AoA: What Happens To Previous Transgressions?

When you filled out your first ever visa form for a foreign nation, you probably chuckled to yourself when the form asked you to declare if you belonged to a terrorist group and meant to mobilise anti-national forces upon entry into that country. One particular visa form also asks, a little rakishly, if you mean to promote sexually deviant behaviour in the country you intend to visit. Obviously a lot of people lie in their visa forms. But the reason I was thinking about visa forms today was because I was cleaning my house out and found a copy of India's Defence Procurement Procedure 2006, a document that was hailed at its release for providing all the underpinnings of transparent, fair purchase of weapons and equipment for India's armed forces. I flipped over to "Annexure I of Appendix H of Schedule I", a component we all know as the Integrity Pact. It is a formidable piece of literature if there ever was one, composed with a great clarity of purpose, and I'm not being sarcastic here. Thing is, it's a fill-in-the-blanks form that calls upon weapons manufacturers to make declarations very much like those amusing questions in a visa form. Sample this:

Clause 7.1 if the Integrity Pact, titled Previous Transgressions, mandates that the "Bidder declares that no previous transgression occurred in the last three years immediately before signing of this Integrity Pact, with any other company in any country in respect of any corrupt practices envisaged hereunder or with any Public Sector Enterprise in India or any Government Department in India, that could justify bidder’s exclusion from the tender process."

That's a visa form question, and no mistake. The Integrity Pact, unfortunately, does not call upon bidders to provide a fair and voluntary declaration of alleged involvement in misconduct. I'm not talking about blog posts (!) or news reports calling into question the activities of armament companies. I'm talking about official committees of inquiry in other nations, foreign government complaints, formal investigations, that sort of things. You know, hard stuff. Wouldn't it be something if the Integrity Pact made it compulsory for every bidder to declare, without prejudice, every single case of alleged malfeasance that it was being formally investigated for? Let the government then track those cases using its own resources, such as they are. Give the bidders an opportunity to annexure their own stand on each case of alleged misconduct, but get it down in the contract. Get it down on paper. You're doing so much with the Integrity Pact. Why not go all the way?

If such a declaration were indeed mandatory in the Integrity Pact, the contract agreements would do a number of things. First, and least importantly, they'd make the contracts much more readable! Second, it would provide the government with a sharp gauge of what the bidders consider to be serious misconduct. Third, it would provide the government a superb measure of legal (and moral?) leverage in the event that any of the bidders have to be penalised (which, when it happens, pans out in a ludicrously unproductive way, but that's another matter). Not that the government needs any more overriding powers in tender competitions, but it would help keep things even more transparent.

Because let's make no mistake about it. For reasons understood by all, the Indian government insulates itself very effectively against the conduct of armament makers outside the borders of India and insulates itself even more from their reputations. A promise of good behaviour in the preceding three years before the tender (which is what the Integrity Pact demands) is as much as South Block was willing to push the boat, even with a relatively revolutionary initiative as the Integrity Pact. Well, it isn't nearly enough.

For the sake of argument, consider the MMRCA contract. Every single one of the bidders fights allegations of corruption. Every single one. Russia's RAC-MiG continues to fight allegations of malfeasance in a contract with Sri Lanka for MiG-29 fighter planes. Sweden's Saab has had allegations of corruption in the supply of Gripen jets to the Czech Republic and South Africa. Boeing lost the US Air Force's enormous refuelling tanker contract on account of the Darlene Druyun episode, and was suspected of using undue influence in its sale of F-15s to South Korea. Reliable reports suggest that Lockheed-Martin's ex-Country Head had access to classified Indian government documents pertaining to the Indian MMRCA tender itself. Dassault Aviation also was suspected of bribing an official in the South Korean fighter competition. The Eurofighter Typhoon stands smeared deeply by BAE's alleged conduct in the Saudi Arabian Al Yamama deal.

And these are just the scandals the media picked up on. Corruption in defence deals has a supreme and uncanny ability to dodge vigilance and media radar very effectively. That's because the stakes involved are high enough to compel both giver and receiver to make all possible arrangements for discretion and subterfuge. Indeed, it is also an open secret that the pickings from defence deals are a premium way of filling the coffers of political parties in power. But a country like India, which will not be weapons self-reliant any time soon, cannot afford to soundproof itself from the activities of its potential suppliers abroad.

The conduct of weapons companies has to have a bearing on the potential profits they make from Indian money. Right now, it plainly doesn't. Not enough anyway. Start by getting each one of them to place on record the alleged dirt. Just start by that.

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