Fighting corruption ‘concerns’ high on Gov to-do list for the year

The recent expose of scams seemed to have made the Congress leadership more determined in cleaning up the system. ‘Cleaning up’ the system finds the second place in the Government’s to-do list for the next financial year, according to the speech read out by President Pratibha Patil in Parliament at the start of the Budget Session of Parliament today.

“My government’s foremost priorities in 2011-2012 will be : (i) to combat inflation and, in particular, to protect the common man from the impact of rising food prices; (ii) to address frontally the concern regarding the lack of probity and integrity in public life..,” she said.

The unusual prominence given to fighting the “concerns” over corruption is the latest in a series of signals given out by the Congress leader Sonia Gandhi promising a crack-down on scams.

The first major signal given out by the Congress that it intends to ‘clean up’ was during the Commonwealth Games controversy, when it appointed the Shuglu Panel to go into the controversy.

It was followed by a cabinet reshuffle that saw most of the ministers against whom corruption allegations were made — Murli Deora of petroleum, Sharad Pawar in food, Kamal Nath in highways and Praful Patel in aviation — get shunted out. The ministers were replaced by left-of-centre congressmen with relatively clean reputations, including Jaipal Reddy in petroleum, Vayalar Ravi in aviation and CP Joshi in highways department.

This was preceded by arrests of Raja and his accomplices for engineering an alleged ‘2G scam.’ The Prime Minister too called a press conference last week to try to clear the air. The government also ‘annulled’ a deal between ISRO’s commercial unit and a Bangalore-based start up after media reports claimed that it was in violation of norms.

Sources point out that the Congress is keen to be seen as the force behind the clean up, instead of allowing opposition-led Parliamentary Committees claim credit for bringing the crooks to book.

The statement said that a Group of Ministers is considering all measures, including legislative and administrative, to tackle corruption and improve transparency. “The report of the Group of Ministers is expected soon,” it said.

The Group will consider issues relating to the formulation of a public procurement policy and enunciation of public procurement standards, review and abolition of discretionary powers enjoyed by Ministers, introduction of an open and competitive system of exploiting natural resources, fast tracking of cases against public servants charged with corruption, and amendments to the relevant laws to facilitate quicker action against public servants. It will also consider issues relating to the state funding of elections, Patil added.

Besides, a bill to give protection to whistleblowers has been introduced in Parliament. The government has also decided to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, the president added.

The government has also constituted a committee on electoral reforms to fast track the process. The committee has held regional conferences with the concerned stakeholders. This will culminate in a national conference in April this year. It is expected that this process of consultation would lead to a consensus on an acceptable agenda of reforms, she added.

On black money, she said the Government is working closely with the G-20 group of nations to expedite the process of identification and recovery of such money. “India is now a member of the Financial Action Task Force in recognition of its anti-money laundering and anti-tax evasion measures. India has also gained membership of the Eurasian Group and the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development,” she added.

Besides fighting corruption, the government also vowed to continue with its pro-poor programs such as NREGA.