East not impressed with EU methods

Tun Musa Hitam (SUPPLIED)

Muslim nations are "laughing" at European efforts to grapple with a debilitating debt crisis in Greece, which has serious ramifications for the world's biggest open market, the head of the World Islamic Economic Forum (Wief) has said.

Former Malaysian deputy prime minister Tun Musa Hitam said in Brussels as European Union plans for a backstop bailout enabling Athens to refinance tens of billions of euros of debt repayments and budget commitments were being thrashed out among euro zone officials.

"Seen from the east, from developing countries, we're laughing because they're not doing what they taught us," Tun Musa said of the EU's decision to protect Greece rather than sending Athens to the International Monetary Fund.

"You find that a European nation has adopted anything but good practice, which has resulted in a disaster [and] now the name and the prestige of the EU is at stake, but more importantly, its economies," he added.

"The normal way of resolving these issues is to go to the IMF. Developing countries do that, but not the EU.

"It's yes, no, maybe every day," he said.

Tun Musa was speaking before euro zone finance ministers agreed last Sunday to pump some €30 billion (Dh150.5bn) into Greece's coffers this year if necessary – at below-market rates of around five per cent interest.

But in the aftermath of the accord doubts have emerged as to the readiness and scale of the financial aid, with a series of political hurdles still to be crossed before these monies can ever be handed over. And within no time, new nationwide strikes had pushed Greek borrowing rates back through the pain barrier.

With parallel EU negotiations with the IMF under way on its involvement, and €15bn of loans anticipated in 2010 from Washington, Tun Musa maintained that the Western system where "anything goes in terms of lending and conduct" lay behind the Greek fiscal disaster.

The missing ingredients of "responsibility, transparency and accountability", glaringly absent throughout fraudulent Greek reporting to the EU, were instead to be found in Islamic finance, he argued.

"The methodology of Islamic banking will become more acceptable, even without being in Islam," he said.

He cited a surge in the numbers of specialist economic religious ulama, who re-interpret Shariah law for expansion throughout non-Islamic territories.

Shariah prohibits interest on money and re-distributes added value based on goods not paper.

Moody's Investors Service said earlier this month that the Islamic finance industry had a market potential of at least $5 trillion (Dh18.3trn) – more than five times its actual 2009 value.

A host of countries, led by Britain but stretching from Italy to Japan and Russia, are planning joint Islamic finance ventures, seen as filling a perceived vacuum in confidence.

The march of Islamic finance will form a major plank of the Wief's sixth annual conference in Kuala Lumpur next month.

Tun Musa even blamed default in the Gulf on the penchant in the Middle East to "look West". "Malaysia was hit least because we did not put our money in the West," he insisted.

In November, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the Wief's core backer, that the "world system based on usury has collapsed".


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