As long as the justice delivery system remains slow and our courts refuse to order crippling monetary penalties, zero-tolerance of sexual harassment at the workplace will be discussed endlessly at HR seminars but never implemented.
High on IQ but low on common sense. That, in a nutshell, would sum up Phaneesh Murthy, the IT-whiz who turns out to be a serial sexual harasser. Will he get away again, with insurers and iGate paying the bill, allowing him to make a fresh start with orchestrated publicity? Already, many women are saying that the companies that employed Phaneesh Murthy initiated quick action only because it happened overseas, the women involved were foreigners and the information technology (IT) industry is particularly conscious about their reputation.
Other than Mr Murthy’s, there are barely three cases where sexual harassment charges have been quickly settled. This only goes to show how badly the decks are stacked against Indian women. One was when Coca Cola reportedly paid over Rs1.45 crore to former Miss Universe Shushmita Sen for charges brought against Shripad Nadkarni, its India head. The company claimed it was a contractual dispute but Mr Nadkarni quit soon thereafter. This happened in 2002-03 when the first Phaneesh Murthy episode was widely debated in the media. Coke would also have been conscious that Shushmita Sen’s super-celebrity status at that time would have damaged it considerably.
Another hush-hush episode involved a Tata group employee, Lenny Menezes, who was allegedly accused of sexual harassment by an overseas employee named Neena Helms. Here again, the matter was apparently settled with a $75,000 payout. Another major case was that of David Davidar who had to leave Penguin on charges of sexual harassment. For Indian women, the ‘better’ choice will always be to move on, rather that press charges. As long as the justice delivery system remains slow and our courts refuse to order crippling monetary penalties, zero-tolerance of sexual harassment at the workplace will be discussed endlessly at HR seminars but never implemented.
As per the norms, life and general insurance companies with a minimum net worth of Rs500 crore and Rs250 crore, respectively, can apply for setting up of foreign business
The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) has allowed insurers with sound financial health and a minimum of three years of operations to set up business in other countries.
Companies had been for long seeking permission from sector regulator to open foreign insurance companies, as well as branch offices abroad to exploit markets overseas.
IRDA has issued guidelines for Indian companies to set up life, general or reinsurance business abroad.
As per the norms, life and general insurance companies with a minimum net worth of Rs500 crore and Rs250 crore, respectively, can apply for setting up of foreign business.
In the case of reinsurance companies, the net worth should be Rs750 crore.
“The registered Indian insurance company should have been in operations for at least 3 years,” the guidelines said.
An insurer desirous of setting up foreign company or branch should have earned profits for the three years out of the past five years, it said.
Seeking to safeguard the interest of domestic policyholders, IRDA further said the insurer setting up overseas business will not be allowed to utilise the fund of domestic policyholders.
“The Indian insurance company shall have in place appropriate arrangements to ensure that the policyholder's liabilities that arise for foreign operations are adequately ring-fenced in order to protect the Indian policyholder,” the guidelines said.
There are 52 companies in life, general insurance and reinsurance business in India. Most of them have foreign partners.
An insurance company desirous of setting up foreign insurance company (including branch office) “should not suffer from any adverse report of the Authority on its track record of regulatory compliances, for three years out of the last five years from the date of application,” the IRDA added.
The guidelines also said the Indian insurers should formulate an “Investment Policy” to suit the scale, nature and area of operations of the foreign branch offices.
As per the IRDA, a “foreign insurance company means a company registered outside India whose paid-up capital is subscribed to by an Indian insurance company.
It shall include a foreign subsidiary company wherein the Indian insurance company has a holding of more than 50% of its paid-up capital or is in a position to control the composition of its board of directors. It shall also include a branch office of the Indian insurance company”, the IRDA added.
The course Shinzo Abe is following is not unique to Japan. Central bankers, by following Japan, are making the same mistake over stimulus and reforms. Stimulus alone without the most important part, reforms, is simply a recipe for trouble
Has the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe found the secret formula? After almost two decades of stagnation, Japan looks like it is recovering. The growth rate has not risen above 2% since 1993, but the first quarter of 2013 the rate was 3.5%. The stock market, even after its recent tumble, has risen almost 70% in yen terms over the last year, an astonishing rise. Even the demand for high-end sexual favours, “highly technical” massages costing 60,000 yen ($600) a session, has gone sky high. What has Abe done to perform this miracle? Actually more of the same.
Abe’s plan, generally known as Abeconomics, is very similar to what Japan has been trying since its stock market collapsed in 1990. They provided monetary stimulus by keeping interest rates near zero. They also provided fiscal stimulus that has increased their debt to the highest in the world, about 240% of GDP (gross domestic product). They even tried quantitative easing, a program they considered a failure.
