‘Need for debate on middlemen in arms deals’

February 18th, 2008 - 7:51 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, Feb 18 (IANS) Two days after Defence Minister A.K. Antony firmly shut the door on middlemen in arms deals, his deputy Monday suggested a national debate on the issue - but hastened to add that he was not in conflict with his senior. “I feel there should be a national debate on this issue,” Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh said at a press conference on the sidelines of the ongoing DEFEXPO-2008 international military exposition here.

“There should be a debate on these middlemen who are hiding in various nooks and corners. Should they be registered? We need to take a view on this after achieving political consensus,” Singh maintained.

When it was pointed out that his views were out of sync with those of Antony, Singh said this was not so.

“He is my minister and I am not in conflict with him,” he contended.

Antony, while inaugurating the exposition Saturday, had asserted: “There is no question of middlemen in defence deals.”

This is not the first time Singh has spoken in this fashion. His contention is that there is many a slip between the government’s intentions and its methods of implementing them.

According to him, a healthy debate on the issue of middlemen would serve to bring it out of the closet into the public domain.

During the press conference, Singh dealt with a range of issues like arms sales abroad, the government’s offsets policy, and private sector participation in defence manufacture.

On the question of arms sales, Singh admitted that the government’s policy was “self-defeating” - but did not advocate any change in this.

“Our policy is not to export arms to any country where there is a conflict. That is self-defeating because you cannot export arms to areas where there is peace,” he maintained, adding he was not “advocating any change in policy”.

Singh also said the government was open to the idea of introducing bankable offsets in place of the current requirement of these being implemented during the pendency of a contract.

“We are open to the idea. The new policy will be out by April and you will then get all the details,” he stated.

Singh also maintained that there would be no rigidity in the current offsets requirement that 30 percent of all defence deals valued at over Rs.3 billion be reinvested in India.

Addressing the complaints of the private sector of the “bottlenecks” they faced in entering the defence manufacturing sector, Singh said these were being ironed out.

At the same time, “the private sector has to put in a lot of money in creating infrastructure and they have begun doing that.

“We are geared to helping the private sector, to encouraging joint ventures and partnerships and we want to implement these as quickly as possible. At the bottom line, the private sector should get whatever encouragement it requires,” Singh maintained.

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