In the odious backdrop of corruption scandals hitting government ministries, the Ministry of External Affairs is being extra cautious about any allegations of graft around the developmental projects abroad.
These are vital instruments for India’s foreign policy to strengthen its sphere of influence, especially in Afghanistan and Africa. The MEA is currently consulting with the Central Vigilance Commission on appointing “independent external monitors” to give an unbiased opinion about the execution and progress on big contracts.
These appointments will be part of a new pre-contract integrity pact, which has to be signed by any bidder for any tender issued by MEA for projects that are above Rs 50 crore and above.
According to official sources, the ministry is still in the process of working out the guidelines to choose the new monitors, which are expected to be in place within a few months.
In recent years, Indian government has been ambitious in its plans to spread its footprint through highly visible mega projects-from the Rs 540 crore multi-modal Kaladan project involving Myanmar to the Rs 1,500 crore Salma hydroelectric dam project in Afghanistan, as well as setting up a score of technical institutes across Africa.
India is also operating 165 lines of credit across the world, ranging from $800 million in Bangladesh to over $8 billion for the entire African continent. The increasing foreign aid portfolio had raised concerns among parliamentarians, with the standing committee on external affairs quizzing South Block officials last month on whether there have been any reports of unfair practices during tendering process or any excess of payments for any projects.
The ministry told the parliamentary panel that it had “no confirmed reports” of unfair practices, but admitted that there had been several instances of delay in the implementation of projects. It claimed that this was mainly due to tardiness, lack of funds, and other external factors.
However, the MEA has been slow in introducing integrity pacts for its major projects, which were recommended as far back as 2011 by the Finance Ministry’s department of expenditure. But, MEA officials insist that South Block started to straighten out its processes for disbursing and implementing foreign aid projects from last year, with the formation of a separate Development Partnership Administration division. It has since become the largest division inside the ministry, headed by an Additional Secretary and having three joint secretaries.
While India can still oversee the foreign aid projects, it has to be more diplomatic regarding projects under Lines of Credit, as the recipient country does the procurement process.
“In the case of Lines of Credit, where the prerogative of award of contract rests with the recipient governments, the Ministry’s approach is to be alert but non intrusive,” the ministry had told the parliamentary panel.