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PM talks tough on corporate failure to curb bribery

We need to ensure while the corrupt are relentlessly pursued and brought to book, the innocent are not harassed: Manmohan Singh

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Prime Minister Man-mohan Singh on Wednesday said the should be tweaked, considering the economic development in the country and the new challenges faced by anti-corruption agencies. However, only a few state governments have responded to a draft amendment circulated by the Centre outlining changes in the law.

Speaking at a conference organised by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on economic development and the role of anti-corruption agencies, Singh said though economic liberalisation had unleashed new energies, for anti-corruption agencies, detecting economic crime had become more difficult.

He said while good training and competence were essential, CBI, as well as other anti-corruption agencies, shouldn’t shy away from engaging professionals with expertise, who could assist them in conducting an impartial enquiry in complex cases. “Also, institutions established with special focus on economic offences should perhaps be more broad-based. These need not be confined to people with policing backgrounds. An open mind in this regard could help impart credibility to our investigations,” he said.

Direct bank transfers of scholarships, pension, and other non-cash subsidies to about 200 million people through the Aadhaar platform had led to a decline in corruption, he added.

Changes were envisaged in the Prevention of Corruption Act to arrive at an unambiguous definition of ‘corruption’, Singh said. “Experience has shown, in the majority of cases, it is difficult to tackle consensual bribery and the supplier of the bribe goes scot-free by taking recourse to the provisions of the Act.

This would be taken care of in the proposed amendments. Experience has also shown big-ticket corruption is mostly related to operations by large commercial entities. It is, therefore, also proposed to include corporate failure to prevent bribery as a new offence on the supply side. We are also examining how the Act can be amended to protect honest public servants more effectively,” he said.

A reality check on the progress of the amendment to the Act, however, suggests the progress is slow. Changes in the draft (Amendments) Bill, 2011, including those on graft/bribe by an individual, firm, society, trust, association of individuals and companies (incorporated or otherwise) involved in any economic, financial or commercial activity were circulated to states and Union territories for comments. However, these haven’t been endorsed by state governments yet.

There is no legal provision to check bribe in the private sector. According to the draft Bill, whoever in the course of economic, financial or commercial activity promises, offers or gives, directly or indirectly, any gratification, in any capacity, for a private sector entity, for himself or another person, would be punishable.

In an oblique comment on the controversy over revelations about the real estate links of Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Singh warned India’s reputation would be sullied by “the mindless atmosphere of negativity and pessimism that is sought to be created over the issue of corruption”.

“We need to ensure even while the corrupt are relentlessly pursued and brought to book, the innocent are not harassed. The importance of making a distinction between bonafide mistakes and colorable exercise of power in investigation of corruption cases cannot be overemphasised,” he said.

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