March 28, 2001


 Search the Internet
Send this page to a friend

Print this page
Recent Columns
Taleban -- modern
     fanatics or
     tribal marauders
There is no need to be
     defensive every time
     we test a missile
Time to look beyond
     the subcontinent
Dealing with Dubya
South Block is well
     conditioned to promote
     our economic interests

G Parthasarathy

The era of corruption

In November 1970, Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin told our ambassador in Moscow, Mr D P Dhar that the Soviet Union would be prepared to supply us long-range TU 22 bombers in response to our long pending request for such an aircraft. Dhar was elated when we found that the TU 22 met the Qualitative Requirements (QRs) that our air force had spelled out for what was labelled as a 'Deep Penetration Strike Aircraft' (DPSA).

Imagine our shock when a few months later a high level IAF delegation informed us during a visit to Moscow that the TU 22 did not meet the requirements of their new and revised QRs. Amongst the reasons given by the IAF for rejecting the TU 22 was that the runaways in our airfields were not long enough for these aircraft to operate! When we analysed the issue in some detail in our embassy in Moscow, we found that there was no aircraft anywhere in the world in service at that time that would meet the new operational requirements that we had outlined, except perhaps the newly inducted U S F 111 Bomber that had not been tested out operationally. In any case, our relations with the USA and our foreign exchange resources then were such that there was no question of acquiring the F111.

The rejection of the TU 22 on less than justifiable grounds did have long-term strategic implications. We were left without any effective strike aircraft when the Bangladesh conflict broke out. The Pakistanis would not have been able to make any progress in the Chhamb sector if the IAF had the TU 22 in December 1971. More importantly, we went ahead and signed a deal for the purchase of Jaguar aircraft from the UK in 1978 to meet our requirements for a DPSA. The purchase of the Jaguar was justified on the grounds that we had to 'diversify' our sources of supplies. We then entered into a new era, where for the first time there was talk of kickbacks having been paid on a major contract for defence equipment.

The major contracts signed in the 1980s from West European countries were for the purchase of Bofors Guns, HDW Submarines and Mirage 2000 aircraft. The purchases of the Mirage 2000 and Bofors guns were undertaken after it was confirmed that the Soviet Union was then not in a position to supply comparable weapons systems to the F-16 aircraft and 155 mm artillery that were in the pipeline for supply by the United States to Pakistan. There were, however, some question marks on the rationale for the purchase of the HDW submarines.

Defence deals with the Soviet Union were relatively easy to negotiate, especially given the low prices, payments terms and soft credits extended. There was no question of any kickbacks or commissions. But, when we commenced purchases from West European countries, the stench of corruption entered the corridors of the ministry of defence. Whether it was the purchase of Jaguars or HDW submarines, it became clear that the era of agents and commissions had commenced.

We are now unfortunately in an era when not only the West Europeans, but also other suppliers like the Russians and Israelis are into the business of promoting business through agents and commissions. But our politicians and media should be very careful in not casting doubts about the efficacy of weapons systems selected as this could lead to demoralization in the armed forces. Irresponsible comments were made by a number of senior political figures about the quality of the Bofors guns at the height of the controversy surrounding their purchase in the 1980s. Kargil proved how irresponsible and unjustified these comments were. Caution should be exercised before criticism is mounted about the effectiveness of systems being acquired, unless there are established and valid reasons for such criticism.

While the media in Western countries may patronisingly assert that what is happening in India is yet another example of 'Third World Corruption', the fact remains that in today's world, corruption is a feature of life not only in the developing countries but also in the industrialised ones. The World Development Report of 1997 notes that 15 per cent of all companies in the industrialised countries have to pay bribes to win or retain their businesses. This figure is 40 per cent for countries in Asia and 60 per cent in the Russian Federation.

But more importantly, it is the arms traders of the developed countries who are responsible for the aggressive introduction and fostering of corrupt practices in developing countries. While the OECD countries have endeavoured to curtail such practices through measures like the 1997 'Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions', their efforts to date have been half-hearted and token. Even though the United States Law specifically prohibits such bribery, one does hear of American corporations spending millions of dollars to 'educate' Indian decision makers. The OECD countries also benefit immensely from providing tax havens to tax dodgers and people with ill-gotten gains. It is estimated that around $ 350 billion to $ 700 billion is hidden in tax havens in the United Kingdom alone.

While we have succeeded in persuading the world community about the dangers of terrorism, it is now equally important that a sustained diplomatic attempt should be made along with like minded countries, to get OECD countries and other arms suppliers like the Russian Federation and Israel to agree to adopt measures that would enhance transparency in their arms sales practices and also make details of commissions if any paid to secure contracts abroad public. Even though this is not going to be an easy task, it should nevertheless be initiated. The Transparency International that has played a key role in focusing international attention on issues of corruption in international business transactions has rightly noted: 'Every society is as corrupt as its institutions and practices allow'.

One hopes that the recent Tehelka episode will lead to measures that ensure that corruption in the corridors of power is effectively dealt with. Our political elite will have to understand that public confidence in the very system of democracy will be eroded if an impression gains ground that the law of the land is not applicable to the political class and that it is to be applied only to hapless officials. The decision to appoint a person of impeccable integrity like Mr B G Varghese to introduce a measure of transparency and public accountability into the entire functioning of the defence ministry is a welcome development. Our armed forces have an unquestionable reputation for professional and personal integrity. We cannot allow that national reputation and image to be sullied by the misdemeanours of an errant few.

Governments in New Delhi tend to become over-cautious and shy away from taking difficult decisions when under siege. We should never forget that the 1965 conflict and the Kargil intrusion took place because our adversaries across the border felt that we had lost our qualitative edge. It is, therefore, imperative that the Tehelka episode must not be allowed to delay the process of decision-making on issues of defence modernization and procurement.

As Mr Jaswant Singh prepares to leave for Washington, a clear signal needs to be sent out that we intend to have the capabilities to project power from the Straits of Malacca in the east to the Straits of Hormuz in the west. The emergence of destabilising religious fundamentalism to our west and the growing internal tensions and instability in our friendly neighbour Indonesia to our east, are factors that require close consultations with our friends with whom we share common interests, especially on issues of energy security.

But, if we are to play an effective role in the Indian Ocean region, it is imperative that we should not allow the process of second-generation economic reforms, or the modernisation of our armed forces to be derailed by recent developments. Rapid and accelerated economic growth is essential for the effective conduct of a dynamic foreign policy. One hopes that when Parliament reconvenes next month, we will show the sagacity and wisdom to evolve a political consensus on such vital national issues.

G Parthasarathy

Your Views
 Name :

 E-mail address :

 Your Views :