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OPINION: Immigration policy may stall growth in NZ



Migrate to AustraliaNew Zealand’s xenophobia, rather its politicians’ attempt to capitalize on xenophobia, has raised its ugly head again.

This time it is Labour leader David Cunliffe, who has blamed migrants for housing crisis and has suggested putting brakes on immigration following Treasury’s prediction that net migration may cross the 40,000 mark very soon.

If Cunliffe has his way, New Zealand could curb the projected migration levels of 40,000 to just in the “zone of between 5,000 and 15,000”.

Cunliffe wants “enough new migrants to fill our skill gaps but not so many that it overwhelms our housing market or the ability of our schools and our hospitals to cope”.

How convenient! Has he done research to learn about the number of migrants serving in New Zealand’s healthcare sector?

In the case of hospitals, he seems to be forgetting that without migrants as staff at all levels, they would gradually grind to a halt, says the NZ Herald columnist Brian Rudman.

It reminded me of the early years of 2000s, when net migration was as high, and there was a wide-spread feeling of resentment against migrants – Asians specifically, as they look and sound different.

However, those were the times when New Zealand economy was growing at a record rate of 3% to 3.5%. Individual incomes were high; people had steady jobs and spending rate was comparable to most developed countries.

We don’t have the same scenario now. The leading economies of the world haven’t recovered from the historic recession, with no clear signs of better days ahead.

This is a time to make the most use of available resources and bat on, so that New Zealand economy is able to create a distinct competitive advantage on global platform, despite its geographic remoteness and small market size.

This is possible by attracting the best talent from around the world in face of growing competition for talent from bigger economies like the US, the UK, Canada and of course, our fortunate cousin Australia.

Instead, policymakers like Cunliffe are busy finding ways to protect the sentiments of homegrown Kiwis, and ride on the anti-migrant wave.With elections around the corner, and poor voter perception, Cunliffe seems to be trying everything he could to revive his campaign.

However, let’s not politicize the issue.

If Asian population is expected to hit 800,000 in another decade, then it should be seen as an opportunity, not threat.

Let’s not drive skill-based migration, which benefits a few cities like Auckland, at the cost of other regions.

Auckland is a major winner from the government’s skilled-based immigration policies, says analyst Rodney Dickens of Strategic Risk Analysis Ltd.

“Wellington and Canterbury benefit to a moderate extent, while Canterbury benefits form the rebuilding-related skill-based policy.  All other regions are double losers as a result of the skilled-based immigration policies,” says Dickens in his latest report (PDF).

“Skill-based immigration policies would appear to be great at ensuring the largest group of immigrants, excluding Kiwis returning form OE, offer skills that fit with the evolving economy.

“However, the evolving economy and the skilled-based immigration policies both favour large urban centres over other centres.  This is having a significant impact on regional economic growth, retail spending, residential building and house prices.

“Restricting where immigrants can live would be self-defeating.  In time many skilled immigrants would end up filtering to the major urban centres even if they were originally restricted to living in provincial towns and cities.”

Dickens recommends an immigration policy that puts less emphasis on skills and gives more importance to hard work.

“If the criteria were relaxed to include hard-working people with lower formal
qualifications, it would create a more balanced playing field from a regional perspective,” argues Dickens.

“If this were done it would allow regions with smaller urban centres to better compete in part because they offer much more affordable housing costs compared to income levels than the large urban centres.”

“It would allow regions with cheaper housing costs to compete for immigrants on a much more equal footing with regions dominating new economy job creation.”

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Hugh Pavletich: NZ’s bubble economy is vulnerable

australia mining jobs

(In this opinion piece, Hugh Pavletich of Performance Urban Planning (Christchurch, New Zealand) agrees with Jesse Colombo who argued in Forbes that New Zealand’s economic bubble with end in a disaster.)

The recent Forbes e-edition article by Jesse Colombo assesses the New Zealand economy “12 Reasons Why New Zealand’s Economic Bubble Will End In Disaster”, seems to have created quite a stir, creatingextensive media coverage in New Zealand.

The major Fairfax article by Michael Field “NZ bubble ‘going to burst’ “ stimulated a remarkable 500+ comments.

It didn’t take too long for the politicians to react, with Acting Finance Minister Steven Joyce downplaying it, unhelpfully personally attacking Mr Colombo, with Labours David Cunliffe and David Parker largely agreeing with Mr Colombo’s assessment.

Mr Colombo’s initial assessment (a comprehensive report is to follow) was from a financial experts perspective.

Let’s consider whether Mr Colombo is correct from a structural perspective.

January every year the Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey is released, with the 10th Annual Edition released 20 January this year.Normal (and therefore affordable) housing markets do not exceed 3.0 times gross annual household income (Median Multiple), requiring mortgage loads of about 2.5 times.

A clear structural definition of an affordable housing market is …

“For metropolitan areas to rate as ‘affordable’ and ensure that housing bubbles are not triggered, housing prices should not exceed three times gross annual household earnings. To allow this to occur, new starter housing of an acceptable quality to the purchasers, with associated commercial and industrial development, must be allowed to be provided on the urban fringes at 2.5 times the gross annual median household income of that urban market (refer Demographia Survey Schedules for guidance).”

