With the UPA-II regime crawling from scam to scam, Defence Minister and Congress leader A K Antony on Wednesday admitted that the government’s image has taken a hit, though efforts to curb the corruption menace had been taken.
During an event organised by corruption watchdog Transparency International on defence procurement here, Antony said the public now perceived the Central government to be non-serious in eliminating corruption in the country.
“Corruption is a menace,” Antony said, adding, “Despite our (Centre’s) serious efforts, the general perception is that the government is not serious about eradicating corruption.”
“Our government is serious on this issue and this is illustrated by the Right to Information (RTI) Act,” he said, assuring people that a revolution of sorts will happen, because none of the government’s functions can be a secret if the tools provided under RTI are used effectively. “The RTI Act is still at a nascent stage and I am sure that in a few years, the walls of secrecy will crumble in all walks of life. No institution can protect misdeeds by secrecy because of RTI,” he said, exuding confidence.
Regarding corruption in his ministry, Antony told anti-graft activists: “Whenever we receive complaints, we do not throw them in the waste bin. Whenever anyone is found guilty, we take action after proper inquiry.”
Professing a ‘zero tolerance’ policy against graft, he said: “We can’t ignore any complaint. We don’t spare anyone who is guilty. Defence (ministry) is very open and that is why more complaints are coming in,” he said. Antony, who will soon emerge as the longest serving Defence Minister having been in office since October 2006, presided over the ministry when it was rocked by bribery allegations in the January 2010 deal for 12 VVIP helicopters bought from Italian firm Agusta-Westland for `3,546 crore.
At the event, Antony flaunted his ‘Mr Clean’ image, noting that, “We have banned middlemen and agents in defence deals to end corruption.”
Noting that defence procurement was always a cause for controversies, he said that was reason arms purchase contracts have inherent integrity pacts.
“There are vendors who are finding new tactics to get over the integrity pact and we have to further strengthen the pact to ensure there are no loopholes,” he said.
Stressing the need for independent external monitors of defence procurements to check corruption, Antony said: “We must strengthen the institution of independent external monitors to check graft. They should be experts in the respective fields and the Chief Vigilance Commission has an important role to play in it.”