Abeconomics also involves these elements. It just does so, on a massive scale. Abeconomics requires a 10.3 trillion yen fiscal stimulus. The new governor of the Bank of Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda, appointed by Abe intends to double the monetary base through an unprecedented program of quantitative easing. These are two parts of Abe’s plan, which he calls the three arrows, after a Japanese fable. The third arrow is regulatory reform. The problem is that he has the order of the policies wrong. For the program to work, the hardest part, the regulatory reform has to work. Without the legal reform, the first two arrows will end in disaster.
But the course that Abe is following is not unique to Japan. It is being followed by central bankers all over the world. But they all are making the same mistake. Stimulus alone without the most important part, reforms, is simply a recipe for trouble.
Japan’s prosperity was built by its export prowess, but its local business climate has ossified. It is the home of six of the world’s oldest continuous businesses going back over 1,000 years. Japan ranks 24th in World Bank’s Doing business rankings behind countries like Georgia and Malaysia. It ranks 127th for paying taxes and 114th for the starting a business.
Like many countries it has outdated labour laws. Its lifetime employment system favours older workers. These laws make firing full-time workers almost impossible, so Japan relies on part-time workers. Part-time workers are not worth the cost of training and less expensive than better educated university graduates. Changing jobs is difficult and productivity per worker is between 60% and 70% of US levels.
Another common complaint is the retail sector. Like India, Japan has a large number of small stores. In the US most of these stores would have been replaced by larger chains. They are not prohibited as they are in India, but a combination of zoning laws, taxes and subsidies keep the retail sector inefficient to the detriment of consumers.
Land use and agriculture are also hampered by restrictive laws, taxes and subsidies which distort the sector. Japanese farmers produce 4.6 trillion yen ($45 billion) a year, but consume 4.6 trillion yen in subsidies. The average age of Japanese farmers is 66 and they farm postage stamp plots of 1.9 hectares. Zoning and tax laws make houses difficult to build and expensive to sell, so almost all Japanese houses are one of a kind constructed by small firms using non-standard materials and methods.
Attempts to reform these and other laws is not something that started with Mr Abe. But any reform in Japan, and almost every other country, is up against powerful vested interests. These vary between jurisdictions. In Japan they include unions, older rural voters, business organizations and especially Mr Abe’s own party—the LDP. The LDP has been in power almost continuously in the post war period. Its dominance was built on this coalition and it will be loath to take it apart. Additional stimulus either fiscal or monetary in such a rigid environment only temporarily masks the problems and blunts the urgency of reform.
The Japanese problems would be very familiar to Europeans. France has a vast regulatory structure and exceptionally restrictive labour practices. France also has closed markets for goods and services in areas such as energy and the professions. Its socialist president, François Hollande, was elected on a platform that rejected changes necessary to cope with globalization and has little interest in remodelling a system that benefits his supporters.
Countries in Europe that are making the largest reforms are the ones that have to, Spain, Portugal and Greece. Spain has made a start in changing its labour system that like Japan favours older workers. Portugal is trying to speed up its courts and licensing system and free smaller employers from collective bargaining obligations more suited to larger businesses. Greece has closed its competitiveness gap for its labour market by 50%.
But these reforms may not result in growth for the countries that need it most, because the Eurozone has not moved on centralizing its banking system. Until it gets a unified regulator and cross-border deposit guarantees, it will, no doubt, experience another financial crisis. Germany has made it very clear that such reforms are not in the foreseeable future.
China’s rapid recovery from the recession has been based on a wall of money. Starting with a tripling of new loans in 2009, Chinese banks have been providing massive stimulus but thanks to a system dominated by entrenched interests, including the most entrenched of all, the Communist Party, the money has become less and less beneficial. China’s rate of growth has been falling steadily since late 2009. It now takes nearly 3Rmb of credit to generate 1Rmb of growth. State owned enterprises (SOEs) in China produced 358.9 billion yuan of dividends. But 330.9 billion yuan was remitted back to these SOEs on top of 173.6 billion yuan in government subsidies. Chinese stimulus not only hides the problems, but stores up massive amounts of bad debt for a future catastrophe.
Central bankers in their heart of hearts truly believe that they are the great and wise, a force for global good. The reverse is true. By sparing the rod of recession they have delayed the efficiency of the creative destruction process at the heart of capitalism. They have allowed governments and politicians with a sufficient illusion of growth to delay unpopular, but necessary reforms. Without reform the additional stimulus is simply allocated to ever more inefficient parts of the economy stifling growth, slowing the economy and bringing the moment of collapse ever closer.
(William Gamble is president of Emerging Market Strategies. An international lawyer and economist, he developed his theories beginning with his first hand experience and business dealings in the Russia starting in 1993. Mr Gamble holds two graduate law degrees. He was educated at Institute D'Etudes Politique, Trinity College, University of Miami School of Law, and University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. He was a member of the bar in three states, over four different federal courts and has spoken four languages.)