“The critically important Development Ratios for this new fringe starter housing, should be 17 – 23% serviced lot / section cost – the balance the actual housing construction.”

“Ideally through a normal building cycle, the Median Multiple should move from a Floor Multiple of 2.3, through a Swing Multiple of 2.5 to a Ceiling Multiple of 2.7 – to ensure maximum stability and optimal medium and long term performance of the residential construction sector.”

Since the creation of the housing production industry by Bill and Alfred Levitt following World War 11 , when new starter suburban housing was put in place for about $US100 per square metre all up (serviced section and house construction … 80 square metre units on 700 square metre lots for $US8,000), there has been no mystery (other than for politicians and bureaucrats who find truth “inconvenient”) about how to supply affordable housing.

Starter housing on the fringes of the affordable North American metros costs all up about $US700 per square metre … refer Andrew Atkin’s superb … THE REAL DEAL POSTER ..

What is required to restore housing affordability is outlined within Section 4 of Christchurch: The Way Forward. It is simply about ALLOWING affordable land to be supplied and financing infrastructure properly.

Recently Australian Federal Senator – elect Bob Day (major Australian production house-builder and former President of the Housing Industry Association of Australia) explained the issue most eloquently, within a video interview with Business Spectator … Bob Day on affordable housing and jobs for young people … Business Spectator .

As explained recently within “China: Big Bubble Trouble”, new starter semi-detached housing was being supplied pre World War 11 in London for slightly over 2.0 times annual household incomes. They were building way more new housing on a population basis through the Depression years in the United Kingdom than they are today.

Through these eras too, it was normal for households to have just one income earner, as the male was seen as a “loser” if he was unable to financially provide for his family. The social pressures were quite significant.

As eminent Hoover Institution economist Thomas Sowell said “We have spent the past few decades replacing what works with what feels good”. In a 2009 interview (video) Mr Sowell described the causes of the 2007 Global Financial Crisis … Thomas Sowell on the Housing Boom and Bust – YouTube .

During early 2009 this writer explained why economists have such a poor understanding of housing bubbles with … Housing Bubbles And Market Sense . Most wouldn’t know a house market from a horse market internationally … although thankfully … Australian and New Zealand economists are generally now well informed. Importantly, they are constructive contributors to politically progressing this serious issue.

So what did this year’s Demographia Survey (data 3rd Qtr 2013) find with respect to New Zealand’s major urban markets ?

Auckland housing at 8.0 times annual household incomes; Tauranga 6.6; Christchurch near 6.0; Wellington 5.5; Napier-Hastings 5.4; Dunedin 5.2; Hamilton 4.8 and Palmeston North 4.5.

Another useful measure of housing affordability is the relationship between Total Housing Stock Value and Gross Domestic / State / Metropolitan Product, which should not exceed at “tops” 1.5 times … ideally 1.2 times.

September last year James Gruber writing for Forbes “3 Warning Signs Of A Bloodbath Ahead” , incorporated a graph (requires updating) illustrating the ratios of Total Housing Stock Value to GDP for Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States …

Not surprisingly, it mirrors the Demographia Survey.

As a further check, Greater Houston with its population of about 6.1 million has a Gross Metropolitan Product of near $500 billion (in contrast to New Zealand with a population of 4.5 million and a GDP PPP of about a paltry $US140 billion … some $NZ210 billion ).

In relative terms, this is due to a history of poor quality public policy and a seriously degenerate public service culture at central and local level (a further recent example of gross incompetence … Error Prone Bureaucracy ). Little wonder then, that New Zealanders had the highest GDP per capita in the world in 1920 (refer Angus Maddison Historical GDP Per Capita Tables ), but today, ranks about 46 … between Italy and Slovenia .

Because of its degenerate public service, not surprisingly, New Zealand has the worst traffic congestion problems in the developed world too .. New Zealand Has Worst Traffic: International Data | Wendell Cox |

Rather amusingly, at current exchange rates in $US terms, New Zealand’s generally poor quality housing stock is “worth” more than the stock of Greater Houston !

New Zealand is a country that has been bureaucratically buggered. A textbook case of “institutional failure” at central and local level. The “rock-star” label is clearly nonsense.

New Zealand’s current economic activity is being “juiced up” due to a China Bubble Boom and the excessive costs of the Christchurch earthquake recovery. Bureaucratic incompetence has meant this painfully long recovery will be a $NZ40 billion exercise, when it should have been in the order of $NZ15 billion.

Sadly it would appear, The Broken Window Fallacy is not understood by economic commentators, in that the Christchurch earthquake recovery (with some flooding problems due to Council incompetence with poorly maintained drainage infrastructure … in the main) is simply the replacement of the capital stock.

The latest figures from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand indicate the New Zealand housing stock has a “value” of some $NZ716 billion … roughly 3.4 times its GDP. It should not exceed 1.5 times ($NZ315 billion … ideally 1.2 times ($NZ252 billion). This suggests there is something in the order of $NZ401 and $NZ461 billions of bubble value in New Zealand housing. It takes about 25% of mortgages incorporated within this bubble value to fuel it … some$NZ100 billion through $NZ115 billion of at risk bubble mortgage value.

