Amid an acrimonious blame-game between the government and the Opposition over the Lokpal Bill, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said it was “unfortunate” that it could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha.
He reiterated his government's commitment to enact an effective Lokpal Bill.
In his New Year address to the nation, Dr. Singh acknowledged that the concern over corruption had moved to the “centre stage” and pledged to personally work to provide an “honest and more efficient government.”
A five-point ‘policy agenda' of his government for 2012 dominated the long message of the Prime Minister — livelihood security (education, food, health and employment); economic security; energy security; ecological security and national security.
He listed a series of initiatives taken by his government, including the introduction of Bills for a citizen's charter and judicial accountability. “These initiatives will take time to have full effect and we must, therefore, be patient.”
Emphasising that new institutions such as the Lokpal and the Lokayuktas were an important part of the solution, Dr. Singh said there was also a need for reforms in the systems of government which would increase transparency so that the scope of misgovernance is reduced.
Dr. Singh argued that with economic reforms unveiled in the early 90s old forms of corruption have vanished but new forms of corruption have emerged which need to be tackled.
“Elimination of corruption is critical to support genuine entrepreneurship. It is also the demand of the ordinary citizen who encounters corruption all too often in everyday transactions with those in authority.”
In an obvious reference to the staunch opposition by UPA ally, Trinamool Congress, to the opening of multi-brand retail sector to foreign players, Dr. Singh said, “We should not lock ourselves into a blind refusal to contemplate change. If we have confidence in ourselves, we will be able to meet any challenge.”
Stressing the need for restoring fiscal stability, the Prime Minister said the route towards the goal in the medium term would be to move to the regime of Goods and Services Tax (GST). Some of the State governments including those ruled by allies of the UPA have reservations over the regime.
Dr. Singh also advocated phased reduction in subsidies as another step towards greater economic security. At the same time he acknowledged that some subsidies, such as in food, were justifiable on social grounds and expected to expand once the Food Security Bill (pet Bill of Congress president Sonia Gandhi) becomes operational.
On energy security, the Prime Minister maintained that both goals of expanding new investment and achieving energy efficiency required a more rational pricing policy, aligning India's energy prices with global rates in a phased manner.