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India Explores Ways to Prevent Corruption - 2001-09-03

Indian defense ministry officials are exploring ways of eliminating corruption in defense deals. The efforts have been launched in the wake of an arms bribery scandal that rocked the government and the army, earlier this year.

The scandal that erupted in March was exposed by Internet journalists who posed as arms dealers and secretly filmed senior army officers and politicians eagerly soliciting bribes to push a fake arms deal.

The tapes had an explosive impact, forcing the resignation of India's defense minister and battering the image of the defense forces. Stung by the bribery allegations, the government and the army are now exploring ways of eliminating the possibility of kickbacks in future defense deals.

The defense ministry is holding consultations with officials of the anti-corruption non-governmental organization, Transparency International, to see how best to clean up defense procurement. This is being done at a time when the military is making massive purchases of Russian, British and French equipment to modernize its armed forces. India is in the market for jets, ships, submarines, tanks and other equipment.

Michael Wiehen, a senior official of Transparency International, says he has proposed India follow what several countries have already done and introduce what his organization calls the "integrity pact" for all defense procurement. "It is a true legal contract in which both sides make commitments," he said. "The authorities side commits that its officers and officials will not demand or accept any bribe and the bidders commit that they will not pay or offer any bribe and they also commit that they will also disclose all commissions, etc, that they pay to any body, including agents that they use for the deal. And, of course, there are sanctions on both sides."

According to an annual index on corruption prepared by Transparency International, India ranks among the most corrupt Asian nations - along with Indonesia, Vietnam and China. The index is a survey of perception of corruption, based on the likelihood a businessman will have to use bribery to obtain public contracts.

The defense ministry appears to be trying to change that image. It proposes to put all information about defense purchases on the Internet to ensure greater transparency, a step applauded by Transparency International.

Uday Bhaskar, deputy director of the Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis, says the move to eliminate corruption is part of efforts to streamline outdated defense procurement procedures. "This is trying to introduce the kind of credibility and transparency that we want in the processes and procedures," he said, "but, simultaneously, I am sure this would be leveled with the appropriate degree of security, classification and dissemination of information so that basic security is not compromised."

India has been haunted by allegations of wrongdoing in defense deals for the past 15 years. A 1986 artillery gun deal with the Swedish firm Bofors snowballed into the country's biggest corruption scandal and led to the defeat of the country's once-mighty Congress Party.