It often seems an evil world we live in. What is good and evil? They relate to states of feeling and perception that are real and communicable which in turn relate to perceptions and feelings of justice and acceptance. Their absence tends to generate disquiet and often violence. Much of the world is full of disquiet and violence.
There are generally two main responses: one is to generate and reinforce acceptance of the status quo however unjust it may seem; the other is to bend the status quo to the ends of greater justice. This need not always involve addressing the great issues of the day. More often it involves addressing a million smaller injustices that reflect the myriad aspects of greater unresolved evils that blight the lives of billions.
Recently, I met a friend of long standing now in his 80s. He is comfortable, a decorated hero of the 1965 war and a best-selling author. He has recently been denied access to his well-earned life savings for no fault of his own.
The State Bank of Pakistan declared a ‘moratorium’ on the operations of the bank in which he maintains his account because of its violation of banking rules.
As a result of the bank’s delinquency his checking account was frozen for six months and possibly longer along with those of around 120,000 other depositors. They have been allowed a one-time withdrawal of Rs300,000.
Many are senior citizens with obligations and dependents with no other liquid assets. How are they to spend their ‘evening years’? Resort to consistent borrowing from friends or relatives? Or selling off essential assets and cherished possessions? Have they no constitutionally protected rights on which they can rely in such circumstances?
They have apparently been informed by the State Bank to look for alternate means of meeting their needs until the ‘process’ of correcting or restructuring the delinquent is completed.
Depositors should have constitutional protection against being forced into incurring debt.
The decision to freeze depositor accounts was apparently taken to prevent a run on the defaulting bank which could lead to a declaration of bankruptcy and the possible loss of all the money of the depositors.
The decision was also supposed to prevent ‘tycoon raids’ and the illegal sale of the bank at throwaway prices to these very ‘raiding tycoons’ who had the highest levels of political protection.
Their protectors had in many instances set up banks of their own to park and camouflage their vast accumulations acquired through sustained abuse of political authority and the public trust.
While actions taken to protect depositors and shareholders in itself is a good thing it should not have to result in inflicting undeserved pain and losses on depositors, the majority of whom probably have no alternate means to maintain their legitimate standards of living.
They should have constitutional protection against being forced into incurring unnecessary personal and humiliating debt. Needless to say, the villains responsible for the mess are by and large protected from having to face the consequences of their illegal activities despite a plethora of anti-corruption and banking legislation as well as monitoring institutions.
The State Bank of Pakistan has a mandatory obligation to protect all consumers of banking services including deposit account holders in commercial banks.
It has a more specific obligation to ensure protection to innocent account holders, against banking scams by bank owners and employees in collusion with criminal tycoons with political influence.
Granted it is not always easy for constitutionally mandated state institutions to function in accordance with their responsibilities in the criminal political milieu of today.
Nevertheless, these responsibilities far outweigh any possible excuse for coerced or involuntary dereliction of duty whatever the circumstances.
Commercial banks earn ‘rental income’ from massive increases in government borrowings and the State Bank’s open market operations.
The importance of mobilising savings for private sector investment has dramatically declined and accordingly ensuring the security of ordinary depositors is no longer a major priority for many private commercial banks.
A former State Bank governor noted these practices involved “an alarming risk” of default on sovereign debt and increased vulnerability for commercial banks.
The term ‘bankster’ was first coined in 1933 as a combination of gangster and banker to describe predatory elements within the financial services industry.
In the 1970s the ‘financialisation’ of the US economy, and later the global economy, led to the exponential and unimaginably rapid expansion of the global banking and finance industry. Financial flows used to represent the production and trade of goods and services.
Today, they almost wholly represent speculation on a humongous scale through unimaginably complex financial instruments such as derivatives. These include betting by banks against the value of assets they’ve persuaded their customers to buy. Their executives collect massive bonuses for successfully defrauding their own customers!
‘Main Street’ America was robbed blind by the fat cats of New York’s ‘Wall Street’. But none have yet gone to prison because they are ‘too big to jail’, and most of the guilty corporate financial houses were bailed out with Main Street taxpayers’ money without their consent because the corporations were ‘too big to fail’.
These same criminals are reportedly responsible for the transfer of between one and two trillion dollars annually from the world’s poorer countries.
This has led to the creation of global offshore tax havens for an estimated $20 trillion of which $3.2tr represent undeclared assets from developing countries.
Corruption on this scale is a mass killer and a crime against humanity. Global poverty, disease and hunger, which provide fertile ground for violence and terror, could have been largely eliminated.
These international banksters, ‘The Masters of the Universe’, cannot operate without local counterparts. The risks for ordinary Pakistani account holders are embedded in this global and national network of criminal financial governance.
Tackling it will need to include redressing local malfeasance which adds up to an important dimension of the war of our fat cats against the people of Pakistan. Who will stop our banksters?
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.