The problem is the New Zealand Banks only have a capital base of about $NZ29 billion (RBNZ figures).

Currently, the major international concern is China … and its transitioning from a panicked and manic investment frenzy following the 2007 Global Financial Crisis (triggered by the North American urban planners … no doubt the Chinese Communists are not grateful). China is slowing, as explained within a recent Financial Times article Do Chinas Qtr1 GDP Numbers Gloss Reality? .

Information from the Chinese National Statistics Bureau (comment on article thread) illustrate the extent of the massive residential overbuilding and abrupt falloff in sales and new construction so far this year …

” “In the first three months, the floor space under construction by the real estate development enterprises accounted for 5,470.30 million square meters, up by 14.2 percent year-on-year, decreased 2.1 percentage points over the first two months. Of which, the floor space of residential building construction area was 3,932.06 million square meters, up by 11.4 percent. The floor space started this year was 290.90 millions square meters, down by 25.2 percent, and the pace of decline narrowed 2.2 percentage points. Specifically, the floor space of residential buildings started in the year amounted to 212.38 million square meters, down by 27.2 percent. The floor space of buildings completed stood at 185.20 million square meters, went down by 4.9 percent, and the pace of decline narrowed 3.3 percentage points, of which, the floor space completed of residential buildings stood at 139.10 million square meters, went down by 7.3 percent.”
>Does it say ‘it has bottomed out’? Is this a soft landing? -25%(prior -27,4%)”

At say 60 to 80 square metres each (plus common area), in number of unit terms, how many have been put in place in China over recent years ? What is the build rate per 1,000 population per annum for the Chinese metros ?

It would appear China could be described as Ireland by 300 … or even 500 times … with much greater “multiple stretch” in the former. And that’s without considering the commercial and infrastructure over-spend and mal-investment.

The Irish bubble collapsed at much lower Median Multiples than those currently prevailing in China, New Zealand and Australia.

Ireland is no doubt an excellent “case study” for Australian and New Zealand policy makers, as they are assessing the consequences of the bubbles collapsing in their own countries. They will be well aware that there has been no sustainable bubble in history.

Mr Colombo assessed the New Zealand economy from a financial perspective. This “structural check” indicates Mr Colombo is correct.

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OPINION: Is Gandhi still relevant?

mahatma gandhi, non-violence

Today, we see violence everywhere – we have Syria; we have Egypt, we have the US, the UK and India. Name a country and we’ll find a conflict brewing. Except in a few nations like New Zealand, civil strife is killing people in every place with human settlement.

It is so widespread, that there’s no need to introduce or explain violence to the person in the street. Yes, non-violence is a theme that begs explanation.

Here’s an example. “Today, in class I argued how non-violence is also a form of violence. Happy birthday Gandhi,” tweeted one Shubhashish (@Shubhashish), a former Indian journalist now in London.

So, is Gandhi relevant in these turbulent times?

Today, any person that has heard of Gandhi has an opinion about him. Do you need to read Gandhi to understand his experiments with truth? Or are the history books taught in the school enough to help form an opinion about India’s ‘father of the nation’?

mahatma gandhi, non-violence

You wonder what this has to do with understanding Gandhi’s relevance today. Everything!

You see, the trouble is, we have discarded Gandhian principles without even reading a single article written by the freedom-fighter. And he wrote many. In fact, the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi runs into 100 volumes. “As Sunil Khilnani observes, like Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi wrote English well enough to have made, if he had so wished, a living through journalism,” writes Indian author Ramachandra Guha.

How many of us have read Gandhi? I am not referring to the intellectuals, but to the ordinary citizens.

The problem with India, as Indian actor and social activist Shabana Azmi once said, we have far too many opinions than information.

The problem lies in interpreting Gandhi without really understanding what formed the basis of his philosophy.

However, India also has intellectuals who are well-read and well-informed. Their opinions are based on facts. And when they raise questions about the usefulness of non-violence and non-cooperation in today’s violent situations, it deserves attention.  This is where we must beg the question: will Gandhi be useful in solving the problems in say Syria, North Korea, Egypt or India?

What would Gandhi have done in Syria? Would the Assad regime have reacted in the same, violent way had the rebels chosen the path of non-violence? Likely not. Anger begets anger. But it is difficult, rather unnatural, to respond to peaceful protests with excessive use of brute. Of course Gandhi would be relevant in Syria.

What about India? If the Indian leaders show similar commitment to truthful governance, as Gandhi did, would we witness similar violence in the four corners of the country?

Let’s get to the bottom of this: the common factor behind all violence and strife around the world is religious or ethnic division. If we look back at India’s history, the disastrous consequences of mixing politics and religion were known to us thousands of years ago. Gautam Buddha preached the use of ethics over religion in public life.

The Dhammapada states the general ethical principle: “Never in this world is hostility appeased by hostility; it is appeased by lack of hostility.”

I will therefore leave you with a story from ancient India, in the words of British professor Richard Gombrich, “A great king of former times tells his brahmin priest and prime minister that he wants to …raise taxes. His wise prime minister warns him that the country is full of crime. He says: “Your Majesty may think that he can root out all crime by killing the criminals, imprisonment, fines, censure or exile. But this will never succeed completely: there will always be survivors, who will go on harassing your kingdom.

