Postcard from Fundookistan: How to use temple treasure for social good

Mr Minister, welcome to The Biggest Talk Show on Fundookistan's Most Popular Television Channel. It has been more than a week since you announced you would take over the treasure stashed away for centuries in the The Very Old Temple for the greater social good. Let me first congratulate you on that decision and for acting upon the suggestions of my peers. Some have compared this moment to the independence of Fundookistan back in 1947, and the economic liberalization of twenty years ago.

In comparing those occasions with the liberation of the temple assets, I am afraid you are ignoring two key distinctions. British rule lasted for what... 100 years? License and Permit Raj, if I may say, was not even that lengthy. But these assets were in shackles for centuries. Secondly, political independence and economic liberalisation are all about words, mere constitutional and regulation changes. Their impact will be debated by scholars and historians for years to come. As Zhou Enlai would have said, “it's too soon to say”. (Laughs) But this, this is tangible, the impact is tangible. You can see it now, you can use it today.

Standardised gold coins will alleviate poverty in Fundookistan | Image from Reuters

Well Mr Minister, that may be so, but the question is what next? It’s been more than a week since you announced the liberation of temple assets, what have you done about it?

Patience, my dear friend. (A wise, indulgent smile crosses his face). I know the media is always in a hurry. You guys want to not only be the judge, jury and the executioners but you want to get things done by yesterday. But you must realize this. The government can't just rush into action. Actions have consequences, and we need to debate, deliberate and take everything into account.

I am happy to inform you that we are doing just that. The main issue here is that these things, the treasure, these assets come in all shapes, forms and sizes. The problem with such, if I may say diversity, is that we cannot value them that easily.
So, what’s the solution? We have to standardise these assets, first of all. In case of gold and silver, you first melt them, and you fashion them into standard coins - of specific weight, specific shape and specific size. Most importantly, you add the government stamp, the Fundookistani government stamp which will clearly state that these coins are a part of "Conversion of Temple Treasure to Development of Poor" scheme. Or Cott2Dop. It’s like securitisation of the temple treasure.

Ah, and one more thing. The diamonds, the gems, they will be cut to standard sizes too. That's a story for another day, but let me just say that it's going to immensely help the gem and jewelry workers across the country. The bigger point is at the end of this exercise is we will have easy to value, ready to disburse national assets.

Mr Minister, your government I am sad to say has had a sad record of dealing with national assets. We were all given
to understand that telecom spectrum was a national asset, and now we all know the mess we are in. The nation wants to know, Mr Minister, how can we be sure that you are not going to bungle this up as well?

My dear friend! (Wise smile again). I agree that in terms of telecom spectrum allocation, there was a big perceptional slip up. If you look at the issue with the 2G spectrum allocation, you will see that we had two perfectly legitimate, valid options by which we could have arrived at the selling price. You can 'discover' it through an auction OR you can abide by a price determined by the market. We went for the latter, but clearly the perception is that the former was the correct way. So we have decided that since auctioning is the way preferred by CAG and the media, then so be it. We will be auctioning Cott2Dop assets. The winners will have the right to sell these standard assets to buyers and take the proceeds.

And, here's the important part. The money we raise from the auction will be used for development purposes, towards the bigger goal of alleviating poverty. To that end, we will have more people in the government working towards poverty alleviation, generating, nay, guaranteeing employment to the poor. We will make sure that we hire more people, and then have the poor construct buildings to house the additional staff. And of course we will engage in more public-private partnerships, which as
many of us have personally seen, helps wealth creation...

Mr Minister, I have another report here with me that says that Fundookistan is estimated to have atleast 15,000 tons of gold stashed away in vaults of various banks and homes. But this is not, let me emphasize, NOT government owned gold. It also does not belong to the Reserve Bank of Fundookistan. This is privately owned gold. Our sources tell us that a significant portion of this gold- in principle - is like the treasure associated with the Very Old Temple; people buy gold for religious reasons and in fact some of them even carry the gods images on them! What are you going to do about that?

Let me assure you we are aware of the gold stashed away in private homes, and we believe it's a crime against the poor. It’s a crime to have all that wealth lying idle there, when so many go to bed hungry. Which is why I am happy to announce that we have also decided to launch the "Conversion of Gold to Development (Mandatory)" Scheme. This CoG2DeM Scheme will work on the same principle as income tax, if you know what I mean. People come forward - and pretty much the same way our citizens declare their income and pay tax - they declare the gold they have stashed away, and exchange them for plastic bars. Why plastic bars? If you are locking them up in your vaults, it doesn’t matter if it’s a plastic bar or a gold bar, does it?

Once we get this gold, we will follow the same process as in the case of the wealth from the Very Old Temple. Standardise the assets, create, in this case, CoG2DeM coins, and auction off the rights to sell. And, yes, it’s worth repeating, whatever we raise we will spend for development. I am also trying to push for yellow oil paint to be given away along with the plastic bars, as an additional incentive. But I will wait till my nephew expands the capacity in his factory which he has set up in one of those very backward regions of the country with the intent of giving employment, and thereby, reducing poverty and promoting development.

But, but, but.... Mr Minister, please wait. When I said in some cases personal ownership of gold is in principle like
Temple Treasure, it also follows that in some cases is NOT like Temple Treasure. For all we know, they might be storing it for non-religious, purely secular reasons.

That is going to be difficult. Maybe eventually we will come up with a refund process applicable for such circumstances. Meanwhile, I am sure the people of Fundookistan will be only too willing to make a small sacrifice for the sake of poverty reduction and development.

Mr Minister, the question then is, some people might wonder, where will such incursions into our liberties lead? What is the guarantee that you won't for example, ask alcohol consumers to stop drinking and start diverting that amount on some government expenditure?

Now, now, now, you are not only making the fallacy of the false analogy, you are also getting onto a slippery slope. Gold jewellery lying unused in a vault is a dead asset. Beverage is a living industry, it's a twenty billion dollar industry, providing employment to thousands of people engaged in its production, preservation, transportation and distribution. Perhaps such a scenario is possible in a dictatorship. But, you must remember, we are a democracy,and we have you media guys to keep us in check.

On that positive note, let's end this show. It has been a pleasure talking to you Mr Minister.

It’s always a pleasure.

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Updated Date: Jul 17, 2011 13:07:24 IST

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