Ram Jethmalani is a senior politician and eminent lawyer.
Pranab Mukherjee’s White Paper on black money provides a theoretical and politically correct primer on the issue.
Pranab Mukherjee talks to the media outside Parliament in New Delhi in March. REUTERS
White Paper is meant to be a final and authoritative document on a subject of public importance, with considered prescriptions signifying a political will and intention on the part of government to address the issue, sometimes also inviting public opinion on the subject. Pranab Mukherjee's White Paper on black money is nothing of the sort. However, it does have some utility. Aspirants for competitive examinations will be overjoyed. It provides them with a handy, theoretical and politically correct primer regarding the subject that they can rattle off to their examiners and interviewers, including names of mind boggling agencies in the country that are supposed to combat the black money phenomenon in India, but have not
done so, and other impressive information meant for a lecture hall, though quite unrelated to the issue on hand. For other aspirants too, such as those who have the right potential and grand ambitions to enter into the black money business club, it provides valuable clues and charts regarding the snakes and ladders in our systems, through which they can get there without much trouble.
The White Paper could be a chapter from the annual report of the Ministry of Finance, written by a cautious bureaucrat whose job it is to describe his ministry in glowing colours, and conceal all that has gone wrong. The Paper completely glosses over the seminal linkage between black money, money laundering and organised state sponsored corruption, that is the fountainhead of black money, but describes at great length other academic details regarding definitions, national and international instruments, institutions, and a way forward that enumerates every failed remedy, and appears more like a guarantee for status quo rather than a way forward. Not to mention the pages of meaningless annexures that provide no insights or relevance whatsoever.
In fact, in the Way Forward, the Finance Minister tries to mislead the country by incorrectly stating that confidentiality applies even to information that is received outside the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA). This, I believe, is an attempt to mislead the people of India grossly. The Finance Minister consistently denies that confidentiality under international obligations does not apply to the information received from private sources as in the case of the Lichtenstein and the French accounts, and even suggests that India might get a bad reputation in the international community if it discloses the information, as that would "give a signal that India is not committed to its international obligations" and "seriously put at risk India's efforts to get similar information from other countries in the future".
Please spare us this garbage, Mr Finance Minister. Perhaps you believe that Sonia Gandhi being declared as the fourth richest politician in the world gives India and your government a better international reputation and stature.
I would like to ask the Finance Minister some critical questions that would reveal to the people of India not merely the UPA government's determined disinclination and inaction in retrieving India's stolen wealth, but also a political determination to provide a firewall of protection to the looters.
Is it not a fact that the French and German governments spent a fortune to penetrate the Swiss banks' regime of customer confidentiality and managed to secure a long list of international brigands who had concealed their stolen wealth in the tax havens provided by the banks? Did these two governments not offer to share the Indian names and related details about their illegal holdings with your government without any price or condition? Then why did the Finance Minister and his government not grab this offer to secure complete information of the Indian criminals? If he or his government were really interested in fighting this economic terrorism that is being inflicted upon our country, that in the ultimate analysis is denying the chronically impoverished aam aadmi of his development dividend and perpetuating his impoverishment, why did they not grab this offer so that they could retrieve the money, bridge the budget deficit, and have enough money for providing meaningful poverty reduction programmes? Are they prepared to disclose to the nation their correspondence with the French and German governments regarding the steps they took to secure this information?
I ask the Finance Minister next about his ingenious and thoroughly false excuse of bringing the French and German information under the ambit of the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement. Did he receive any expert legal advice on this matter? Even a junior lawyer and accountant knows that this treaty only applies where by reason of domestic tax laws of two or more states, the same income is liable to be taxed in more than one state. The inference is undoubtedly clear. It was a desperate and last ditch attempt to protect the financial terrorists who are looting our national wealth.
The paper waffles and diverts while giving hazy sound-bites, but it clearly displays its determination not even to state, leave alone act regarding the nexus between the gargantuan political corruption at the highest levels in India that is the largest source of black money stashed away abroad.
This is what it has to say: "Today corruption is perceived as one of the major challenges faced by the country, and this government is fully committed to countering it. While a detailed discussion touching on all the factors that lead to corruption and the wider reforms of policies and their execution may be outside the scope of this paper, it can be stated that curbing corruption also requires multi-pronged strategies consisting of both broader reforms as well as more focused capacity building of institutions that are assigned the responsibility of preventing it." Can anyone figure out what the government is trying to say or planning to do?