“Here is the only system which will eradicate crime. Your Majesty should supply seed and fodder to those who work in agriculture or animal husbandry; he should supply capital to those who work in commerce; he should organize food and wages for those who work in his service.

“Then those people will concentrate on their work and not harass the countryside. Your Majesty will acquire a great pile. The countryside will be secure, free from public enemies. People will be happy, and dandling their children in their laps will live, I think, with open doors.”

(Vaibhav Gangan is the founding editor of The Global Indian magazine. Follow Vaibhav on Twitter.)

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Legal: Why death penalty for rapists isn’t a good idea

The Delhi gang rape has created a great upheaval and in a high list of reforms death penalty for rapists is being incessantly mooted. For that, a need for amendment in Indian Penal Code is being clamoured. Identical demand was also raised in case of terrorists recently. We are of assumption that rapists – and terrorists will be deterred only if they are threatened of death penalty – a retributive theory of punishment.

Recently, according to a poll, India was rated fourth most dangerous country for women in the world ahead of even Somalia.

Even if Parliament amended the penal provisions, even then capital punishment for the rapists cannot be possible. The Constitution of India, the supreme authority of law, prohibits retrospective effect of penal law. Article 20(1) provides that a person cannot be subject to a penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of the offence. So, even change in rape law cannot execute the rapists.

Moreover, even death as deterrent and retributive will not reduce the crime against the women. India today stands in a minority group of nations where capital punishment is still in continuation. Over 144 countries have abolished the death sentence. India’s  Supreme Court, by applying the “rarest of rare” doctrine, has minimized its scope to a great extent.

The overwhelming evidence from the countries where the death penalty has been abolished is that ending it has nowhere resulted in increase in crime. Also, imposition of the penalty is not always followed by execution (even when it is upheld on appeal), because of the possibility of commutation to life imprisonment.

Since 1995 it has been used only three times: on Auto Shankar in 1995, Dhananjoy Chatterjee in 2004, and Ajmal Kasab in 2012. So how will the insertion of death penalty in rape provision can ensure protection and safeguard to women?

Protest by people must not be heading for revenge and transformation of rape law but to transform the system – whether it is judicial, administrative or executive; and to transform your inner self.

The protest and resentment must be directed towards long delayed reforms in under-trained police force, reforms in investigation and prosecution, reforms is judicial system so that justice does not get delayed. Intimidation of speedy punishment will act more as a deterrent than threat of capital punishment which is rarely executed.

Along with all these there is also a need to shake our conscious. We are eking up in the society where the female feticide is at its acme. Cases for eve teasing and sexual harassment are engorging every month; and in the most of such cases the accused are always youth. We need to candle up our inner light as well without which every endeavour to ensure safe and humane world for women will be futile and hollow.

Time has come for youth to take active participation in the politics of country. A change is needed in the society and system of our country and this can be done only by educated and rational section of society.

Pankaj Rathi is a student of National Law University in Jodhpur. The views expressed by the author are personal.






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Bal Thackeray – Secular farewell to ethnic leader

“Don’t threaten me. Do as you wish. I am not afraid of anyone!” My editor was responding to a threat call as I entered the newspaper’s office.
The threats by the Shiv Sena, a largely-local political party, to the editor of the local newspaper where I had just started freelancing, introduced me to the violent side of Bal Thackeray’s politics.

The threat was not just verbal. The newspaper office was soon ransacked. But the editor stood his ground to report stories about Shiv Sena without fear. That was my first-hand experience with fearless journalism and politics of fear. I soon stopped freelancing as I got busy with education. But the attacks on the editor and the publication continued over the years.

This was the first time I had come face-to-face with Shiv Sena head Bal Thackeray’s terror tactics. As a young man, I learnt a strange lesson in politics – the Shiv Sena, whose activism was based on protecting the rights of the local people of India’s western state of Maharashtra (Marathis), was attacking a Marathi editor. It was an attack on a Marathi paper and whose staff was mostly Marathi.

Today, as the news broke of the Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s death, those memories returned to my mind.

And I hoped that my Mumbai, the city where I was raised, does not succumb to the same terror tactics on the eve of Bal’s last rites. I wish that Shiv sainiks, as the party’s activists are known, show restraint and pay homage to their leader in a way that will truly win Mumbaites’ hearts. At the time of writing, Mumbai is tense but calm as it prepares for the final journey of its leader.

There’s fear in the air, but there aren’t any incidents of violence reported. The Sena activists reportedly forced shops and businesses to down their shutters, but it is Mumbai Police, whose staff largely comprise Marathi officers, that has shown remarkable acumen in controlling the potentially inflammable situation. The police also showed sensibility while announcing the news of Bal’s demise as he battled for life over two days.

The news was released only after the administration were reasonably confident that crowd-management mechanism was deployed.
The news divided public opinion just as Bal Thackeray’s speeches and interviews had divided Mumbai during his nearly 40-year long political career. No, Mumbai wasn’t divided between Marathis and non-Marathis. It was divided between Sena’s supporters and non-supporters. Just as many non-Marathis were Sena supporters, there were many Marathis, including the writer, that did not support Sena’s fear tactics. Support for Sena was not entirely based on one’s regional origin, but one’s value system – on whether one believed in fear-mongering.

