Monday, September 28, 2009

Blowing whistles

Nelson Piquet recently blew the whistle on Renault's manipulation of the Formula One Grand Prix race last year at Singapore. The jury is still out on what penalty Renault would finally be forced to pay for the misdeeds of two of its senior most executives (and possibly others). Fortunately, the incident did not have any effect on the race at the same venue held on Sunday 27 September, 2009.

Where does Piquet stand in this episode. He became a whistle blower after he was given a 'raw deal' by the Renault management. Was his act out of penance; was it done to right a wrong; was it out of revenge? Whatever be the motive, would whistleblowers ever be appreciated for his deeds; would they ever be respected in their (professional) communities? OR, is it better to simply walk out and start all over again, rather than become a whistleblower and suffer for being one? Every organisation has its own little secrets - good, bad or ugly. It is sometimes a matter of opinion, too. Who would welcome or respect a whistleblower among their midst, whatever his motive?

Would Piquet ever be welcomed back to racing again?

Senior Citizens can feel a little happy

Somebody, somewhere suddenly remembers the senior citizens. Thanks for small mercies! A news item titled "Grandmother of discounts, from eateries
- Hotel federation plans concessions for customers who bring along senior citizens" on 26 Sept, 2009 reports as follows:

"The Federation of Hotels and Restaurants of India, the apex body of the hospitality industry, is planning discounts for customers who are accompanied by senior citizens.
“The idea is to encourage families to bring along the elderly who are normally left at home while the others dine out,’’ said federation secretary-general Deepak Sharma. “We want to give it a try in the metros first, then we will extend it to the smaller cities.”…

If the elderly come alone, they are still entitled to the discount, but if they come in a group, the discount will apply to the overall bill. No documents showing age are likely to be needed.

To make the plan a success, the industry is also thinking of altering menus, offering more vegetarian and diabetic-friendly diets."

In India, the senior citizens are avoided by the mediclaim and health insurance people. The income tax guys force them to wait for (marginal) benefits till they are 65; even then they are forced to submit tax returns if only to recover the TDS (it does not matter if their taxable income is below the cut off level for submitting returns). The Calcutta Metro forgot about the senior citizens or the disabled while building their underground network and the stations. Only the Indian Railways recognise them and offer discounts - which the senior citizens gratefully appreciate.

Hardly any hotel or restaurant in India offer low calorie, sugar free, fat free diet. Not only the senior citizens, but even the health conscious people have great difficulty in selecting a balanced diet when they eat out. Hence, the decision to offer "more vegetarian and diabetic-friendly diets" is indeed most welcome.

Duranto Express

One more train connecting Calcutta (oops, Kolkata) and Bombay (ahem, Mumbai). It begins its journey from today (28 September, 2009). The unique feature about this train is that it would offer a direct, non-stop service between the two metro cities. No entraining or de-training in between. Time of travel: approx. 26 hours (shaving off more than 7 hours). The schedule has also been well planned.

It would cater to a large number of passengers who look for shorter travel time between these cities, are forced travel by trains even though they take much longer, must suffer for two nights and one whole day (not to talk about dirt and other inconvenienes), all for just point to point journey between two metros nearly two thousand kilometres apart. Up to now, the only alternative had been to go by air after paying a much higher amount. Duranto Express should fill a great void, and is sure to be well patronised by all.

A great initiative, I must admit. My only fear is that it should not degenerate to the state what the once-popular Geetanjali Express has been reduced to. The railways should resist political pressure and retain its present schedule for time to come.

Incidentally, why a Duranto Express between Calcutta and New Delhi? What does Calcutta -Delhi Durantos have that the Rajdhanis do not?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Gary Kirsten's misplaced indignation

The Telegraph, Calcutta, India issue dated 26 June 2009 carries an interesting news item (http://www.telegraphindia.com/1090926/jsp/sports/story_11543481.jsp) on Gary Kirsten, the Team India coach,. He has been in the news of late for his co-authored document which, among others, is said to encourage the Indian cricket team members to have more sex prior to a match for better performance (on the field).

It states that Gary Kirsten "had absolutely no role in authoring a rather controversial document"...Kirsten is siad to have read out a statement claiming that he was deeply hurt by " the many allegations that I encouraged the Indian players to engage in sexual activity before a match...I would like to state that I have never… and, I repeat, never encouraged or told the team or any player to engage in any form of sexual activity. These allegations are absolutely not true and completely against my religious and moral beliefs. The leaked article was compiled by Mr. Paddy Upton and provided information for the players on the relationship between sexual activity and sports performance. I never wrote the article and read it for the first time two days ago. It has never been and never will be part of team strategy....."

If (and it is a big 'if') what he claims is true, then the obvious questions is, who added his name to the report? How was it done without his permission? Is he so naive as to permit himself as a co-author without reading it or having any idea whatsoever about what it contained? If he is "deeply hurt", he should speak to his partner Paddy Upton, not to the media, shouldn't he!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Auditing: Satyam and its aftermath

Set a thief to catch a thief...?
The Economic Times of 9 March 2009 published an item titled "More than one auditor likely to be must for cos". The ICAI - the body that controls auditors and audit functions in India - seems to be considering this option to avoid the mistakes by PriceWatehouse Coopers now involved in the Satyam financial scam.
In my opinion, this is another way to cover up for the mistakes made by the audit firm and its audit team, and also to ensure more business for its members (chartered accountants). Whoever said that where one of the big four audit firm is not good enough, another would be?
The inefficiency of the ICAI has been highlighted in an article titled "Ad-ding to the investor's woes" by Rajrishi Singhal in the same issue of the Economic Times. The author says that ICAI "has shrugged off any culpability for the Satam scam....no one at ICAI stood up and declared that there's probably something intrinsically wrong with, or missing in, the ICAI rules, regulations and guidelines....instead of acting as the regulator, the ICAI is once again capitulating to the demands of the its clients and is planning to relax the accounting rules."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

An Interesting Book

By sheer chance I came upon a book titled "The Zurich Axioms" by Max Gunthur. What is it on? Investment (the author would prefer the term 'speculation'), risk management, how to get rich, making money in the stock market - call it whatever you wish. The author Gunthur propounds some radical, controversial, occasionally (apparently) contradictory hypothesis on speculation and risk management.
You don't have to agree with all the 'axioms' in the book. But it is worth a good read, without doubt. When read in the context of the global financial crisis, and the loss of value of invested assets (stock or mutual funds), some of the comments hit home - and HARD.
I only wish I had come across the book earlier. Could have saved me some heartaches, and some money!
Go search the internet. The book is out there.