Private sector graft may be made crime too: PM


NEW DELHI: Acknowledging that the agitation for Lokpal has put the spotlight on corruption, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday announced that his government was working on proposals to criminalise private sector bribery and to also make illegal gratification of foreign public officials an offence.

Complete text of PM’s address at the Biennial Conference of CBI and state anti-corruption bureaux

Singh, who was speaking at a conference of the Central Bureau of Investigation and state anti-corruptions bureaux, said these changes are required by United Nations Convention Against Corruption which India ratified earlier this year. “We are considering changes in our laws to criminalize private sector bribery. Another Bill has been introduced in Parliament to protect whistleblowers.”

Stressing that the UN anti-corruption convention will strengthen the fight against corruption and facilitate international cooperation in trans-border cases, Singh said: “To meet the requirements of the convention, we have introduced a Bill in the Parliament to make bribery of foreign public officials an offence. We are considering changes in our laws to criminalize private sector bribery.”

The anti-corruption law has so far been focused on corruption among public servants, leaving the private sector out of the ambit, and the proposal underlined by Singh marks a radical shift in the government’s approach.

The proposals the government is considering with regard to the private sector include changes in the Indian Penal Code provisions and the Companies Act. Changes in the IPC are preferred to altering the Prevention of Corruption Act. Graft would be made a specific offence under the Companies Act.

Taking up his theme of a multi-pronged approach that goes beyond the Lokpal, Singh said the government has decided to prescribe a three-month deadline for prosecution sanctions. A committee under a Supreme Court judge will review the trials in CBI cases pending for over 10 years.

However, the PM was generous in praising the popular push for Lokpal as the catalyst for the anti-corruption mood in the country. “The agitation for the establishment of a Lokpal has brought the issue of cleaning up of our public life right at the top of the agenda of our national priorities.” He further said, “Today, the tasks of ensuring transparency and accountability in the work of public authorities and of building effective mechanisms who indulge in corrupt practices and protecting those who seek to expose wrongdoings have acquired an urgency as never before. I believe as a nation we should seize this moment.”

Singh went on to yoke his government to the anti-graft sentiments sweeping the country. “We cannot afford to tolerate a malaise that hurts our economic growth, harms our polity, alienates our people, breeds an amount of cynicism, lowers our image internationally and is particularly harsh on the poor.”

The PM outlined speedier trials, a legislation to deal with corruption in judiciary — Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill — as well as another one to protect whistleblowers as measures in the works which form a part of the government’s basket of anti-graft measures.

Singh also addressed the CBI’s concern, articulated by its chief A P Singh, about its future under a Lokpal apparatus. The PM said, “Whatever may be the structure and functions…when it comes to be established, CBI will play and important role in ensuring probity in public life.”

The government is also working on minimizing discretionary powers of public authorities and a public procurement law to make award of government contracts worth thousands of crores transparent.

Earlier, the CBI director had said that the agency must be an integral and independent component in any effort to strengthen the mechanism to combat corruption.

“One of the draft bills of Lokpal envisages merger of the anti-corruption wing of the CBI with the Lokpal. Given the composite nature of the CBI, I am of the firm belief that such a proposal is neither practical nor advisable. I will very strongly advocate that at no cost the CBI is bifurcated or divested of its anti-corruption mandate,” he said.


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