Gunning for transparency
Corruption in defence sector was one of the major reasons why the last regime was shown the door in general election 2014. Charges of hefty kickbacks being exchanged between mercenaries of AgustaWestland, a UK-based subsidiary of Italian company Finmeccanica, and ‘middlemen, lobbyists’ like Guido Heschke and Christian Michel, as well as bureaucrats in the ministry and people in the know in the Army, including chief S P Tyagi, and his brothers, were flying around during most of last year. Former Defence Minister under UPA rule, A K Antony, like the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had been dubbed ‘Caesar’s wife’: not to be suspected but unable to stall the rot in the system. Defence purchases were a matter of unnecessary secrecy, extreme red tape leading to instrusion of more cooks to spoil the broth – that of effective and able arms acquisition in an age when national security is paramount. Given that defence industry worldwide is worth over 1.5 trillion dollars per year, almost three per cent of World gross domestic product, it is obvious that arms sale and purchase involves a growing number of private players with high stakes in production, distribution, supply and facilitation of state-of-the-art arms and ammunitions to the countries and outfits world over. It is, therefore, imperative that these private players will build networks deep into government corridors across the world, and their ‘representatives’ will try to clinch deals with buyers, mostly third world countries and chief importers of global arms, such as the Indian Army.
In the light of current situation, it makes more sense to legalise lobbying, hitherto a pejorative term in Indian defence sector, although widely practiced as an informal arrangement between the highest and mightiest in the government and political formations. Hence, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s statement that the Centre is mulling legalisation of lobbying in defence sector must be welcomed by us all, including the media, policy and industry watchers as well as think-tanks. Legalisation of the lobbying process would render transparent what transpires behind closed doors and give the private bidders the opportunity to showcase their best baits. Moreover, it will also allow the state buyer, which is spending an enormous chunk of the taxpayers’ money, to purchase with more care and accountability. Since every step of the acquisition process would be rendered transparent by the legalisation of lobbying process, particularly lobbying by international MNCs and defence behemoths, it would be easier to bring them to book in case of failures, mishaps or accidents. In addition, this will also curtail the tendency among middlemen to use our country as a dumpyard for substandard or artificially tweaked military produce, including copters like the ones procured in the AgustaWestland deal.