Saturday, 14 December 2002

Three Weeks

NO CHANCES. When it comes to matters of health, nobody wants to take any chances. The United Kingdom, increasingly a major destination for many of our health professionals, is no exception.

Ensuring the quality of the intake of health workers into their country, no doubt, was a major motivation for the National Academic Recognition and Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC) to visit the Philippines a few months ago, to validate the quality of our educational system.

Of course, while they were here, it was also opportune that they looked at the entire spectrum of higher education institutions, rather than just confine themselves to the health sciences and allied professions. Their visit, therefore, was billed as a “country review,” and was facilitated by our own Commission on Higher Education (Ched).

As I recounted over the course of the last couple of issues, I became an unfortunate “victim” of UK NARIC’s recent “country review” of the Philippines.

As one of the requirements for my continued stay in the UK, I had to submit my academic credentials for evaluation to British immigration authorities.

Banking on the fact that I would easily meet the requirement, on the basis of having received a Master in Business Management (MBM) degree from the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), I was greatly shocked to find out that according the the UK’s sole academic assessment body, AIM’s degrees were considered to be less than the equivalent of UK MBAs.

Initially, I was informed by UK NARIC that an MBM from AIM was not even equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree. Initially infuriated, and totally unconvinced of the outcome of UK NARIC’s evaluation of AIM’s degree programs, I set out to rectify what I believed to be a very serious mistake indeed.

Not knowing where to turn to, where the problem lay, and who was to blame for the error, I set out on what seemed like a wild goose chase at the time, determined that in the end, I would be proven correct. My aim—to ensure that an MBM degree from AIM would be recognized as the equivalent of a master’s degree earned from a UK institution.

Having already been told that I was not even the equal of a UK university graduate, it seemed like a totally impossible objective. All this was just over three weeks ago.

What did I learn between then and now? A lot, considering that from the outside, my familiarity with our own system of higher education is not as up-to-date as I would have hoped it would be.

MISUNDERSTOOD. It is now apparent that in the particular case of AIM, UK NARIC had inadvertently misunderstood the information that was furnished them by Ched.

Apparently, Ched classifies Philippine higher education institutions (HEIs) into three basic categories. At the top of the pecking order are the so-called “prestigious” universities. Three weeks ago, only the University of the Philippines-Diliman, Ateneo de Manila, De La Salle University and the University of Sto. Tomas were in this illustrious group. Basically, all courses from these institutions are considered to be “league-leading” as far as the Philippines is concerned.

Next in line were the “centers of excellence/development.” These are programs within HEIs that are recognized to be of relatively high standard, given their achievements in professional examinations etc. While the HEI may not in itself be “prestigious,” the program is considered to be. An example is the Cebu Institute of Medicine’s Doctor of Medicine degree, which was the only one from Cebu to make the Ched’s list of COEs/CODs in medical education.

The third category is all the other HEIs that are neither “prestigious” nor considered to be COEs/CODs.

For reasons that I now appreciate, AIM was not classified by Ched in the first two categories of HEIs. Automatically, UK NARIC interpeted this to mean that AIM belonged with “all the rest,” with all the implications that this affiliation carries.

In general, our system of higher education is already considered to be lower than that of the UK for a variety of reasons, the major one being that we have a proliferation of schools with widely varying standards of excellence.

On the whole, therefore, the degrees awarded by our HEIs are considered to be below the standard of those offered by UK universities. How much below depends on where a university belongs according to Ched’s categories.

For example, a master’s degree from a “prestigious” HEI is generally considered to be a bachelor’s degree (with honors) in the UK. One from a COE/COD is evaluated either as an honors or ordinary bachelor’s degree (depending on the program and the institution, presumably), while those from “all others” are considered as ordinary British university degrees or less. Three weeks ago, AIM’s MBM was in this latter category.

So what? What does this mean for you and me? Well, clearly much more than one would expect.

For example, if an employer in the UK demands that only nurses with degrees that are equivalent to the UK’s are hired, just those who got theirs either from “prestigious” HEIs or those from COEs/CODs need apply. This means only the graduates of 20 or so schools out of the hundreds that cater to future nursing hopefuls. Caveat emptor indeed!

For me, it meant that even if I was already the chief financial officer of a UK company, my continued stay in the country might be in jeopardy. Surely, no company would want to have a high school graduate running its finances? (To be concluded next week.)