Politics of fear are not limited to Shiv Sena in India. Most political parties are known to have activists and leaders that practice terror tactics.
Bal gave Mumbai terror. He followed anti-migrants strategy. But he was fighting a losing battle. Mumbai’s cultural and economic landscape is shaped by migrants – those travellers who came to the dreamland from other states of India. In that sense, he was trying to protect the rights of the local people in a city that never had Marathi soul – for as long as I can remember. And that was the uniqueness of the city – I grew up in a multi-cultural environment, and no efforts by a political party could change that.

Bal however played a key role in building the city’s infrastructure. His support to the ambitious Worli Sea Link road and Mumbai-Pune Expressway brought these projects to reality. He ran many social welfare programmes, including free ambulances.

As the Hinduism-driven Bal started his last journey this morning, secular India witnessed his body wrapped in the country’s national flag that supports the values of brotherhood among India’s religiously diverse groups.
One wonders what Bal would have had to say on that!

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OPINION: What if my child succeeds?

Educationalist Shalini Nambiar enquires into how we are making ‘bricks in the wall’ with our next generation:

I still get tears in my eyes when I recall what I went through when I was in school for almost 6 years. I, as a child was extremely shy and a feeling of insecurity was there since I was always a plump child. I was nicknamed ‘fatty’ by all and how it use to hurt!

But my mom gave me the courage and supported me throughout, taught me how important it is to face the world and listen to one’s heart.As an educationist I want to write about my dream about that little child who walks in with hopes and dreams in his eyes, my dream to make him a happy human being and successful in whatever he ventures in life.

Movies like "Three Idiots" have attempted to expose the limitations of the current education system.

There are hundreds of examples of people in this world who have believed what others have said about them and failed and there are just as many people who have refused to be influenced by the opinion of others and have been successful.

One of the first rules in life is to trust yourself. Kids get too much advice from everyone else of what they should do in life. No one allows them to discover themselves. Speaking from personal example I discovered very late in life what I really wanted to do in my life. Everyone else decided till then what I should do.

If I were to ask each one of you to think of one person in your life who you consider successful and why? I am sure most of you will talk about hard work, dedication, commitment which led him or her to excel. How come then we do not have school advertisements saying that so and so scored 99% in hard work, 98% in commitment. Aren’t theses the qualities our education should prepare us for?

Education’s final measurable impact is not in the exam result or the sports result not in the earning process but in the quality of the lives it inspires its students to lead.

Let’s teach the children the beauty of being imperfect. That it’s all right to make mistakes. We have to be prepared for tomorrow when it would be more important to learn how to rapidly adapt to a different job tasks and to constantly think out of the box, what we need is to develop a system that encourages students to gain multiple abilities to help them combat the rapid changes in today’s world. This is the kind of education schools should give.

Life is not reserved only for those who score 96% in exams, life is not all about money, it’s about loving what you are doing.

Change our programming as parents and teachers from, ‘what if my child fails?’ to ‘what if my child succeeds?’

To dare something new we must move out of our comfort zone. Yesterday when a prospective parent walked in my room and asked me about my philosophy, I said, “We teach them to dream, have faith in their dreams and follow them wholeheartedly so that they achieve it.”

In our effort to do a good job raising our children we tend to nit pick our kids to death over their flaws and failures.

Let the child be, let him follow his heart. Let’s remember that each child is unique. Khalil Gibran has aptly said:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.


What should schools teach?

Firstly teach them that failure is not a negative term as there has never been a single successful person who hasn’t failed numerous times on their journey to success. In fact, the most successful people in life are those who have failed the most.

Secondly teach them goal setting.

Only three percent of people commit their goals to paper.

These are the same people who find the greatest success in life.

Lastly teach them how to figure out what you really want in life. Unfortunately, far too many people never take the time to do this. At the workplace we meet these types of people. They are the ones who spend the whole week just looking forward to the weekend. Let’s not get stuck waiting for the weekend. Let’s teach the children to find what we truly love to do in life and make it our vocation.

I firmly believe that it is very hard to succeed at something you hate. On the other hand, it’s hard not to succeed when working at something you love.

Shalini Nambiar is director of Excelsior American School. Views expressed are her own. (Reproduced with permission.)

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India continues to kill her daughters

On Monday morning, India woke up to the shocking news of a three-month old baby fighting for her life in the government hospital in Bangalore. On Wednesday, India hung its head in shame as doctors lost the battle to save baby Afreen who was beaten up, burnt and tortured by her own father. Her crime? She was a girl.

Umar Farooq, the father, told police that he beat the baby because he wanted a son.

His wife is asking for death penalty for him. He hated her, says Afreen’s mother Reshma Banu. “He wanted me to get rid of the child or abandon her as he wanted a son. Reshma Banu’s pain was shared by many Indians who appealed for capital punishment for the accused.

“Death for baby Afreen’s father! No mercy at all,” says television anchor Mini Mathur.  “Yes, capital punishment is not the norm. But who can put bites and cigarette burns on a 3-month-old baby?? And fracture her tiny arms? Who?”

