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Interesting Bed Fellows

The race to succeed British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has become an international sensation, particularly in India. The reason is simple, the front runner of succeed Mr. Johnson, is the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Rishi Sunak, who is of Indian descent.

The news of Mr. Sunak’s success has gone set the Indian media on fire and his expected accent to the premiership of the UK is portrayed as “karma” for British rule of India.

In a way, its good to see Mr. Sunak succeed. If you look at it from the Singapore perspective, the only question one can ask is “how is that nobody in the UK seems to care that Mr. Sunak comes from a ethnic minority, whilst in Singapore, despite 55-years of pledging to be “regardless of race or religion,” we’re still told that we are not ready for a Prime Minister from an ethnic minority.”

The fact that Mr. Sunak’s rise has not raised an eye-brow speaks well for the UK. Its as if ethnic origins have become immaterial. The British Press has thus far not talked about a “First Indian Origin” Prime Minister in the same way that the American press talked about “First Black” President when Obama took power back in 2008.

There’s much going in favour of Mr. Sunak. He’s highly presentable (he’s officially known as “Dishy Rishi” and was voted sexiest male politician by Daily Mirror readers) and articulate. He was praised for his handling of the Covid-19 relief. After three years of an incompetent fat slob, it would be nice to have someone presentable and vaguely competent in charge.

There is, however, one major but unfocused minus point against Sunak. The minus point that everyone focused on was the fact that his wife. Ms. Akshata Murthy, daughter of Infosys co-founder, Mr. N.R Narayana Murthy, was registered as “non-domicile” in the UK and didn’t pay a penny to the exchequer on her very vast dividend income from Infosys shares.

Being a “non-domicile” was not illegal but it didn’t look good. More importantly, it distracted everyone from the real issue – which is what exactly is the influence that Infosys plays in Mr. Sunak’s political career.

Now, Mr. Sunak has admitted that he has received advice from his father-in-law and he’s admitted that his father-in-law is not easily impressed. This isn’t what you’d call anything abnormal in a family situation: [LINK]

Then, in fairness to Mr. Narayana Murthy, he is one of the “good guys” in the capitalist story coming out of India. Mr. Murthy made his fortune in a sector of the Indian economy that functions at international standards (Intellect’s Design’s Managing Director, Arun Jain, once called it the sector that the Indian government stays out of). He isn’t “inherited” wealth nor did he use dubious letters of credit to swindle people. Mr. Murthy is a “hero” by anyone’s standards and if there is anyone you should take advice from, it is Mr. Murthy.

Mr. Sunak is rightfully proud of what his in-laws have achieved and, in many ways, their success story is what “conservative” parties should proclaim: [LINK]

However, while nobody expects Mr. Sunak not to have any contact with Mr. Murthy at all, what role is the well being of Infosys going to take in Mr. Sunak’s decision making. As benign as Mr. Murthy is, every political office holder in a democratic system needs to be clear about where their interests are.

While nobody has yet to raise the question and nobody has yet to suggests that it has. Ms. Akshata Murthy merely owns shares and Mr. Murthy has officially left the running of Infosys in 2014. However, Mr. Murthy is still an influential figure in Infosys and when so much of the family wealth is tied up in a single company, one needs to make clear where the lines are drawn. This isn’t to suggests that Mr. Sunak or Infosys will do anything unethical but, in a day, and age of social media, one should be very clear about certain things.

Let’s face it, the record of politicians being a bit too cozy with business isn’t stellar. America just had four years of a president who used the state to further his own business. While the Donald was loud about how he was only working for a single dollar a year, somehow the Trump International Hotel in Washington became the favorite haunt of international dignitaries and whenever he visited Mar-A-Lago, he could bill the state for the Secret Service accommodation.

Believe it or not, he wasn’t the first politician who refused to sever ties with his business whilst in office. In the 1990s, the Italians had Silvio Berlusconi, who became the European role model for Thakshin Shinawatra a few years later. All these men never really made it clear where their business interest ended.

Singapore has a different take on “conflict of interest.” For years, the head of the “Sovereign Wealth Fund” (which Temasek Holdings is in practice, even if it legally isn’t one), was married to the Prime Minister and the daughter-in-law of the highly influential first Prime Minister. On paper, there was no official conflict. Temasek Holdings have been shouting about how they are “independent” of the government. Then, there’s the fact that Temasek Holdings is owned by the State rather than the Lee family, you could say that there’s no issue here (even if Madam Ho’s salary was a state secret while her husband’s was out in the open).