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, December 14, 2002 (http://sunstar.com.ph/static/ceb/2002/12/14/bus/batuhan.three.weeks.html)

Saturday, 10 August 2002

David Copperfield and his troops are masters of illusion. They make things appear and disappear, with consummate ease. Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear once before millions of live and television audiences. How he does it only he knows, but it is a feat not to be easily duplicated, maybe for a long time to come.

The financial markets have their own share of David Copperfields. They do not train at academies of magic like David went to anymore. More often than not, they will have Harvard or Wharton, rather than Hogwarts diplomas hanging from their walls. Today’s magicians wear pinstripes rather than coattails, weave magic with gold Mont Blancs instead of magic wands. Like true magicians, they have audiences breathless and spellbound, and their abilities at the smoke and mirrors game are no less stunning.

One big difference, though. In Las Vegas, the audiences are there for the magic show.

They know that the rabbit has not actually disappeared; it is still in the hat.

Or maybe not in the hat, but somewhere close by anyway. Animals do not really disappear. Nor do statues of liberty. They just appear to. That is the trick of the master illusionist. And he gets paid for it. Big time, as in the case of the David Copperfields.

On Wall Street, however, a different kind of magic goes on entirely.

Normally, it is the reverse illusion, with things appearing rather than disappearing. Billions of dollars of revenue seem to just materialize from nowhere, exciting the markets and making demigods out of the chief financial officers that made it happen.

But while the people in the seats in Vegas know that completely blinded by the magic tricks. They entrust the magicians with billions of dollars of their life’s savings, only to see a substantial amount of it disappear completely, unlike the rabbit that is still in the magician’s hat. Magic of the most deceitful kind. Something David Copperfield would never contemplate doing.

The magic word is not, as David would exclaim—”Abracadabra.” The new mantra is EBITDA, that harmless line at the bottom of the company’s profit and loss statement that proclaims to the world how much money it has made, before giving the banks and the government their share, and prior to allocating something to cover for the cost of their capital investments.

NOT SO SIMPLE. As we explained in our column last week, earnings should really be intuitively simple to measure. Simply the difference between how much you sell your products and services for, compared to what it cost you to acquire those products, and provide for those services.

The fish vendor knows the concept well. She buys fish from the market for P1,000, and sells it to her customers for P2,000. As far as she is concerned, her earnings for the day are P1,000. She sees the money actually going out of and coming into her pocket. No illusions are necessary. No tricks are required. Business is at its most transparent.

In today’s complicated organizations, measuring earnings is anything but a simple and intuitive process. The time difference between capital investments and their expected revenue streams are often far apart. Outlays for expenditure are many times intended to benefit future periods, and not always when they are paid for. And revenue streams do not often pay for products and services delivered or rendered in the current period—frequently they represent deliveries of goods or provision of services far off into the future.

Complexity like this makes earnings measurement difficult to understand.

Only the experts could navigate their way through the numbers. This environment provides fertile ground for the smoke and mirrors tricks that many companies today play.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, August 10, 2002 (http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/ceb/2002/08/10/bus/batuhan.smoke.and.mirrors.html).

Saturday, 3 August 2002

EBITDA

VAGUE. The accounting profession loves acronyms. EBIT, EBITDA, EAT, EPS, and their kind are common sightings in corporate annual reports. Acronyms are convenient in the best of times, but could be vague and confusing in the worst of them. This is where the accountant is most at home, in a situation so ambiguous that nobody understands what anything is all about anymore.

I should qualify the previous statement. Not all accountants have lost their sense of integrity. Not everyone has turned his back on the principles of GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles), to which they are eternally sworn to uphold. But some have, as the recent stories of corporate fraud have only too visibly demonstrated.

I have no problems with this dichotomy. It mirrors real life, after all. There are the good guys, and then there are the bad. My issue is with the confusion between the good and the bad in the financial world.

In the real world, the bad guys go to jail. Here, the bad boys get the glory. They have all the pay rises and the fat bonuses. Treading on the thin line between honesty and the absence of it is applauded at the highest corporate circles, encouraging even more dangerous financial acrobatics.

We remember Nick Leeson, or at least some of us must do. Who would forget the boy who single-handedly brought down the venerable Baring Brothers, and had it bought from the receivers for one pound by ING?

