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Money-launderers to the cleaners!

Khalid Saleem

IF there is one subject that would bear repeating over and over again that would be the one related to ‘money-laundering’ that incidentally happens to be a comparative recent addition to the financial buzz-words in vogue. What this phrase is being taken to precisely connote in the Land of the Pure is somehow still shrouded in mystery. For one thing, we do not appear to be quite clear on which side our ‘national bread’ is buttered.
Several years ago, British newspapers were abuzz with the glad tidings that Her Majesty’s Customs was ready to unveil, what was termed as a ‘secret weapon against money-laundering’. The ‘weapon’ when presented to the expectant public turned out to be a pack of sniffing dogs that had been specially trained to sniff out currency concealed in suitcases of international travelers. So far so good! But what riveted one’s attention was the text that followed. It was proudly revealed that the dogs had all been stationed at “outward terminals” at Heathrow and Gatwick airports where they were to sniff out hidden currency in the baggage of passengers departing from the United Kingdom. There was nary a mention of the inbound terminals and the baggage of passengers entering the country.
The fundamental fact of life was thus brought home to all: that – in so far as the developed world was concerned – money-laundering related only to the funds that were exiting their shores. The matter of incoming money, on the other hand, was to be seen as a natural ‘inflow of capital’. Whereas, any one indulging in the former was to be apprehended as committing a serious misdemeanor, a blind eye would be turned at those indulging in the latter practice. This should provide wholesome food for thought for those who exhibit legitimate concern about the downward trend of the economic indicators of the Land of the Pure.
Much has been said and written about the curse of corruption in this hapless land. Very little attention is paid, however, to the damaging fact that bulk of the yield of this curse is spirited out of the country to be deposited or invested in safe havens and the developed world. Let us face it; corruption per se is not all that damaging for the national economy provided the ill-gotten wealth is reinvested within the country. The bane of our economy is that the country is being constantly bled white by our corrupt elites due mainly to the illegal (?) out-flow of its monetary resources. The hard-earned home remittances of our patriotic workers abroad are more than neutralized by the unsavory practices of the corrupt elites at home. One uses the word ‘worker’ advisedly because our white collar dual passport holders abroad hardly ever remit even part of their earnings to the home country, but prefer to hold on to the funds or to invest them abroad. This country, thus, suffers twice over – once due to the brain drain and secondly because of the withheld remittances.
It must also be mentioned that many of our highly qualified professionals working abroad happen to be ones who benefitted from lucrative scholarships offered by our government agencies. Before they availed of the scholarships, they were required to sign an undertaking to return to the country and serve for at least five years. Hardly anyone honored these undertakings. Since these scholarships are invariably reserved for the children, nephews and nieces of those who matter or their cronies, the recipients were generally allowed to break their undertakings with impunity.
One wonders if any of the NGO’s – that are sprouting in the country like wild mushrooms after rains – would spare some quality time to prepare a study of this debilitating phenomenon. It would, thereby, unravel a rotten and vicious cycle eating into the very vitals of the country. But would any NGO deign to go near the can of worms? But that, as they say, is another story.
The much heralded New International Economic Order tacitly encourages practices that result in a net transfer of resources from the developing world to the developed economies of the First World. The pity is that even those Third World countries that have enjoyed the benefit of a windfall due to bountiful natural resources bestowed on them by nature have not only done precious little to reverse the trend, but have actually abetted the developed world in its inequitable policies and practices. In effect, most of the surplus cash – helped not inconsiderably by lavish spending habits – of these entities gravitates naturally into the coffers of the developed world.
The economy of this blessed land is near collapse mainly due to such unsavory practices. The question that arises begging for an answer is: can anything be done to check this? Unless something is done to stench the outflow of this country’s life-blood and done quickly enough, the economic future looks bleak indeed. Instead of drowning the populace in a flood of statistics as is their wont, our blessed planners would be well advised to devise a cogent strategy to remedy this situation. For one thing, it just will not do to invite foreign companies to sell non-essential consumer products in this impoverished land and repatriate their profits, as at present. This is particularly true of foreign companies dealing in beverages who have been earning huge profits over the years without bothering to plough even a small percentage of the cash into such projects as provision of clean drinking water in deprived areas, for instance.
Instead of bending over backwards to help out the developed countries in their anti-money laundering campaigns, we are in dire need of developing our own national narrative. National interest is, or at least should be, our first priority. The pity is that to talk about such matters is akin to hitting one’s head against the wall; or worse!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.