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HR: Take the Money and Run
By Harun Rashid
14/1/2002 4:42 pm Mon
by Harun Rashid (Jan 14, 2002)
Writers of commentary generally have no arcane sources of
information. They differ from the average interested citizen who
reads the newspapers only in an excess of enthusiasm for current
events. After looking around the local and world scene at the recent
reports of objective jouralists, commentary writers are distinguished
by the seizure that strains them, relieved only by writing something
that seems to make sense of it all. The intended audience is
themselves, and any sharing that may follow is a form of communion
with one's fellows. In this sense such scribbling is a solitary social
Writing a commentary on current affairs is refreshing in its simplicity.
It provides satisfaction nothing else can. Once a new article is
finished one can sit back with a cup of coffee and begin the process
of revision. There is little difficulty to write an article on current
events. Malaysia daily provides sufficient material for numerous
subjects that can be treated in depth. For anyone with a writer's itch
it is a big box of oats. It isn't important that the readership is large or
small. It is the act of writing that matters, not someone else's reading
The usual article forms nimbly in the mind as a nebulous nexus, later
to coalesce when the addition of further input suddenly causes an
idea to jell around a theme. Take today's news for instance.
There is the Enron story, in which the world's largest bankruptcy
has occurred. The stock has fallen from US$83 to US$0.67 in a very
short time. The external auditors have issued memos to destroy all
the records. The Enron officers have sold their stock at a high price,
before the bankruptcy announcement. Pensioners have taken a lot
of the loss through their managed portfolio funds.
So the message is, you cannot trust the accounting firms or analysts
to tell you when an outfit has gone bust, that the corporate debts are
out of line with income, and that the sneaky officers who knew the
stock was worthless have sold out. If the prospective pensioner with
his retirement nest egg in a professionally managed fund could roll
back the clock, the best thing he could do would be to sell out, take
the money and run. That is Item Number One.
In Argentina the national debt has been renounced. This is a new
twist. Individuals can declare bankruptcy and receive court
protection that allows the appointment of special administrators to
sort things out. The same is true for publicly listed and traded
corporations. It is not true for countries. Yet there it is, headline
news, Argentina is bankrupt, and cannot pay its debts.
The old currency has been declared worthless, so if you have a few
million Argentine pesos under the mattress you can continue to
sleep on it. It isn't worth anything else anymore. There is a new
currency, but it is not pegged to the US dollar, as the old currency
was for the past ten years or so. If you still have money in the bank,
the government may let you take a little out, but not much. The
government will let you know when and how much. Today, though,
it isn't worth the same number of US dollars at the money changer's
window. If things continue as they are now for a few days more you
will need to put two Argentine bills up for every US dollar, so you
have effectively lost half your savings.
If you had known this a little earlier, you could have moved your
money into a foreign bank which allowed deposits in US dollars. It
would not have increased much in value during the present
readjustment, but it would still buy the same amount of airplane
tickets, should you choose to take a trip. But if you did not see this
currency business coming, or had been lulled into inactivity by the
ministers and their shills, then you did nothing. It is too late now. But
if you had known what the ministers and their friends knew, you
would be smart to take your money in US dollars and run with it.
That is Item Number Two.
Now for a local story, Item Number Three. In Malaysia there is a
dictator who rules by fiat. He has the goods on his ministers, and if
they don't cooperate he has a prosecutor who will cook up a case
to indict and convict them. He had an honest finance minister who
objected to the theft of government funds, and he was jailed for 15
years for doing so.
It is widely thought that the prime minister is holding things together
until his partner in crime gives him the signal that all is ready. No
one speaks up because the prosecutor who cooked up the case
against the honest deputy is now the new Attorney General. There
was a nice lady who filled the post for awhile, but when she made
moves like she was about to clean house the prime minister sent her
packing. But the pernicious prosecutor she had in her sights, none
other than the man who prosecuted the honest finance minister, got
to her first. I repeat, he is now to be the new Attorney General.
Malaysia's national currency was pegged to the US dollar in late
1998. It has been reaffirmed routinely since. A few days ago the
head of the national bank again said it was set in concrete. But now
the news is that the peg is subject to "re-examination". Coming from
the prime minister, who knows a thing or two about the potential for a
profit in currency exchange, this has set the alarm bells ringing.
Analysts are advising their associates around the country at this
very moment. The public must be reassured. The analysts will
advise not to panic. They will try to hypnotise the public into
inaction. But if the citizen investor knew that there was still time to
act, what would the citizen investor do? Right! Take the money and
So that is how a commentator clears his head (and his conscience).
It does not mean the ideas are particularly sound or that conclusions
are always accurate. No one is perfect, and one is at some times
more imperfect than others. After all, a commentary is only an
opinion, freely formed from fractured facts available, and openly
expressed. Many who are taken by the commentary bug write
gratuitously, and thus are beholden to no master. That does not
remove a requirement to be responsible. But to be free to express
the truth as one sees it, without concern for threat or intimidation,
that is rare in Malaysia these days.
Link Reference : HRW: Take the Money and Run