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India: Singh reveals top 5 economic challenges

Indian PM defends his actions on corruption in exclusive interview.
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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (2nd L) and presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee (2nd R) pose for photographers after Mukherjee filed his nomination papers for the July 19 Presidential Elections, at Parliament House in New Delhi on June 28, 2012. (Raveendran /AFP/Getty Images)

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh defended his actions to tackle corruption and targeted India's top five economic challenges in an exclusive interview with the Hindustan Times Friday.

"Never before in the history of India have so many steps been taken in such a short time to bring in transparency into the functioning government, make government accountable to the people for its actions and bring in measures to control corruption," the prime minister said in a written reply to the HT.

"The Right to Information is a landmark Act for which the Congress Party and its President will be remembered for generations. In fact, this single act has done far more to bring down corruption and bring in accountability than any other measure. It is the information flowing out as a result of this Act which is bringing a lot of corruption to light which would otherwise have been hidden.

We have introduced a Public Procurement Bill which brings in far greater transparency into government procurement and severe deterrents for wrongdoing. This would remove a major source of corruption.

A number of other bills are there such as the Whistleblowers Bill, the Lokpal Bill, the Judicial Accountability Bill, etc. which if taken in totality, will raise the standards of integrity at all levels of government."

According to the PM, the biggest economic challenges India faces are as follows:

* Bring complete clarity on all tax matters. We want the world to know that India treats everyone fairly and reasonably and there will be no arbitrariness in tax matters.

(Presumably, this means no multi-billion dollar retroactive tax on Vodafone's acquisition of Hutch telecom).

* Control the fiscal deficit through a series of measures which my officials are working on and on which we will build consensus in the government.

(This one will be tough, with costly measures to provide welfare for the poor drawing criticism from the right -- but hard to slash from a moral or electoral perspective).

* Revive the Mutual Fund and Insurance industries which have seen a downturn. Absence of investment avenues has pushed Indian savings into gold. We need to open new doors so that savings can be recycled into productive investments that create jobs and growth, not into gold.

(Zzzzzzz. Do you really want me to go on about load and no load funds?)

* Clear major investments in the pipeline awaiting FIPB approval. Investors should feel that we mean business. We will also work towards improving the response time of government to business proposals, cut down infructuous procedures and make India a more business friendly place.

(We hear this one all the time, but we're still waiting for a "single window" clearance for projects, and every effort to streamline regulations seems to make them more complex).

* Most importantly, we have given a major push to infrastructure, particularly through PPP. A lot of investment avenues are opening up in Railways, roads, ports and civil aviation. The doors are open for the world to strengthen our hands and contribute to these vital sectors which will give a further push to the economy.

(See above: the PPP or "public-private partnership" model is hardly more efficient than the government-only variety, since the involvement of the government doesn't serve to speed up approvals or action).

See the whole interview here.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/india/india-singh-economic-challenges

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