India PM may answer corruption allegations

Singh said, he may have made mistakes but he had nothing to hide.

India PM may answer corruption allegations

India's prime minister offered to come before parliament to discuss corruption accusations against his government, underlining the pressure his coalition faces on an issue that has virtually stalled governance in Asia's third-largest economy.

Manmohan Singh's coalition faces multiple political crises, including multi-billion dollar graft scandals and high food prices, putting on line its credibility as a strong government able to push policies to keep pace with 9 percent growth.

Singh told the ruling Congress party's first plenary session since 2006, attended by about 15,000 members, that as prime minister, he may have made mistakes but he had nothing to hide.

"I sincerely believe, like Caesar's wife, the prime minister should be above suspicion, and it is for this reason that I am prepared to appear before the Public Accounts Committee," he said, referring to a parliamentary panel which oversees annual government accounts.

Singh was seeking to mollify an assertive opposition that stalled the last parliament session over demands the government accept a wider investigation into a $39 billion telecoms licence scandal that resulted in the sacking of Telecommunications Minister Andimuthu Raja.

Opposition parties have threatened to shut down the February session of parliament as well if the government did not agree to a more powerful joint parliamentary inquiry, which would have the power to call Singh for questioning. The opposition would have freer rein in such a panel.

"Ceasar's wife does not choose the forum of inquiry," Arun Jaitley, spokesman of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), told reporters, reiterating their demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) investigation.

"If you have nothing to hide please be up front and answer these question (in a JPC)."

Singh's pledges to fight corruption are unlikely to satisfy critics, who say words will have to be followed up with action, including prosecutions in the telecoms scandal and the organising of the graft-mired Commonwealth Games in October.

Corruption is widespread in India and prosecutions are rare, particularly of high government officials or political leaders.

The world's second-fastest growing major economy ranks 87th on graft watchdog Transparency International's list based on perceived corruption.

India may have lost $39 billion in revenue when lucrative telecoms licences were sold in 2007-08, according to a state audit report. Congress leaders have been linked to graft during the Commonwealth Games and in seizing prime property.

But Singh, who in a rare move has had to defend himself in the country's top court against allegations of inaction against Raja, rejected such accusations.

"As prime minister of this great country for six and a half years, I may have made mistakes, but I have tried to serve my country to the best of my ability."

"We are conducting a thorough probe in all aspects of the organisation of the Commonwealth Games and the 2G (telecoms) spectrum allocation. These inquiries will be pursued vigorously. And it is my promise to you that no guilty person will be spared, whether he is a political leader or a government official."


Agencies

Last Mod: 20 Aralık 2010, 13:02
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