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BW Businessworld

Lack Of Transparency Could Harm India

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The old, cozy, family and favourites and under-the-table style of doing business could destroy India's commercial potential as it taps Africa's vast markets, leading NRI industrialist Lord Swraj Paul warned on Thursday.

"India and Africa must understand that professionalism and transparency is the only path to progress in business," Paul said while inaugurating the 10th Annual India Business Forum of the London Business School.

With the economic and political landscape of the world changing in ways unimaginable a decade ago, he underlined that it is increasingly evident that professional business training is one of the essentials for the globalised economy.

"India has changed considerable in this respect, professional management has transformed Indian business, and for the better. I believe that lesson is not lost on African entrepreneurs," he said in his speech at the event titled 'India and Africa: Getting down to Business'.

"For too long both our societies have been burdened with this old, cosy, family and favourites, under the table style of doing and managing business," he noted.

Recalling his personal experience, Paul, Chairman of UK-based Caparo Group, noted that one of the biggest challenges in his career came when, some three decades ago, he confronted two of the largest companies in India businesses.

"It was evident then that the commercial potential of India was destroyed by these unprofessional managements," he said without naming the business groups.

Paul, Chancellor of two British Universities - Wolverhampton and Westminster - pointed out that in the past 10 years, the global economic and political landscape has changed dramatically with a remarkable transfer of wealth from Western world to the non-Western world.

"We have seen the powerful growth of countries that have had a long history of mediocre performance. We have seen how the world's leading economies have stumbled and lost considerable dynamism.

"All this suggests that we are living in an era of unlimited possibilities- an era of great opportunities for regions that did not do very well for a long time," he said noting that Indo-African trade has risen 10-fold to USD 50 billion and this figure was poised to increase to USD 70 billion.

Paul noted that India itself has opened the doors of economic success.

"Of course, there are pitfalls and potholes along the way.

But a pattern and a pathway has been set. There is no going back to the days of the Control Raj. The issue now is how we go forward and how we can speed up and better define a process that has begun. The obstacles are many but the vision is clear," he said.

He said India's success has been, and will be, in the ways that it interacts with global markets and that some enterprises have already competed very effectively in the mature markets of Europe and America.

"But perhaps we have not given the attention we should to areas with such significant potential as Africa. Now, happily, that is changing," he said.

"I am encouraged by the way in which the Government of India is now beginning a planned interaction with African countries and African markets," Paul said while recalling the vision of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and African leaders like Nelson Mandela and Julius Nyerere who sought to nourish Indo-African trade and economic ties.

"Now, at last, we are beginning to appreciate how economic and business relations can build on these links to the mutual benefit of both Africa and India," he said.

At the same time, he warned that it will not be a rosy path for Indian businesses in Africa.

"There is no fooling ourselves that everything in the future will be rosy. Indian interactions, especially on a business level, will have difficulties with several African nations.

"We have to understand, for instance, that Africa is not one entity but an agglomeration of diverse cultures, social practices and different lifestyles. Africans will have the same issues with us," he said.

However, Paul said he was a firm believer in the human capacity to "adjust and accommodate".

"Since we share the same hemisphere and the same ocean, this should not be a major barrier," Paul said.