He was the perfect example of values gone horribly wrong. He fiddled his reports, fooled his superiors and broke all the rules that ever existed. Yet he had a luxury apartment in Singapore’s most affluent district, drove flashy cars, wore nice suits, and vacationed where most of us could only dream to be. He got caught out in the end, but instead of universal condemnation, there was even adoration from some. His life became a movie, several books were written about him and his exploits, and he is now a cult hero of sorts.

Welcome to the new world of professional depravity!

Until very recently, the bad boys still got all the glory. Only this time, even if their tricks had gotten simpler, no one seemed to notice until the harm had been done.

Fiddling with the books—the simplest trick of accounting magic there is, had the experts looking the other way. Everybody was too busy watching the trend graphs, the obvious escaped their attention. Or maybe the not so obvious.

Nick Leeson actually lost cash, real money. By investing in complex swap transactions that bet on the Nikkei the wrong way, he bankrupted Barings, his bank.

The accountants at Worldcom, meanwhile, merely painted a different story to what was really happening at the company.

But the world is now all the worse for it.

All because of an acronym. EBITDA. An innocuous acronym. Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization. Between what the company first reported and what its restated earnings report now owns up to, is a hole a few billion dollars deep in EBITDA.

The routine? Move normal repairs and maintenance expenses into fixed assets, and defer their recognition for a few years. EBITDA increases. Share prices go up.

Everybody is happy. Happy at least until the whole scam is uncovered. Then misery ensues, affecting everyone, you and me included. All because of EBITDA. (More next week).

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, August 03, 2002 (http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/ceb/2002/08/03/bus/batuhan.ebitda.html).

Saturday, 20 July 2002

Cash flow

MISLEADING. There seems to be some degree of confusion, even within the financially literate sector, as to just what happened at Worldcom. What is certain is that over the last couple of years, a reclassification of a substantial part of its normal repairs and maintenance expenses into deferred expenditure (capitalized assets) boosted its earnings results, thereby misleading investors and outside parties into thinking the company was more profitable than it really was.

However, certain reports also claim that Worldcom boosted its “cash flow” position by the same tactics that it used to obscure its earnings results. Could this be the case?

Imagine the case of a small business. Our neighborhood convenience store spends P10,000 in one month—P5,000 to purchase a dough mixer, and P5,000 to pay for its telephone and electricity bills used for the period. The accountant preparing our store’s books would record P5,000 of utilities as an expense for that month, and the other P5,000 as an asset to be amortized over time. Clearly the store had enjoyed the benefit of the utilities already, while it still had to fully benefit from buying the dough mixer, hence, the difference in treatment.

The matching concept (of costs and revenues) that we know from our basic accounting days makes the distinction between both unequivocally clear, and there should be no argument about what belongs to which period. There are instances, however, where the difference may not be so clear.

Let us say that instead of buying a dough mixer, the P5,000 was used to pay for painting the storefront? Is P5,000 then still an expenditure for future periods, or does it become an expense for the month? The answer is not so straightforward. If the painting job is a recurring item, that is, it is done periodically because of normal wear and tear of the store’s fa├žade, the cost should be expensed as incurred. However, if the painting is part of the establishment of the building, or it is deemed to be a significant improvement on the building that would prolong its useful life, then the cost may possibly be capitalized.

MAKING A CHOICE. Worldcom came face-to-face with such a choice regarding its normal repairs and maintenance expenses, and apparently, instead of declaring them as costs when they were made, the company chose to capitalize them as assets, so they would hit the profit and loss account in the future. Though not too terribly clever or sophisticated, it seemed to fool many people up until recently.

But think about it for a second. Whether our store spent P5,000 on a dough mixer or painting the storefront has no impact on how much remains in our owner’s bank account. At the end of the day, the same amount of money is not in his account.

Say our owner had P100,000 last month. This month, he spent P10,000 on the business, and so has P90,000 left. His cash flow for the month must be P10,000, which is the difference between the cash he had in the beginning of the period, and the cash he still had at the end of it. Does it matter that P5,000 was spent to buy a dough mixer or to paint the storefront? And assuming he did the latter, does it make a difference if he classified the painting cost as an asset or an expense for the period? Of course not! Either way, his cash flow is still P10,000.

Coming back to Worldcom, the only thing the company did was to call a few billion dollars of repairs and maintenance costs assets instead of expenses, a situation very similar to that of our storeowner. Why then do many say that Worldcom enhanced its cash flow through accounting manipulation? (More next week).