Agrees Nandita Iyer, “I get a renewed faith in the harshest possible death penalty when I hear of people like Baby Afreen’s father.”

It was only last month that country followed the story of a two-year-old abandoned girl, named Falak by the media, who was hospitalized with multiple injuries in India’s capital New Delhi. She succumbed to her injuries – fractured skull, broken limbs and human bite marks. Falak was brought to hospital by a teenager who allegedly burnt her with a hot iron, bit her, and smashed her head against a wall, NDTV reported. “Falak had been separated from her mother, and passed around among a ring of adults in Delhi who ran a prostitution racket.”

Earlier this month, a newborn girl child in Jodhpur was rejected by her parents “after the hospital handed them a baby boy by mistake”, Voice of America reported. The child was accepted by the parents after 14 days, once a DNA test confirmed their parentage.

India’s sex ratio, at 914 women to every 1000 men, is the worst since the country’s independence from the British in 1947, according to the 2011 census – the global benchmark is 952. Indian law prohibits sex-determination tests prior to birth, so as to prevent abortions of girl fetus. Despite this, foetal sex determination and sex selective abortion has today grown into a Rs.1,000 crore industry ($244 million), according to a Unicef report.

India is heavily legislated with numerous statues trying to prevent crime against women, including the Sati Act (prevention of burning the widow alive on deceased husband’s pyre), Prevention of Immoral Traffic Act and the Dowry Prevention Act.

The prejudice against women partly stems from an age-hold practice of dowry – financial payment by bride’s parents to the groom. There are 5,000 women in India who suffer female infanticide each year (bride burning) due to insufficient dowry payment, say Nake Kamrany, Professor of Economics at the University of Southern California and Catherine Robinson, a Research Assistant in economics at USC and a member of Global Income Convergence Group in Los Angeles.

The issue is not India specific alone; many states worldwide are struggling to reduce crime against women by encouraging gender equality. “Only four out of over 135 nations have achieved gender equality including Costa Rica, Cuba, Sweden, and Norway,” say Kamrany and Robinson. Yemen was scored the lowest. “Measures of gender equality include access to basic education, health and life expectancy, equality of economic opportunity, and political empowerment.

However, legislation alone hasn’t been very successful as is clear from international evidence. Similar to India, China has outlawed the use of gender detection methods. Yet, China has 32 million more boys than girls under the age of 20, and there are 126 boys to 100 girls among the 1-4 age group, mostly caused by the infamous one-child policy. “They have granted parents who have a female child another chance at birthing a son in the hopes that families will not abandon, abort, or murder their female infant,” say Kamrany and Robinson.

In addition to social costs, there are economic costs to gender inequality. “Japan’s GDP will gain by 15% if employment gender discrimination is adjusted,” say Kamrany and Robinson.

The gender inequality is both the cause and effect of under-representation of women in decision-making roles. Only 14 of 200 governments in the world have women as the head of the state. Numerous studies have shown that women are paid less, get promoted less often and are required to retire sooner than men – both in the western world and in eastern societies. India got its first female prime minister as early as in 1966 – Indira Gandhi was also the world’s second female head of the state, the first being neighbouring state – Sri Lanka’s prime minister – Sirimavo Bandaranaike. This was much earlier than Europe – the region had to wait until 1979 when Margaret Thatcher became the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom – the first elected woman ruler in Europe.

As many social reformers during the British era in India had rightly identified, gender equality can only be achieved by encouraging literacy as well as financial independence among the fairer sex. They need to be educated, given equal-pay jobs, promoted by merit and encouraged to play a prominent role in policy-making.

Hopefully we can look back and say that Falak and Afreen have not died in vein.

Vaibhav Gangan is the managing editor of The Global Indian magazine.

Immigration Lifestyle Opinion

Why St Patrick’s is not just Irish

Watching Irish teenagers buying green hats and balloons for St Patrick’s Day is an amazing feeling here in Alberta – the western province of Canada which has a history of immigrant Irishmen coming to work and build a life for their children and for future generations. Looking at these teenagers painting the town green, that dream seems to have become a reality.

The local Whyte Museum in Banff is aptly hosting a photography exhibition profiling the life of the 19th century miners in Alberta – mostly Irish. The exhibition shares stories of happy miners of Canmore (Alberta), many of who grew fond of their adopted land, and lived for more than 90 years – an indication of an active, healthy life.

As an immigrant and a son of an immigrant, I can relate to the stories of migrants – which are essentially the same – irrespective of whether one is talking about Irish immigrants or Indian migrants. It’s a story of leaving the comforts (or discomforts) of your shores, in search for a more promising or less unjust environment.

While St Patrick’s celebrations may seem more commercial today, they still mark the celebration of the life of a national saint. A large part of any immigration history is a history of the practice of slavery. St Patrick’s Day uniquely combines both – the saint was a slave and a migrant, and spent his life opposing slavery.

In that sense, St Patrick’s also symbolises the success of Irish migration to the US and Canada. The Irish were the first ethnic group to achieve success in the US, writes James Flannery in the Irish Times.

