Wipro Chairman Azim Premji, in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s Countdown, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, says confidence in law enforcement is key to addressing graft. Edited excerpts:
On the number one concern at the WEF this year
I think the number one concern, also part of the agenda, is how economic policy reduces volatility in the market. I think the most fundamental cause of decision making today is volatility or uncertainty on what is going to happen. If one knows what is going to happen within a certain parameter of predictability, it makes it much easier.
On what has changed to make predictability a priority
I think, there is more stability in terms of government policy. Particularly in the European Union, which had the maximum volatility, most of the fundamentals seem in place and where the compromises have to be made and where the compromises don’t have to be made have been spelt out.
I think now the rest is what expectations are there from nations, which were not within line with things that have been given aid.
On his message to Western leaders about austerity
I think that has to be addressed upfront. You have to put realistic concepts and frameworks of austerity when deals are negotiated. It is really the responsibility of nations extending the loans or the debts or the restructuring. They’re just trying to attach too much austerity to it. You particularly see this in terms of Greece. The demands made have not been reasonable, not that anything done with Greece is reasonable from Greece’s point of view. But if you have something which is manageable, it has a better chance of reasonable leaders seeing it through. There is no such thing as Superman leaders.
On corruption hampering Indian economic growth
A fundamental thing is, corruption is a two-way street: There is a giver and a taker. You can’t clap with one hand. So, there is moral responsibility on both sides; the leadership that indulges in corruption cannot absolve itself of the responsibility. I think corruption, more than hampering growth, has really woken up the conscience of the nation, and I think that is the biggest threat the government is going to face in the elections.
It’s going to become a big election issue and unless governments in future do something to make it at a level that is acceptable, I think it’s going to be a persistent theme that is going to bring down governments — nothing is perfect anywhere in the world, including Western nations —because people have reached the stage where they say, ‘Enough is enough’.
On cracking down on corruption
I think the most powerful mechanism is the enforcement of law. People must have confidence in enforcement and the law should be above it. That is fundamental to corruption.
You see that in our election ring; our election commissioner is above the law. I mean, he is not an appointee of the government, he’s finally accountable to the people and the only one who can challenge the decision is the Supreme Court of India. The similar thing is with our Central Bureau of Investigation, which evaluates the public sector and other organisations. It’s an external appointment and above the law. The same thing is with our Comptroller General. I think there should be an institution of enforcement of the law, like the CBI, which should be outside the constitution of the government.
On where he’d put a million dollars of cash - Picasso, US dollars or gold bars
[Laughs] US dollars because we have restrictions on what we can invest abroad!
Regarding concern on investment costs in the US
I think the major thing coming up is the fiscal debt, which has to get resolved, and it’s coming as early as February. The judgement is that it will get kicked forward. If it gets kicked forward, it will reduce uncertainty and, therefore, reduce volatility.