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, July 20, 2002 (http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/ceb/2002/07/20/bus/batuhan.cash.flow.html).

Saturday, 6 July 2002

60 years ago today

WARTIME. Sixty years ago today, a baby was born somewhere in the mountains between Danao and Carmen. It was wartime then, so the newborn baby’s cries had to be hushed down by her parents, lest the wailing give their location away to the much-feared Kempeitai. Not that they had probably anything to fear from the Japanese invaders in particular, but like much of the shell-shocked populace then, they were not about to take any chances.

Thus it was that this baby was to spend much of her early years until Liberation Day, without making too much fuss, and scarcely attracting a great deal of attention to herself. In fact, well into her growing years, through her adulthood, and to this day, this baby continues to conduct herself with quiet dignity and unobtrusive demeanor, going about her life, generously helping those she can, without calling undue notice to herself in the process.

This baby is my mother, Carmencita Banzon Batuhan, who turns 60 today.

Mom, who has spent most of her life nurturing children during their early formative period, also retires this year from a long career as a public school teacher. Over the years, she has seen her pupils go on to become distinguished professionals, career persons, entrepreneurs and responsible members of our community. Obviously inspired by her unrelenting determination to see them through the conclusion of their education, many of her students—most of whom come from the less fortunate sectors of our community— rewarded her with the greatest gift any teacher could ever wish for—success in their own chosen endeavors.

EDUCATOR. Growing up, I was always amazed at the amount of infectious energy Mom put into her work. Thankless enough as jobs go, hers was made even more difficult by the circumstances in which she taught. Banawa Elementary School, where she spent a good number of years as educator, counts as its pupils children coming mostly from lower middle-class and lower class families. These kids face greater challenges in completing their education than most of us can relate to—everything from lack of money to buy books, to lack of money for snacks at recess time.

Mom would help them out whenever she could. She would loan money to her pupils so they could buy textbooks, purchase clothing and pay for their other educational expenses. To those who were really determined, she would even help to pay for their expenses beyond elementary school. When I was a young boy, it was not unusual for me to see my old shirt or pair of shorts being worn by one of

Mom’s pupils, sometimes to my surprise as I had not quite “retired” a number of them just yet. Mom’s faith in the miracle of education to empower, emancipate and enable all who possessed the determination and drive to succeed did not only inspire those she taught at school, but also her children, who in their own ways have managed to make the most of their individual God-given capacities and abilities.

Totol, Ann, Aleli and I are what we are today, because of the inspiration quietly imparted to us by one humble schoolteacher, who was born 60 years ago in the mountains between Danao and Carmen.

Happy Birthday, Mom, and thank you for everything!

(I will write about more serious issues, starting with Worldcom, next week.)

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, July 06, 2002 (http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/ceb/2002/07/06/bus/batuhan.60.years.ago.today.html).

Saturday, 22 June 2002

Only good players, please

WO R L D CUP. By the time this piece sees print, England will already have played Brazil in the quarter-finals of the 2002 Football World Cup, in what is billed as the match of the tournament. The last time the two teams met in a World Cup game in Guadalajara, Mexico back in 1970, the talent-laden Brazilians—who had the legendary Pele playing in their team—beat the English 1-0. Since then, succeeding English teams had always dreamed of being the squad that would avenge this unforgettable loss to the Brazilians.

David Beckham’s boys look like they have the best chances of finally breaking the 30-year old Brazilian jinx, if any England side is ever going to do it. Beckham, the larger-than-life footballing husband of former Spice Girl Victoria “Posh Spice” Adams, and his team have played incredibly well in this tournament, defying predictions that as with England teams of the recent past, they too will fade away well before the championship game begins.

Beckham’s team bears many similarities to the 1970 squad of the two Bobbies—Moore and Charlton—that played creditably against the formidable team led by the great Pele. Like their esteemed elders, they have shown in their previous games that they are tenacious at defense, allowing one of the lowest opposing team goal totals in this tournament so far—one. More importantly, they can score.

After a lackluster 1-1 draw with Sweden in their opening match, and an even slower 0-0 draw with African runners-up Nigeria, they finally let the scoring salvo loose in their 3-0 drubbing of Denmark, the side that bid au revoir to the “repeat” dreams of defending champions France.