“For the immigrants who succeeded them – the Italians, Jews, Greeks, Poles and others – on the long climb up the ladder of success, the Irish became a model of what could be achieved with determination, hard work and a belief in the American Dream.”

In the United States, St Patrick’s is probably the only ethnic celebration that is a national holiday. It’s a celebration of successful migration, and by extension, a celebration of diversity.

It’s a day to remember that not all migration is exploratory; not all immigrants are coming from a good environment. The darker side of migration is filled with stories of a desire to escape from torture, atrocities, violence and bleak future.

Whether it was escaping from The Great Depression, or from the violence of Hitler, the stories of migration have continued to have the common theme – striving for a better future for our children.

In that sense, St Patrick’s is also a celebration of refugees who are escaping from the war-torn zones of Afghanistan, Somalia, Gaza, or from the poverty stricken states of India, Pakistan and Africa.

As the world tries to cope with economic recession which has lasted for more than three years already, with no end in sight, migratory winds are only likely to catch speed.

Economic and political trends will continue to dictate the direction of migration. And the need for cultural tolerance and ethnic integration will be even stronger in days to come.

In that sense, St Patrick’s has relevance to every citizen of the world – a global world.

(Vaibhav Gangan is the managing editor of The Global Indian magazine and is currently in Canada.)

Editorial News Opinion Work Abroad

Opinion: lies, limelight and citizenship

Who will you trust more – the politicians, the bureaucrats or the media? And who would you turn to, when these three pillars of trust come together to overshadow one of the most sentimental events in your life?

In an unexpected turn of events, an access-to-information request filed by the Canada Press has revealed that the Canadian immigration department faked a citizens’ reaffirmation ceremony for a television programme.

Watch the video of the ceremony at the end of the article.

The incident in question happened in October 2011 when the immigration minister Kenney asked the immigration department to organise an oath reaffirmation ceremony for existing and new citizens. This ceremony would be for conservative Sun News Network so that the oath could be videographed and aired on television.

The department, given a short notice, struggled to get confirmations for attendance from willing citizens who were busy with their work. While the bureaucrats tried to convince the minister’s office and the television network to videograph one of the 13 already-planned reaffirmation ceremonies, the channel instead suggested another option.

“Let’s do it. We can fake the Oath,” says an email from a Sun News address. (Name blacked out in the documents released to media.)

As a last resort, six immigration employees posed as new citizens, took the oath and even answered the television presenter’s questions.

The news channel has denied any knowledge about the immigration officials posing as new citizens. In the end, it was the staff of Citizenship and Immigration Canada that were blamed by the minister. “It turns out that in the ceremony in question . . . some of the people invited did not arrive. I think the response to that was poorly handled,” Kenney clarified.

However, the documents released show that the public servants tried their best to explain the sensitivity of the ceremony to the minister’s office. “We have to keep in mind that the ceremony should first and foremost be a special (sic) for the new citizen, most of whom will want family and friends (sic) attend this very special day in their lives,” a bureaucrat wrote to Kenney’s office.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong, per se, in immigration officials restating their citizenship oath. Any citizen can. However, the fact that they were event organisers, should have been disclosed.

The incidence shows lack of sensibility toward an emotional event in the life of not only new citizens but also naturalised citizens. It’s an event that a new migrant looks forward to. It’s an event that nominally marks the completion of the migration experience and almost signifies formal acceptance into the host community. It is not just the residency status; it is an expression of commitment and trust between the immigrants and their adopted nation, which is mutual.

For naturalised citizens, the oath expresses their commitment to Canada.

That level of respect due to the ceremony was breached by the “sensationalisation” of the ceremony.

However, the event also raises more concerns. It compromises media’s independence when a television channel agrees to a minister’s request for the ceremony.

And third, it raises questions about ministerial interference in the operational arm – the bureaucracy. Why not let the officers do their job?

The incidence shows that the nexus of the powers-that-be not only influence our perceptions but also control what we see.

Vaibhav Gangan is the managing editor of The Global Indian magazine. 


Business Editor recommends News Opinion Work Abroad

Ethnic women are doubly disadvantaged – activist

While the number of women in leadership roles in businesses is very low in New Zealand, many women face further disadvantage if they are from a minority group, says a women’s rights advocate.

The number of females at board level of NZSX top 100 companies is just over 9%, according to a report by Goldman Sachs & Partners (August 2011). Only 4% of these companies had a female chief executive. New Zealand falls behind Australia, the UK, the US and a number of European countries on these benchmarks, the report adds.

“The New Zealand employment statistics show that if they are also Māori, Pasifika or from minority ethnic groups, or have a disability, they are doubly disadvantaged, particularly in areas such as low pay and pay equity,” says Rae Julian, National President, UN Women National Committee for New Zealand.

“Women still experience discrimination in employment practice in terms of basic issues such as occupational segregation, representation in senior management, in governance positions and in terms of law pay and pay equity.”

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs has been targeting getting more women onto private sector boards for some years. The UN Women NZ National Committee, along with the NZ Federation of Business and Professional Women and Dr Judy McGregor, Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission, is taking a different tack.

“Our campaign is based on the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs). We aim to show the companies that have not already embraced the Principles that their businesses will be enhanced through employing more women at all levels and in all sectors of their organisation.

