With the fraud at Satyam dominating news it is difficult not to comment on this sordid affair. The fraud’s gargantuan proportions, its diabolical nature and the underlying greed, all under a thick cover of respectability has seriously dented the image of corporate India.
While the experts dissect the details of how a fraud of such massive proportions was so successfully carried out for years with no one any the wiser, ordinary investors who as always will suffer the most must ask questions not only from the iconic Ramalinga Raju, but from many others as well.
SEBI, the so called watchdog has been caught napping. In the aftermath of the scam one must ask what kind of a watchdog is SEBI. How did Satyam systematically, quarter on quarter, report huge revenues and profits and nobody smelt a rat. How come no one noticed its bulging accounts receivables, which now appear to be fictitious. Shouldn’t SEBI be held accountable for serious lapses amounting to dereliction of duty?
The independent directors on the board of Satyam are people with impeccable credentials and global reputations. What were they doing? What were they being paid for? Crores have been paid to them under various heads. Should they be allowed to get away by pleading ignorance? And why were they ignorant? Did the money they received made them look the other way? Is this what you would expect from a Harvard don and an ISB Professor amongst others?
Price Waterhouse Coopers the statutory auditors of the company’s accounts, certified everything as being above board. It would be difficult to believe that the auditors were not in cahoots with the company executives. While one can understand SEBI being asleep, these guys have to be comatose to miss out on something like this. Shouldn’t they be held equally accountable for their lapses and brought to book like the Rajus. Where are they hiding?
A company of the size of Satyam must be run by a team of senior executives with huge responsibilities. It is just not possible that apart from the Rajus and the CFO, no one knew of what was going on. There must be scores of people, who have to be deeply involved in the murky goings on to pull off something like this. Where have they all disappeared?
I lived in Hyderabad for a couple of years during the years 2001-02. Satyam Computers and its chairman Ramalinga Raju were the toast of the town. They had a sprawling campus on the outskirts of the city, which my Hyderabadi colleagues would point out with great pride. Raju’s connections with the political establishment including the than chief minister Chandrababu Naidu were common knowledge. Media reports now indicate that he enjoyed a similar relationship with the present chief minister. While these gentlemen are now running for cover and claim that they never had anything to do with Ramalinga Raju (they are afterall politicians), one would really be hard pressed to believe that.
And what about our ever vigilant business press. Were they not busy perpetuating the myth of Satyam by extolling its virtues. Why were they not interested in probing a little more, digging a little deeper and asking the right questions. Why were they happy to believe everything that the spinmasters at Satyam put out. Isn’t it time for them to introspect?
And finally my thoughts must turn to Raju, now cooling his heels in a jail in Hyderabad. Inspite of his present travails, what remains undisputed is his ability to build and lead a multi billion dollar enterprise. Had it not been for his monumental greed he would still be acknowledged as one of the greatest entrepreneur this country has seen.
How and why was he tempted to do what he did is something, which will remain a mystery for at least sometime to come.