But technically comparable they may be, the similarities end there. England v. Brazil in 1970 was a black and white game literally, with the dark-skinned Brazilians playing against the pale-faced Englishmen. Today, if Beckham’s men did not wear the red and white colors to distinguish them from the yellow and green jerseys of Brazil, he would not know where to direct his lethal passes from mid-field.

In terms of racial mix, this team has come a long way. Five of the top players in Sven Goran Eriksson’s lineup are either black or mixed race in origin. Not so in 1970. Come to think of it, the new heavyweight champion of the world is British. And by the way, he is black too!

England is not alone in recognizing the wisdom of opening its team to “non-conventional” players. Sweden’s lethal striker that almost took them to the quarterfinals is Henrik Larsson, whose complexion is a number of shades darker than Bjorn Borg’s. Even Denmark, the team of blonde and blue-eyed Viking descendants, had a few dark- skinned players donning its jersey.

But the best example of all is the ousted defending champions France, whose multi-ethnic team led by Algerian-French midfielder Zinedine Zidane was vigorously disowned by the French rightist politician Jean Marie Le Pen as being “foreign.”

The World Cup is a good venue to watch multi-racial integration in action, with only the Asian teams of China, Japan and South Korea, and the Africans all looking ethnically similar. Gone were the days when most European teams would have made Hitler proud. Today, in their pursuit of excellence and the elusive cup, they have learned to recognize talent that is not merely skin-deep.

European fans, greatly appreciating the contribution of their not-so-similar looking “countrymen” in their quest for glory, do not seem to mind at all. As long as they do their share for the team, they are more than welcome.

IMMIGRATION. This is the message that many European countries are trying to get across to the multitudes of would-be immigrants to their countries. As long as they are good team players (integrate and disseminate, learn the language), score their fair share of goals (obtain gainful employment) and refrain from dysfunctional behavior (stay away from crime, drug abuse), the welcome mat will be rolled out to them.

Far from being inhumane and cruel, this expectation is clearly a justifiable one. Immigration is essentially an economic transaction—people move across borders to fill the employment needs in places that require their skill. As long as this logic is observed, there should be no problems.

It is when the cunning and the sly end up upsetting this equilibrium that problems start to happen.

Imagine if the England team did not have access to the best players for its line-up because certain pretenders had already forced their way into the squad, without possessing the requisite talent for the game? The team’s morale would be upset, would it not? It would likely be full of resentment, and its players might even refuse to do their best for the country.

The tide of human migration is unstoppable, but its logic should not be perverted and abused.

Legitimate asylum seekers aside, only those with valuable contributions to their new teams (destination countries) should be welcomed. Otherwise, like the England teams of the past, their new hosts would always be left wondering what it would have been like, had they been allowed to choose only the best players for their sides.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, June 22, 2002 (http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/ceb/2002/06/22/bus/batuhan.only.good.players.please.html).

Saturday, 8 June 2002

Backlash

AGAINST TIDE. Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at an emerging pan-European backlash against the tide of illegal immigration to Western Europe.

The surge to power of extreme right parties—Jorg Haider’s in Austria a few years back, and recently Jean Marie Le Pen’s in France, and the late Pim Fortuyn’s in the Netherlands—has come on the back of these parties’ avowed opposition to what is perceived to be an extremely tolerant attitude toward immigrants—be they legitimate asylum seekers or plain economic refugees.

Recently, even fairly open countries like Britain have seen the rise of political opposition to the tide of immigration. And mainstream, even left-of-center politicians like Britain’s Home Secretary David Blunkett, have joined in the outcry.

It is not difficult to see why.

Uncontrolled immigration to any country is costly. Take the case of people coming over to the U.K. Some of them come from the Balkans and further east, seeking to escape the horrors of war in their homelands. Most, however, are simply looking for better economic opportunities—arriving from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, the Philippines and the rest of the Far East in their thousands. A few come with employable skills, but others end up in welfare rolls, costing taxpayers billions of pounds each year.

Europe is especially vulnerable to overgenerosity with immigration. As past colonial masters, there seems to be a prevalent feeling of responsibility in many countries on the continent, over what is happening in their former colonies. Thus, France is full of Algerians, Moroccans and Senegalese migrants, and the U.K. is home to many from Hong Kong, the Caribbean and the sub-continent. Somehow, their politicians, and their people, feel that accepting former colonials into their countries is a way of atoning for their sins of the past.

