Institution of a “strong and effective” Lokpal, reducing discretionary powers of public authorities and ensuring transparency in government contracts were on top of his government’s agenda, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Friday. He also stressed that the nation must “seize this moment” to bring in far-reaching changes in fighting corruption.
“We are on the cusp of far reaching changes in fighting corruption. The agitation for the establishment of a Lokpal has brought the issue of cleaning up of public life right at the top of the agenda of national priorities,” Manmohan Singh said in one of his strongest statements to date on the issue that has been bedevelling the nation.
“The government welcomes inputs from civil society and NGOs on how to fight corruption,” he said at the biennial conference of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and state anti-corruption bureaus here.
Facing criticism from civil society for suggesting earlier that the Right to Information (RTI) needs review, Manmohan Singh said: “Public authorities should voluntarily place as much information as is possible in the public domain to inform people.”
“RTI is a potent tool to ensure transparency and accountability in public life,” he said.
With the issue of corruption gaining centrestage and becoming a rallying point for people all over, the prime minister said the task of ensuring transparency in public life and punishing the corrupt “had acquired an urgency as never before”.
“We must as a nation seize this moment”.
Talking about the measures to check corruption, the prime minister said the government would bring a bill in the winter session of parliament to ensure transparency in government procurement contracts (running into thousands of crore of rupees).
He also said the government was considering changes in the law to make private sector bribery punishable.
According to the prime minister, India’s ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption June 2011 would strengthen the government’s anti-corruption efforts and facilitate international cooperation in trans-border cases of corruption.
He said to meet the requirements of the convention, the government had introduced a bill to make bribery by foreign public officials an offence.
Besides a bill to provide protection to whistleblowers, the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill has also been introduced in parliament, he said.
Expressing hope for “a strong and effective Lokpal in the coming months”, the prime minister said “the CBI will continue to play a very important role irrespective of the shape of the Lokpal”.
Team Anna has demanded that the anti-corruption wing of the CBI be put under the Lokpal.
The prime minister said to reduce opportunities for corrupt practices, a group of ministers (GoM) is working on ways and means to minimise discretionary powers of public authorities.
The GoM is also looking at the issue of a public procurement law to minimize irregularities in the award of government contracts worth thousands of crores of rupees every year, he said.
Agreeing that the debate over the possible ways to curb corruption and improve the processes of governance has intensified, Manmohan Singh said: “I believe the churning over this issue that our society and our polity are witnessing today, marked by sharp differences of opinions and ardent advocacy of particular causes, is good for the country.”
“There is a need for speedy and thorough investigation into allegations of such wrongdoing, followed by expeditious prosecution to bring the guilty to book,” he said