However, if you look at the way Singapore Inc has functioned, you’ll notice that the “big” Singapore companies have inevitably failed to grow beyond Singapore’s miniscule domestic market. The only exception would be SIA, which operates in a space where domestic protection is pointless and SingTel, which bought companies from elsewhere. How is it, for example, that laws get passed that seem to benefit the big players. One of the most prominent areas is in finance, where as Emanuel Daniel, publisher of the Asian Banking and Finance Journal pointed out – the regulator ensured that FinTech companies would be mere subcontractors to the banks instead of competing with the banks. Officially, there’s nothing wrong with our companies until they have to function outside the protected ecosystem of Singapore.

Mr. Sunak has a chance to be something exciting for the UK. However, he needs to be clear as to where Infosys’s interest end and his begin. As long he does that he should be a decent enough amount of fresh air after the incompetent Johnson years.

 

Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.

 

 

yyy
READER COMMENTS BELOW

10 Responses to “Interesting Bed Fellows”

  • Harder Truths:

    Exactly what do you men a by $inkapore company? When most of the people employed are from other countries? So if they succeed or fail exactly how does htta matter to someone born here who can never get a job from them? Ever been to Changi Business Park? There is nothing remotely $inkapore anymore. SIA is funded by the government and always has been – if they did not it would collapse.

    Even a former Miss $inkapore was from Myanmar. Hahaha what a joke.

    So let us not talk about something that does not exist. $inkieland is a man-made ‘global village’ that is home to everyone who can kill off the locals and each other.

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  • Hopeless Indians:

    Even if one Indian becomes UK’s PM, that is not karma. The British ruled over India, massacred millions of Indians, and robbed billions from India to UK. Is this guy going to do the same to UK? Of course not.

    Worse will be if the Indian UK PM bully India. That will be traitorous.

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  • theforgottongeneration:

    And in SG, regardless of race, language or religion, an ex-president’s son can be deferred from NS. What are his great contributions to the nation to be awarded such a high privilege? Or simply White Horse status?

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  • knn:

    Proud moments for Indians around the world. What a celebration if Sunak becomes the PM of UK.

    Little India would be ignited.

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  • reduce branches:

    //Officially, there’s nothing wrong with our companies until they have to function outside the protected ecosystem of Singapore.//

    some bank here lagi jialat, reduce branches in heartland area and hence inconveniencing customers – perhaps better kpi for the bank; and reward for better kpi goes much to top level executives at the expense of the consumers who need better access and convenience ????

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  • xoxo:

    Well,exchange is no robbery.
    Soon,India will have a British(white) PM?
    I see biggy problems ahead for UK.

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  • John Richards:

    Once again you make Trump out to be the bogeyman. Wouldn’t using the Biden family as an example make more sense? He is the current President and is obsessed with helping his son’s business contacts in China and Ukraine.

    If you want to sound like an intellectual, please use your brain.

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  • panyusg:

    When Sunak is PM, his first visitor will be Modi who will give him some good advice…

    - Make UK a colony of Mother India
    - Send the homeless and jobless to India to clean up the Holy Ganges River
    - London will report to New Delhi

    ha ha

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  • xoxo:

    Whoever becomes the next UK PM will not stay longer than Boris.
    Sunak n Truss,not exactly good successors imho.
    In Italy,political turmoil even with an amicable n experienced Draghi?
    In ASEAN,JOKO seems capable n has steadied the once unstable Indonesia.
    We can see good economic advancement there in foreseeable future.
    So too XJP despite a few potential *disruptors* ,domestic or FOREIGN.

    Doubt Marco$ Junior can achieve much in pinoyland.

    As for Sg,to achieve progress n national prosperity(not the same as SOVEREIGN/STATE pro$perity),the 4G needs to emulate the 1G’s *SGS FIRST* POLICY.
    IF NOT,dont expect much even with ALL THE *TOGETHERNESS* SLOGANS.

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  • WW3 coming:

    The white woman is winning. She has shown herself to be ignorant of world geography and to be very war-prone. Want to follow Thatcher who had a war with Argentina far from UK. She also want to fight with Russia and China.

    WW3 will hide all vaccine deaths with nuclear death. Who is left to care by then?

    xoxo:
    Whoever becomes the next UK PM will not stay longer than Boris.
    Sunak n Truss,not exactly good successors imho.
    In Italy,political turmoil even with an amicable n experienced Draghi?
    In ASEAN,JOKO seems capable n has steadied the once unstable Indonesia.
    We can see good economic advancement there in foreseeable future.
    So too XJP despite a few potential *disruptors* ,domestic or FOREIGN.

    Doubt Marco$ Junior can achieve much in pinoyland.

    As for Sg,to achieve progress n national prosperity(not the same as SOVEREIGN/STATE pro$perity),the 4G needs to emulate the 1G’s *SGS FIRST* POLICY.
    IF NOT,dont expect much even with ALL THE *TOGETHERNESS* SLOGANS.

    GD Star Rating
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