• Saturday, May 25, 2024
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The narrow escape

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The outgoing governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, has had a really tough time battling with a slew of financial scandals and audit failures. Regardless, his professional integrity and personal reputation have remained intact. His Achilles heels are the dodgy economy of the UK and most of Europe (with even Germany having to struggle). According to a business survey released not long ago, business activity in Germany fell in April for the first time since November 2012. The long and short of it is that the global economy is faltering and Britain has been caught in its slipstream. Recently, Fitch Ratings became the second (Standard & Poor’s was the first) rating agency to strip the UK of its triple-A credit rating. However, according to Vatican Radio, Britain only narrowly avoided slipping into its third recession in five years during the first quarter of this year (January/March).

King still has three more months at the Bank of England; a recession at this time would have cast a dark shadow over his tenure, even though his worst critics concede that it is the politicians who are to blame – they lost the plot and took their eyes off the ball. When David Cameron became prime minister in 2010, he took a huge gamble by launching a bold slashing of government expenditure. It was a massive austerity programme packaged as “re-engineering”. The pointsman was none other than the UK Treasury chief (Chancellor of the Exchequer), George Osborne. He insists that Britain’s economy is on the mend. On CNN, he declared: “We all know there are no easy answers to problems built up over many years, and I can’t promise the road ahead will always be smooth, but by continuing to confront our problems head on, Britain is recovering and we are building an economy fit for the future.”

This was followed by a joint press conference by the prime minister and his Chancellor of the Exchequer. The governor of the Bank of England was conspicuously absent. David Cameron was unrepentant: “We shall stick to our strategy which is essential in our determination to keep Britain from the fate that has befallen Greece and forced other euro-zone governments into painful rescues after economic collapse. Our recovery plan is taking longer than we hoped but there are signs that it is working.”

Ed Balls, the spokesman for opposition Labour Party, was sufficiently provoked and alarmed. He immediately launched a furious counter attack: “The stagnating economy is proof the government’s strategy is not working. Unemployment is rising. We need an urgent boost for the economy – including bank overhauls (not excluding getting rid of the governor of the Bank of England); a plan for jobs and growth; and building affordable homes. We insist on immediate action to kick-start our economy and strengthen it for the long term.”

On Al Jazeera, Christine Largade, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), held up two signals – one read “DANGER” and the other read “CAUTION”. When pressed, she tactfully confined herself to the official line: “Owing to Britain’s weak economy, the government should consider slowing the pace of spending cuts (and sack the governor of the Bank of England).”

At a special service to mark Workers’ Day on Wednesday, May 1, 2013, the brand new Holy Father, Pope Francis 1, chose St. Peter’s Basilica to deliver a special message of hope not only to workers but also the unemployed, particularly those chartered accountants who have been protesting in St. Peter’s Square against being deprived of their means of livelihood by the four major accounting firms. The pontiff urged them – one and all – not to lose hope. Instead, they should consider themselves exceptionally lucky to have had a narrow escape from even worse tribulation and humiliation.

The Holy Father urged them to remain optimistic and steadfast in their faith amidst record joblessness in the euro area as hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated across Europe against austerity and workers’ rights – in addition to the right of small audit firms to carry out a robust audit without the fear of being removed from office while the four largest accounting firms are only too ready to take over their clients. According to them, there is nowhere in the Ten Commandments poaching, snatching or enticement of clients are forbidden. You kill what you eat and eat what you kill is the unwritten law.

The pope’s message was straight to the point: “I think about those who are unemployed (and auditors who have been replaced by the Big Four) often because of an economic conception of society that seeks egoistic profit regardless of social justice.”

Vatican Radio devoted a whole hour to interviewing youths all over Europe and it would appear that the economic downturn has forced young people to reconsider the value of going to university and half of them think a degree is no longer worthwhile. The Future of Europe Project found the confidence of young people (particularly Catholics) has been badly hit. The majority aged 16-24 do not expect to have a job for life.

The Vatican media can barely keep up with the vigour and freshness of the pope. Indeed, Vatican Radio and TV have been feasting on the editorial of The Nation newspaper of March 23, 2013: “Pope of Hope – New Catholic pontiff starts on a good note”.

As confirmation that even in the midst of hope, there is no escape from despair and frustration, Italian politicians were the beneficiaries of a narrow escape from a crazy gunman on April 27, 2013. Elizabeth Povoledo gave an eye witness account.

As for the “Seventy Senior Elders from Nigeria”, who have for almost six months kept vigil in St. Peter’s Square in fervent prayers for our beloved country – that it may not go the same way as Rwanda; Sierra Leone; Liberia; Egypt; Libya; and especially Somalia – the Italians and the Holy Father have proved to be generous hosts. We are being provided with free biscotti and coffee. Besides, our visas have been extended “indefinitely”. The message is clear – we are welcome to pray for as long as we like.

J.K RANDLE

Randle is a former president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and former chairman of KPMG Nigeria and Africa Region. He is currently the chairman, JK Randle Professional Services.

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