i.e. money laundering and terrorist financing.
The existing systems in India have clearly not prevented black money and the proceeds of corruption from leaving the country. Hopefully the next generation revolutionaries can actually use technology to bring about the change we want to see instead of relying on the old fashioned political rhetoric. Next time when someone says “Hum bahar ka paisa vapas layenge” (Read: Baba Ramdev claiming to bring back the black money stashed in Swiss banks) then we must ask “What’s your analytics quotient?”
The government needs to direct the medical profession to prescribe generic drugs, which are available at almost half the cost of branded products. This will surely help in bringing healthcare costs for the aam aadmi
On 20th September, the Group of Ministers, led by Sharad Pawar, Union agricultural minister, will take a call on the need to bring in some 350 essential medicines under price control. At the moment, there are 74 drugs under the Drug Price Control Order (DPCO), which was promulgated in 1995.
The National Pharmaceutical Policy, drafted last year, has been kept in abeyance due to the methodology proposed to be followed in fixing the ceiling prices, because of difference of opinions.
In the meantime, the Supreme Court has asked the government to come up with a decision on drug pricing within two weeks, failing which, it will pass an interim order.
Now, let's take a look at couple of case studies relating to the subject.
In the first case, the high blood pressure patient has been using, under expert medical advice, both Tenormin and Plendl, for more than 15 years, which has enabled him to keep his BP under control. While Tenormin is available, a few months ago, Plendl, manufactured by AstraZeneca went off the market, first with 2.5 mg tablets and soon followed by 5 mg. Now the stockists/drug stores do not get any supplies and distributors do not have any answer. No announcements were made in the media as why these are no longer in the market. Why they were withdrawn or production stopped, for that matter, is also not known.
When the regular customers sought assistance from drug stores, they were politely suggested to contact their personal doctor for advice.
This was followed by a visit to the specialist and after the patient got a generic equivalent, used it for a brief trial period, maintained the records for body reactions, the doctor advised continuation of the new prescription, as this was compatible. The cost of medicine worked out cheaper too.
In the case of the second patient, who is under medication for diabetes, he was prescribed Amaryl P, manufactured by Aventis Pharma, which he found to be effective and useful, but extremely expensive, as it was literally beyond his monetary means, being a junior level employee, earning a meagre salary.
While exchanging views on the high cost of medication these days, this issue was brought up, as Karnataka state health minister, SA Ramdas (no relative to the writer), had gone around propagating the need to open up generic drug stores, offering medications at comparatively low costs, upsetting the drug stores who were selling products made by leading branded pharmaceutical companies. Thus there has been opposition to the opening of generic drug stores by obvious vested interests, but minister SA Ramdas seems to be bent upon supporting this programme to alleviate the grievances of the common man.
Now the issue on hand is what should the government do? We all know that India is a leading exporter of various drug formulations and pharmaceutical exports are playing a vital role in the development of the industry. They are able to supply a great number of medicines at relatively low prices to meet the needs of the “aam aadmi”. And why not?
If and when the group of Ministers take a call on the issue of bringing the essential medicines under the Price Control Order, they would do well to consider a rider, and that of directing the medical profession to prescribe medication needs with generic names.
Also, it is in the interest of the patient to seek advice of his/her personal (family) physician for the generic names (if not voluntarily given), and or to consult the friendly drug store pharmacist to look up the (yellow) book to find the best available cheaper alternative. Of course, there is the urgent need to get the doctor’s approval for use. We should also remember that self-medication is dangerous. Period.
Without doubt, generic medicines are cheaper, as much as 50% than the branded products, but one needs to get the approval of the doctor before even using them; chances are that the doctor him/herself will prescribe the use, on a trial basis, and strictly maintaining the records for detailed examination before deciding to advice on usage, dosage, etc.
In a country like India, where medical insurance is in its infancy, the patient, you and me, need to consult the family physician before taking any steps that may be detrimental to our health! After all, there is no harm in asking for the generic name from the family physician.
It will save us our health and wealth!
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)