Monday, June 18, 2012

To Sir with Love

To Sir with Love

Assalamu ‘Alaikum,
                                   As I ended my second day teaching Islamic finance to a group of unemployed graduates at the Unemployed Graduates Training Programme I said to them “You may wish me happy birthday on your way out”. They spontaneously burst into a “happy birthday song” which  touched me more than I cared to show. I did say to them, “Let me teach you also about life as anything else, as you have done your studying and your motive now is to get a job.” “You mean like Sidney Poitier in “To Sir with Love” sir? said one of them. “Yes, like him” I said. My heart goes out to these individuals of whom some are hopes of parents to exit from the poverty trap. Many years of studying with the dream of getting a job dashed by the reality of life. But they were happy faces still full of the hopes of youth.

What kind of economic system enriches the rich, disparages the poor and exudes collateral damage to needs of youth to get employed? How do we gloat on the success and burgeoning coffers of our big corporates when we can’t give people jobs? Is a banking system that trusts no one, that collects temporary excess liquidity to fund the nation’s economic growth really the appropriate model for a nation that wants full employment for its people? Are the banks job only to give financing to the big corporates and ignore the needs of the SME’s? How many times have we not heard of SME’s bemoaning the fact that they are utterly disliked by banks? SME’s produce over 80% of most nations’ employment and over 60% of most nations’ GDP but the banking system is stacked against them. Banks constantly demand collateral and the elusive paid up capital from SME's which by definition SME's dont have. Studies have shown newly formed SME’s are the biggest job creator in many nations. How come the banks’ branches in the regions only have one and at most two credit officers to process credit? Are the branches there to extend financing to local SME’s ; or to drain the liquidity of the regions through current and savings accounts for the monies to be funnelled to headquarters for them to lend to big corporates?

Three hundred years of riba has dulled our senses to anything else. SMEs cannot be trusted; unthinkable for banks to invest in SME’s is the general wisdom. Only lending is the possible way, never investing. The SME’s are too many to monitor, banks don’t have enough staff to supervise equity investment in SMEs, are the usual excuses. Not enough staff?! Tell that to the unemployed graduates in my class today! Tell that to the unemployed graduates of the nation today! Who says we have to pay them full pay? Give them a small basic pay plus a profit share of the bank’s share of the profit of the SME’s under their charge. Give each unemployed graduates 20 SME’s for them to supervise the banks equity investment in. Give them a small basic salary and a profit share in the bank’s investment and see how many jobs we can create overnight!

Sure there are difficulties; sure the unemployed graduates have to be trained. So train them. Aren’t these nation building exercises that we owe our young?

I still recall the sadness in their eyes when I said I will probably try to this formula with another country first. When it succeeds I will bring it to Malaysia, I said. Why they ask? Why not here first? I don’t think they can handle my answer; so I didn’t give it to them. In this country you have to be political to contribute anything to the nation. I am a professional; I don’t understand why I have to be political to serve a nation I love.

Still I treasure their birthday song. It made my day.


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