Sunday, June 30, 2002

Give us a break!

The new tax returns forms, running into 10 pages (and nine more of explanatory notes), make a travesty of the word Saral.
Gautam Chikermane
Mr Yashwant Sinha
Finance Minister
Ministry of Finance
North Block
New Delhi - 110001
Dear Mr Minister,
Thank you for convincing me that I’m no common man: I’m one of only 20 million taxpayers in this country, which makes me a very rare specimen of our species indeed. Someone the government ought to treat with samman–to borrow one of the many meaningless words in the dense tax lexicon –for thanklessly financing its profligacy. A man who, even as he bears the weight of the economy and pays for the sins of tax evaders, is at the rock bottom of the pecking order of political attention. Way below the various vote banks, money banks and muscle banks.
The list of injustices done to tax-paying citizens is long and unending, but the latest crude and insensitive joke is Saral ITS-2 and Saral ITS-3, a particularly warped variant of the form released in July 1999. These are forms individuals have to fill while filing their tax returns. A sample of disclosures we’re expected to make:
Column in Outlook Money

Saturday, June 15, 2002

More than meets the eye

Even before the dust has settled on the Enron-Andersen fiasco, we have the accounting misdeeds of WorldCom, Merck and Xerox in line. Can this happen in India? The idea is not as far-fetched as it might first seem. Readers are invited to write in with their views on the issue.
Gautam Chikermane
THE REVERBERATIONS of the accounting misdeeds of US companies have reached Indian shores. Even before the dust has settled on the Enron-Andersen fiasco, a series of new financial earthquakes, with their epicentres in the US, have begun to wreak havoc on international investors–WorldCom, which overstated profits to the tune of $4 billion; Merck, which did not account for $12 billion worth of sales; and Xerox, which claims it bribed Indian officials to get government contracts. The sheer scale of daring makes the Harshad Mehtas, the C.R. Bhansalis and the Ketan Parekhs look like petty pickpockets. Scams involving banks, stocks and allied regulators, RBI and Sebi seem like a waste of time, when so much more can be done by simply cooking the books.
Can this happen in India? Well, the idea is not as far-fetched as it might first seem. There are two institutions that participate in the publishing of balance sheets–the company’s management and its auditors. Once the balance sheet has been signed by the management, it is presented to all shareholders, and regulators like the Department of Company Affairs or Sebi (Securities and Exchange Board of India). The corruption of numbers, therefore, can be done by two sets of people–the management and the auditors. That is bad enough; what makes it worse is the ignorance of the regulators and the investors.
Opinion in Outlook Money

Money, sex and kids

By making money-talk taboo at home, we slow down our kids' progress towards financial literacy.
Gautam Chikermane
YOU MUST be out of your bloody mind. That’s the most perverted thing I’ve ever heard. Why do you want to corrupt the minds of these kids?" The shock was genuine, so was the anger. Not surprising when someone tells you that he wants to teach your children about money. "Money? For God’s sake, money is at the root of all evil... children must be kept away from it." But the same parents who so vociferously condemn this "misdirected enterprise" (to educate children about money) spend thousands of rupees– often dollars too–on them, and not just on necessities like their education, but on excesses like cellphones and ludicrously large libraries of video games. In their own lives, they certainly desire it. Lust for it. Worship it. Even fear it–perhaps because they don’t much understand it. Is that what explains this schizophrenic ambivalence about money: lust for it when you are an adult and do your damnedest to guard children from its "corrupting influence"?
Opinion in Outlook Money