HIGH COSTS. But is it really helping either the past colonial masters or the erstwhile colonized? On balance, one would have to say that it benefits neither, with very high economic and social costs on both sides.

The receiving countries end up shelling out billions of pounds of welfare funds, to sponsor language training and social integration programs, job placement, housing assistance, and similar schemes to help the new arrivals. This preferential treatment alienates their own citizens—especially those lower in the economic ladder—who feel that they are being neglected for the sake of the foreign newcomers. Social tensions are inevitable, tensions that on many occasions often turn violent and confrontational.

The new arrivals also introduce severe and significant distortionary effects in the host country’s employment markets, especially when they are willing to work for far less than the host country’s own residents are prepared to accept.

The countries of origin suffer too. Countries like the Philippines, that have been the source of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to Western countries, have had the travel and mobility privileges of their residents severely curtailed. Any Filipino that wishes to visit a foreign land becomes a suspect, a potential illegal immigrant in the making. While many countries are granted automatic entry privileges for their nationals, the people of those that are the source of illegal immigration are subjected to endless, sometimes humiliating scrutiny before being granted travel documentation.

This difficulty of access to foreign travel and employment has made the playing field even more uneven than it already is. The few opportunities available are not necessarily accessible by the most qualified, but by the cunning and adventurous few—their skills or lack of them notwithstanding—who are prepared to take their chances, whatever the outcome.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, June 08, 2002 (http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/ceb/2002/06/08/bus/batuhan.backlash.html).

Saturday, 1 June 2002

Blunkett Denies Asylum Seekers The Blanket

STEPPING ON TOES. David Blunkett, the British Home Office Secretary, is no ordinary bureaucrat. In seemingly blatant disregard for convention, he takes his dog with him to his office in Whitehall. He does not hesitate to step on his critics’ toes, and he looks straight through his political opponents without batting an eyelash.

But it is neither of these that make him unique.

Mr. Blunkett has been blind since birth, hence he is allowed to do what other politicians cannot normally get away with. But physical disability aside, he is one tenacious fighter, who minces no words, and respects no custom, when it comes to public policy. His latest controversial involvement came when he unveiled the contents of his new asylum plan for the United Kingdom.

For years now, Britain has been the destination of choice for refugees fleeing from conflicts outside Europe’s nearby frontiers, and beyond. Serbs fearing for their lives against Albanians in Kosovo, Albanians before them fleeing Milosevic’s Serbian paramilitaries’ reign of terror, Kurds trying to avoid persecution in Eastern Turkey and Iraq, Africans fearing for their lives in the chaotic continent’s various civil wars—you name the conflagration, the victims in its aftermath have fled across the seas to the UK’s tolerant shores—tolerant that is, until recently.

The situation could never have been sustainable in the long run. Every night, hundreds of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants slip through the port of Dover, hidden inside container vans, tucked under trains plying the Eurotunnel, or clinging precariously to cargo trucks from the continent.

Many more enter through the various international airports as tourists, never to return whence they came.

REFUGEES. Many come to escape war and injustice in their countries. Their homes have been burned to the ground, their friends and relations killed or scattered across the world. Starting life all over again in their former homes is untenable. For these people, Britain cannot in conscience refuse their entry.

However, countless more—the majority in fact—come across simply in search of better economic opportunities. Where they come from, jobs may not be as plentiful or as monetarily rewarding.

They are economic refugees, fleeing not from the horrors of war, famine and pestilence, but from the fallout of Adam Smith’s invisible hand. They argue that their difficulties are just as great, their suffering comparably as insufferable to those dodging bullets and sidestepping landmines in their bid to escape from home.

David Blunkett does not buy this argument. “We’re not taking people who simply turn up out of countries that are not persecuting them,” is how he rationalized his latest proposal on stemming the tide of immigration to the U.K. To get his point across, his latest policy proposal on asylum and immigration contains new guidelines that many civil libertarians and human rights advocates consider inhumane and unjust.

David Blunkett is unfazed. He continues to stare through his fiercest critics, and if necessary, once again step on their toes if they get in his way. And his dog might just take a snip at them as he walks by.

But he will not be at fault. He is blind, you see.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, June 01, 2002 (http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/ceb/2002/06/01/bus/batuhan.blunkett.denies.asylum.seekers.the.blanket.html).