Kishore Mahbubani: Should sovereign wealth funds be more transparent?
Kishore Mahbubani was appointed Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy on 16 August 2004 after having served 33 years in the Singapore Foreign Service (with postings in Cambodia, Malaysia, Washington DC and twice as Ambassador to the UN, during which he also served as President of the Security Council). He was the Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Ministry from 1993-1998.
He is the author of Can Asians Think? published in Singapore, Canada, US, Mexico, India and People’s Republic of China and of Beyond The Age of Innocence: Rebuilding Trust between America and the World. His new book entitled The New Asian Hemisphere: the Irresistible Shift of Gobal Power to the East was published in New York in February 2008. He was also listed as one of the top 100 public intellectuals in the world by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines in September 2005.
Question: Should sovereign wealth funds be more transparent?
Kishore Mahbubani: Well, I say I am actually glad you asked the question about sovereign wealth funds, because the debate of our soveriegn wealth funds is s perfect illustration of the new anxiety of the West. I mean, this been is demonization of sovereign wealth funds in the Western media and they have been described as political animals out to eat up the world. Actually the sovereign wealth funds are very conservative institutions. Their only goal is to preserve their wealth. They want to invest on the basis of the existing rules of the day and follow the rules of day in investing in companies or being exactly what America and Europe used to do when they had all the money in the world. In fact, they do not want to destabilize the world order, because if you are now holding the largest pools of capital, and, as you know, capitalists are very conservative, right? They don’t want to see revolution, they don’t want to see disruptions. The sovereign wealth funds are the new capitalists. They want to preserve this current order. So, how can you see them as a threat? They are not out there to break the rules, because they have a vested interest in playing by the rules, and they are as transparent or not as transparent as any hedge fund is. You tell me, go to hedge funds and say “open up your books to be and tell me what you do?” Which hedge funds is going to do it for you, right? Some of this is privileged commercial information and in the same way that is exactly what the sovereign wealth funds are doing. So I think this demonization of sovereign wealth funds is one of the biggest mistakes that the West is making as the result of the things anxiety about its lost of power in the world today.
Should they be transparent to the world? To the citizens of their own countries?
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