Corporate Waqf And Economic Injustice
Capitalism is arguably one of the benign forces that have contributed greatly to man’s material progress and economic prosperity, making it possible for him to live a life of quality, comfort and wellbeing that is historically unprecedented.
Capitalism’s success has many roots, the most important being the triumph of its market-led and competition-driven business dynamics. Its extraordinary ability to mobilise resources, incentivize innovation and creativity and bridle technology is the other source of its prowess.
Added to that is its genius in creating the corporation as its prime mover, harnessing the dynamics of risk-taking and enabling privately owned wealth and businesses to be accumulated across generations.
Unfortunately, several of these strengths of capitalism are also the sources of its vulnerability. Corporations have become so ruthlessly efficient and successful that over time wealth and economic power are concentrated in the hands of a small group of people who have become extremely rich and powerful.
Liberal capitalism has also evolved into a highly divisive, winner-takes-all regime. Through globalization, corporations, especially multinationals, are now rampantly gobbling up wealth and assets, often distorting economies and societies, corrupting politics and damaging nature’s ecosystem all over the world.
Hence, liberal capitalism is today regarded as the root cause of the many ills, excesses, corruption and divides; diminishing economic security, eroding social cohesion, and threatening political stability on a global scale.
The extreme concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the so-called “1 per cent” at the top of the economic pyramid has only added fuel to the fire of global outrage. No nation can now afford to take this phenomenon lightly.
The anger is fast gaining momentum due to growing economic insecurity caused by mass unemployment and economic turbulence. Of greater concern, the fear of being overwhelmed has caused the rise of extremist right wing politics in Europe and led to the shock of British Brexit.
Indeed, there are those who would also argue that Donald Trump had won the recent U.S. presidential election against all odds, through the windfall support of protest votes from an angry, downtrodden and financially distressed American working class. Mr Trump’s anti-establishment campaignrhetoric hadresonated with so many Americans who had gained precious little from liberal capitalism and felt highly threatened by globalization.
Unfortunately, Malaysia, together with the rest of Asia and the Muslim world are already infected by this liberal capitalist contagion, and thus must institute economic reform to avoid being overwhelmed by the rising tide of mass anger and outrage.
One such institutional reform option for Malaysia is the creation of a critical mass of Corporate Waqfs. (See OUR previous article “Corporate Waqf Bridges National Economic Divides” in The Star, 18 October, 2016). Why Corporate Waqf? Because Malaysia simply cannot afford the luxury of just doing more of the same, worsening divides, corruption and distortions, perpetuating economic injustice.
The greatest challenge to Malaysia going forward is to successfully manage the paradox of harnessing the power and dynamics of capitalism and at the same time minimize its negative and corrosive outcomes.
Malaysia must therefore quickly craft a new strategic institutional thrust to effectively bridge divides and mend the distortions, while harnessing the inherent forces of business and corporate power to create wealth, incomes and jobs. To my mind, Corporate Waqf fits the bill perfectly.
Through Corporate Waqf, ownership of strategic national assets, businesses and wealth are vested as amanah or faith-based trusts transcending narrow individual or private interests. Furthermore, these assets and businesses can be better insulated against any hostile designs of global corporate predators.
More importantly, vesting assets and wealth as amanah confers all members of society, future generations included, an unalienable stake in the national economic cake, and a rightful share to all value enhancements and the benefits arising therefrom.
As highlighted in my previous article, there are already two successful examples of Malaysian Corporate Waqfs on record. On top of that, the Corporate Waqf institutional concept has also been validated and endorsed by seminars and discourses held nationally as well as internatioanally. The latest that I had the privilege of addressing was an International Waqf “Mu’tamar”or Conference at the invitation of Waqf Trustees of the Two Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medinah, held on 19-20 October 2016 at the holy city of Mecca.
The Mu’tamar signalled the Muslim world’s determination to revive waqf and make it one of the lead institutions for reform. Its focus was on the achievements of Saudi Arabia (with more than SR500 billion worth of waqf assets), Turkey (another giant in waqfs), Jordan, Sudan and Malaysia, among others. The writer was given the opportunity to showcase Malaysia’s unique experience in developing Corporate Waqfs, namely Waqaf An-Nur Corporation Bhd of Johor, and Awqaf Holdings Bhd with its signature project, Persada Awqaf, located at Putrajaya.
Malaysia’s Corporate Waqf venture generated a lot of interest among Mu’tamar participants. Many were attracted to the notion that it offers the possibility of incrementally transforming the economic system, shifting it away from its current extremely shareholder-centric construct towards one that is more community-centric, hence more equitable, just and Islamic.