In May 2012, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, then Finance Minister presented to Parliament a White Paper on Black Money. In this White Paper, the UPA Government promised to curb generation of Black Money in the country, its illicit transfer to tax havens overseas and to take effective measures to secure the repatriation of all this illicit wealth of ours to India.
May, 2013 would mark the first anniversary of the presentation of this important document. It would be in place first to recall what made Government to present this White Paper, and what has been the follow up till date.
For the last five years now, the BJP has been consistently raising this issue of black money. When it was first raised in 2008, Congress Party spokesmen had ridiculed it. However, on April 6, 2008, I personally addressed a letter to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in which I wrote :
Recently, the German Government launched a massive investigation drive against tax-evaders in their country, and, in this process, the German intelligence is reported to have procured from the LTG Bank in Liechtenstein confidential data on more than 1400 clients of this bank. Of these, 600 are Germans and the rest belong to other countries.
The revelations have already led to the resignation of the head of Deutesche Post – the former German mail service – one of the largest logistics company in the world.
The German Finance Ministry is reported to have publicly announced that it is willing to share the information with any government that wanted it without charging any fees for the information.
Some countries of Europe like Finland, Norway and Sweden have already shown interest in getting this data.
Along with this development, there are also reports that pressure is building on Switzerland to treat black money entrusted to its banks from tax evasion to be treated as a crime and modify its internal regulations to cooperate with other countries in tracking such funds.
I think the Government of India, through its appropriate agencies, should request the German Government to share the data of the clients of LTG. Our Government should also be proactive in supporting the possible future steps to be initiated by European governments in bringing in more transparency in banking system of Switzerland and other tax havens particularly related to deposits from other countries.
If we ask for the data from Germany regarding the clients of the LTG group it will re-enforce our position as a responsible member of the comity of nations who stand for financial integrity and transparent regulations. It will also facilitate our future participation in cleaning up the world financial system from some of the pernicious aspects of the functioning of these tax havens.
Presumably, at the instance of the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister Shri Chidambaram replied to me in May, 2008, that his government was seized of this matter and was pursuing it with the German Tax Office.
In March 2010, I wrote a blog on the matter in which I recounted this LTG Bank of Liechtenstein episode, and urged formally that Government come forth with a comprehensive White Paper on Black Money.
Meanwhile the BJP set up a 4-member Task Force to study the matter. This Task Force after studying various sources came to the conclusion that Indian wealth illegally stashed abroad may be anywhere between 25 lakh crores and 70 lakh crores.
So long as the West dominated world economy was doing well for the US and other Western nations, the entire world seemed reconciled to the banking secrecy of these tax havens. It was felt nothing could be done about the laws of these countries. But the global economic crisis made not only President Obama, but also several European countries like UK, France and Germany change their attitude, and join hands to make a determined effort to have banking secrecy laws in these countries changed.
In 2009, Washington forced the Swiss banking giant UBS to disclose the names of 4,450 American clients suspected of hiding assets in Switzerland.
In 2009 Lok Sabha poll, the BJP made black money an election issue. Sanyasis like Swami Ramdev would invariably refer to it in their sermons. In an article published by Financial Times, under title “India’s Curse of Black Money’, Raymond Baker, director, Global Financial Integrity, wrote: ‘India has shown that this issue resonates with voters. Politicians in other developing democracies would be wise to take note’.
The economic crisis in U.S. and other western countries made these nations acutely conscious of the fact that corruption, black money etc. had become issues that were a problem not just for individual nations, but were a challenge for democracy, the rule of law and good governance in the whole world. Way back in 2004, therefore, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime adopted a comprehensive Convention against Corruption. This 56-page document carries a powerful foreword by Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General who says :
Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies.
· It undermines democracy and the rule of law,
· Leads to violation of human rights,
· Distorts markets,
· Erodes the quality of life, and
· Allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish.
Article 67 of this Convention against Corruption requires all member countries of the UN to sign the convention by December 2005, have it ratified by the respective countries shortly thereafter and deposit its instrument of ratification with the secretary general of the United Nations.
In 2010 the UPA Government took formal note of the issue and in the President’s customary address to that year’s Budget Session of Parliament affirmed that “India is an active part of the global efforts to facilitate exchange of tax information and take action against tax evaders”.
The Jan Chetna Yatra organized by the BJP in the last quarter of 2011 had focused attention on three issues: Inflation, Corruption and Black Money. But since the Commonwealth Games of 2008, corruption and price rise had dominated all political discourse both in the media as well as in Parliament, I found the audiences at the meetings I addressed during this last yatra extremely responsive to all that I spoke about Black Money.
The Jan Chetna Yatra of 2011 has been my most recent yatra. It stretched over 40 days. I visited every single state of the country as also all Union Territories. The general impression has been that my first yatra of 1990 – planned from Somnath to Ayodhya, but cut short at Samastipur– had evoked the greatest response. It is also said very often that the enthusiasm aroused was because the core issue was religious, namely, the Rama Temple. But I would like to affirm here that my latest two yatras, the Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra of 1997, and the Jan Chetna Yatra of 2011 have evoked the maximum response till date. Both these were related to good governance and economic well being of the people !
In his foreword to the White Paper on Black Money presented to Parliament on May 16, 2012, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee admitted that in 2011, “the public discourse on the issue of corruption and black money has come in the forefront.”
In this Introduction, Shri Pranab Mukherjee also said:
“I would have been happy if I could have included the conclusions of reports of three premier institutions that have been tasked to quantify the magnitude of black money. These reports are likely to be received by the end of this year. However I have chosen to present this document now in response to an assurance given to the Parliament”.
Pranab Da did present this White Paper as BJP had demanded and in this, very rightly affirmed :
“There is no doubt that manifestation of black money in social, economic and political space of our lives has a debilitating effect on the institutions of governance and conduct of public policy in the country. Governance failure and corruption in the system affect the poor disproportionately. The success of an inclusive development strategy critically depends on the capacity of our society to root out the evil of corruption and black money from its very foundations”.
My only regret is that the follow up of the White Paper has been disappointing.
The three premier institutions tasked to quantify the magnitude of black money have still not submitted their reports. Not only the more powerful nations like U.S., Germany etc. but even smaller countries like Nigeria, Peru and Phillipines have got back their illicitly lost wealth from the tax havens. We in India, on the other hand, have seen some reports about names who are supposed to have accounts in Swiss Banks or such other tax havens, but have not heard of even a single paisa illegally stashed abroad having been repatriated to our country.
I wish to urge Shri Pranab Mukherjee who is today in a far more exalted position than he was when he presented his White Paper to ensure that the promise made to the people in this document is fulfilled by Government both in letter and spirit.
10 April, 2013
Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846
John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946
Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860
John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960
Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.
Both wives lost their children while living in the White House.
Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.
Both Presidents were shot in the head.
Lincoln’s secretary was named Kennedy.
Kennedy’s Secretary was named Lincoln.
Both were assassinated by Southerners.
Both were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson.
Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.
Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.
John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, was born in 1839.
Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated Kennedy, was born in 1939.
Both assassins were known by their three names.
Both names are composed of fifteen letters.
Lincoln was shot at the theater named ‘Ford’.
Kennedy was shot in a car called ‘Lincoln’, made by ‘Ford’.
Lincoln was shot in a theater and his assassin ran and hid in a warehouse.
Kennedy was shot from a warehouse and his assassin ran and hid in a theater.
The above tailpiece reminds me of
what Albert Einstein once remarked :
Coincidence is God’s way
of remaining anonymous.