View from US: Why money stinks
From Pakistan to America, headlines scream: money made by the elites stinks. Be it the secret Swiss account of US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney or President Zardari; Fauzia Gilani’s legendary ‘loot’ at Harrods or son Musa Gilani making a fortune in killer drug Ephedrine; Imran Khan’s brief affair with Eminent Persons Group founded by a con artist named Albrecht Muth in New York or LUMS branding its most prestigious department, the executive development centre in Lahore after the Swedish Tetra Pak billionaire Hans Rausing.
First, Imran Khan’s flirtation with money, fame and power way back in 1999. Muth is in the news because he’s accused of murdering his wife Viola Drath, an heiress and 44 years older than him. The couple’s home in Washington DC boasted the likes of Anne Patterson (remember the lady who was American ambassador in Islamabad?), Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Vice President Dick Cheney. Muth enticed UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to agree to seek ‘advice’ from the Eminent Persons Group. Apart from Imran Khan, Muth enlisted Robert McNamara, former Defense Secretary and president of the World Bank.
Billionaire George Soros gave generously of his funds to the group. All these ‘eminent’ personages got tricked by the East German immigrant Muth and his illusory think-tank.
Today Muth’s name is mud, so to say. The con artist is accused of killing his 91-year-old wife. End of story one.
On to the Tetra Pak tale. The milk carton with this name is a household word in Pakistan. Thanks to the genius and vision of Syed Babar Ali, Tetra Pak Pakistan was inaugurated in 1982 with the blessings of Hans Rausing, heir to the Tetra Pak food packaging empire. Seven years later, the Rausing Executive Development Centre at LUMS came up. It has since trained and educated students in business. Hans Rausing’s son Kristian and his American wife Eva splattered the headlines recently when Eva’s body, wrapped in trash bags and sealed with tape, was discovered at their luxury home in London. Known for their drug addiction, ironically the couple donated millions in drug awareness charities. At the launch of one such charity in 2006, Prince Charles described Rausing as “one very special philanthropist.”
Kristian has no involvement in Tetra Pak business. Yet, it’s sad to see the grandson of man who founded Tetra Pak 60 years ago becoming a junkie and losing the custody of their four children and eventually losing his wife to drugs.
Ah, the approver Dr Rasheed Juma. The name Juma is revered for the reason that both father and son saved many lives with their God given talent as brain surgeons. The senior Juma was a man everyone sought for help, while Rasheed following in his father’s profession too won honour and respect among the medical community. Rasheed genuinely wanted to help Zardari clean up the health ministry. He gave up his career and moved to Islamabad as the Director General Health. Was it then the lust for power and pelf that stopped Rasheed Juma from chucking his job when PM Gilani began to twist his arm into doing wrong things? Why did he not quit? Musa Gilani, the accused, calls Juma the real “criminal” who has turned “approver.”
New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks expounds on society scofflaws: “These people are brats; they have no sense that they are guardians for an institution the world depends on; they have no consciousness of their larger social role.”
Christopher Hayes of The Nation in his book “Twilight of the Elites,” says while elites in America rise based on good grades, effort and merit, but, in a bid to preserve their status, they turn corrupt. ‘Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is a hackneyed cliché, nonetheless it will always be cited as a truism whenever the word corruption comes up.
But David Brooks takes the argument a step further by saying “The problem is that today’s meritocratic elites cannot admit to themselves that they are elites.” They consider elite a dirty word.
Bravo! How true. The elites in Pakistan, that includes you (me too?), are in self-denial. Everybody thinks they are “countercultural rebels, insurgents against the true establishment,” write Brooks. “This attitude prevails in the Ivy League, in the corporate boardrooms and even at television studios where hosts from Harvard, Stanford and Brown rail against the establishment.”
Aren’t we Pakistani elites similar? Aren’t we big hypocrites? We benefit greatly by the system that is not at all honest; socialise with family and friends who are raking it in and deal in dubious deals; don’t bat an eyelid cheating on our taxes; are the first to seek undue and undeserving favours from family and friends. All we do is wring our hands and blame Zardari government’s corruption, while presenting ourselves as gold standard flag bearers.
How many of us have broken ranks with the corrupt and called for transparency. Only the fool hardy? And do you know their fate? They are shunned by society. And called ‘trouble makers.’
Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, is having a tough time explaining how he amassed a 250- million-dollar fortune. The man is hiding his tax returns; won’t tell the American public how much money he has stashed away in Swiss banks and tax havens like Bermuda and Cayman Islands. All he says is that he made money legally. He has cheated no one. Eventually, it will be the voters who will be the jury – either they will vote him the next president or will choose Barack Obama for another 4 years. The Obama campaign says Mitt is either a “crook or a liar.”
Money played a big role in the Penn State University sex scandal involving the assistant coach Jerry Sandusk who sexually assaulted young boys for over a decade. His boss Joe Paterno and other high officials knew about it but chose not to do anything because the scandal would have caused a huge loss in money poured into the university’s elite football team.
Last word: as long as the intelligentsia, media people, businessmen, professionals pretend they are not the elites; they are the good guys, the stink from money will not go away.