“Empowering women builds strong economies and establishes more stable and just societies.

“Many organisations will point to the high percentage of women employed in their businesses. Closer analysis often shows that the women are largely confined to clerical, administrative, support or human resources roles.

More than 6000 participating enterprises and businesses in more than 135 countries including Australia and South Africa have already signed up to the WEPs.

“It is time for New Zealand to join the campaign.”

New Zealand’s Governor-General, Sir Jerry Mateparae, and Lady Janine Mateparae, will launch the Principles to the business community at Government House in Wellington in early February.

The seven Women’s Empowerment Principles:

Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality

Treat all women and men fairly at work − respect and support human rights and non-discrimination

Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers

Promote education, training and professional development for women

Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women

Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy

Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality.

New Zealand CEOs are being asked to join their global counterparts in a statement of support and to use the Principles as guidance for actions that can be taken in workplaces.

Business Editorial Global Indians Opinion Work Abroad

Why are NRIs so touchy about India?

Call them NRIs, people of Indian origin (PIOs), or the most recent label – overseas citizens of India, they have one thing in common – their overt patriotism.

Does it occur to them that “patriotic non-resident Indian” is an oxymoron?

Just like ‘dancer Sunny Deol’, an ‘orator Azharuddin’, or an ‘honest Indian politician’.

On a public platform, these NRIs praise India. In private parties, especially with their white ‘countrymen’, the patriotic Indians willingly share stories of corrupt traffic cops, non-functional utilities, and criminal politicians of India.

Indians living abroad baffle the kinkiest of minds with their confusing behaviour. Frustrated by the hardships of life, rough living conditions and unjust system, NRIs grab the first available opportunity to ‘quit India’ and chase their ‘dollar dream’.

However, when an Anna Hazare raises a movement against corruption, these foreign-settled Indians join the crusade against corruption in their adopted countries.

Why didn’t they fight the system while still in India?

Similarly, they leave India to seek higher earning potential; once they settle abroad, they bring their money back to invest in India’s share markets, businesses, real estate and trade. Why didn’t they try to make that money in India?

As they switch through their television channels in the US, desperately looking for ‘desi’ content, why did they vigorously look down upon Indian entertainment channels while munching on feed from foreign channels, while they lived in India?

These seem to be baffling questions, even as renowned Bollywood writer Javed Akhtar struggled to explain the phenomenon (though he wasn’t referring to NRIs specifically), “Hum logon ko samajh sako to samajho dilbar jaani” (loosely translated, the song expresses the feelings of Indians: ‘try as hard as you may, you will struggle to fathom our irrational behaviour.’)

When I wrote a similar column last year, I was bombarded by emails from angry NRIs.

The content of the hate-mail is usually the same: NRIs are contributing to India’s success story abroad.

The usual arguments:

NRIs are the torchbearers of India’s success story abroad. “We are the economic brand ambassadors,” said one email.

NRIs invest heavily in India and contribute to valuable foreign exchange. NRIs also bring skills, knowledge and ‘outsourced business’ to India.

NRIs lobby for India in the west.

These are valid arguments and this article does not try to take away that credit from NRIs. Overseas Indians indeed represent India to the west.

But how many of Indians living abroad are truly successful to be able to sing a success song and portray an enterprising India? Only a handful.

The non-resident Indians surely remit money to India, and invest in India’s share market and real estate. But a majority of NRIs invest in the real estate, which does not create jobs, actively contribute to business and industry. It only helps fuel spiraling house prices, and drive the home-ownership dream further away from many ‘domestic’ Indians.

Also, if these entrepreneurial Indians had stayed back, they would have build a decent fortune in India, which may be bigger in some cases, or smaller in other cases, than their achievements in the west.

More importantly, only a minority of NRIs are well-off and send large chunks of money to be invested in India. A majority of remittances are from working class Indians toiling away in the Middle East, sending money back to support their struggling families in India. Most of this money is spent on maintenance and consumption, and very little in invested in the economy.

Here’s another argument put forward by patriotic Indians – the remittances from NRIs are ‘net gain’ for India – the country hasn’t spent its infrastructure to earn the money.

This is true. The earner hasn’t used India’s roads to go to work, hasn’t polluted India’s air, hasn’t used India’s water, electricity and so on. You get the picture. So, it’s a net gain for India. However, the effect is offset by many expatriates working in India and sending their savings overseas.

This inward-outward remittance’s balancing act brings me to the point of this article.

When it comes to migration and economy, patriotism plays very little role.

We live in a global world.

I am an Indian by birth, just as someone is Chinese, American or British. My upbringing is influenced by Indian environment. That makes me Indian by culture. However, as I spend my adult life in my adopted country, I become a global citizen.

My nationality by birth or by culture is of little relevance to the economies I serve. My host country and my country of origin, are two sides of the same coin. Both the countries, as well as global commerce, benefit from my international activities.

However, NRIs have an argument in their favour. Overseas Indians have a multiplier effect, they benefit the host country as well as the birth country without really taking away as much from the either.

Do we still have the patriotic argument here?

Vaiebhav Gangan is the managing editor of The Global Indian magazine.