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Lobbying not the same as bribery: Business Standard editor

Updated: December 12, 2012, 12:38 PM IST
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Lobbying not the same as bribery: Business Standard editor
Can Walmart's lobbying be likened to bribery?

Considering lobbying is legal in the United States and since India has also used the services of lobbyists before in the US to push its agenda through, is there any merit behind the hue and cry of the Opposition? Business Standard editor AK Bhattacharya shared his perspective in an interaction with IBNLive readers.

Q. Every American company uses lobbying as a tool to further business interests. We in this country perhaps would call it PR and don't reveal how we remunerate. Why worry about what an American co. is doing with American lawmakers. How will a debate find out if Walmart bribed or not? Asked by: Bhaskar

A. A debate may bring out the specific heads under which the expenditure was incurred. So, an open debate is not a bad idea, as long as this is concluded quickly and transparently.

Q. Questions have been raised over Walmart's lobbying and what about Indian companies lobbying and bribes like Reliance, Bharti. So corruption of Indian companies is legal while that of foreign companies is illegal. Asked by: Ravi

A. Lobbying is not the same thing as bribery. We should not confuse the two.

Q. In case Walmart was so much popular than why was it not allowed to open its store in Manhattan and what about various issues like low salaries, exploitation and flouting of domestic laws etc? Asked by: Manush

A. Walmart has many stores across the world. But it is also true that their proposed story in Manhattan is facing some resistance. If Walmart has done something wrong, surely action should be taken against the company.

Q. This is second time Walmart's decision has come into controversies, earlier it was something about deal with Bharti. Shouldn't Walmart have taken more care considering the importance of the issue before doing so? Asked by: Vikas Rawat

A. I agree, Walmart should have been more cautious and careful. It should have anticipated the likely controversy any such payment for lobbying would have caused. It is important for multinational companies to be conscious of the need for understanding the environment they are expected to do business and and manage it appropriately.

Q. Walmart was there in Indian markets for long and working with Bharti so why BJP had to bring in this issue now and not long time back or when FDI voting was on Asked by: Arvind

A. Walmart has not yet entered the Indian market through its multi-brand retail outlets. It has so far been providing cash and carry services through its joint venture with the Bharti group. Simultaneously, it has been lobbying to get the Indian policy changed so that it can set up multi-brand retail stores in India with equity up to 51 per cent. The issue has come up only now because Walmart had made a statutory disclosure in the US that it spent $25 million in lobbying for its entry into India. This disclosure became news in the Indian media. Which is why the Opposition parties including the BJP are demanding that this issue be discussed in Parliament.

Q. Will it not be proper for Opposition to work for cleansing the system that will mean less tax evasion and proper corporate governance of foreign firms rather bringing in controversial topics which will be of further wastage of time of the nation. Asked by: Ravi

A. Yes, of course. The Opposition, along with the Government, should work towards cleansing the system to eliminate tax evasion and improve corporate governance. But this does not mean that it should not raise issues in Parliament that turn out to be controversial. Its job is to raise important issues. It is an important issue and this should be debated in Parliament. But let us not make the mistake of confusing lobbying with bribery. the two are different.

Q. Lobbying is part & parcel of all corporate & middle man of political circle. does you feel a strict law will curb this. Asked by: sudheendra_sr

A. Lobbying indeed takes place in India as well. What are the chambers of commerce and industry doing most of the time? It is time we acknowledged the role and importance of legitimate lobbying, transparently and fairly. There is no need for a law to curb this. That would exacerbate the problem.

Q. Can Walmart's lobbying be likened to bribery? Asked by: ak

A. Not really. Lobbying is not bribery, although there is a thin line that divides the two.

Q. Is there any merit behind the hue and cry of the Opposition? Asked by: BS Singh

A. There is no justification for the hue and cry, but a lot of merit in having a discussion in Parliament on the manner in which Walmart may have spent that money in India to lobby for policy change or any such issues.

Q. Is BJP's demand for probe justified? Asked by: Isha

A. Not really. Lobbying is not bribery, though there is thin line between the two.

Q. Do you feel that opposition is simply playing to the galleries and does not genuinely oppose FDI as it is also as much corrupt as UPA. Asked by: Manav

A. I think the Opposition is raising an important issue. It wants to know whether what Walmart did was lobbying or something else. Since it pertains to the Indian market, the Opposition is within its right to ask questions. What it does not have is to stall proceedings in Parliament in the name of opposing whatever Walmart may have done. It is important that this issue, like FDI in multi-brand retail, gets discussed threadbare in Parliament.

Q. 125 crores is about 23 Million USD. That is a lot of money to just sell your idea to a man in power. But is it bribery? I do not think so. Hope I would not be proved wrong. What do you say? Asked by: Karthik

A. Yes, lobbying is not bribery. But there is a thin line between lobbying and bribery. As of now, only allegations are being made. The disclosure the company made in the US is that it used $25 million for lobbying.

Q. Why is there so much controversy over bribery over Walmart as that would mean that all MNCs like Pepsi, Coke, Reebok, GE came into India after paying bribes and what about those MNCs which came in the NDA rule when it further opened up the markets for telecom and aviation. Asked by: Shailesh

A. The controversy is not over bribery. It is over lobbying and the allegation is that bribe may have been paid in the guise of lobbying. This is as of now only an allegation. Let us not confuse lobbying with bribery.

Q. Why are the pink papers so much pro reform and the white papers giving conflicting views on policies as that creates further confusion and takes credibility out of journalist. Asked by: Hitesh

A. Not clear what the question is about. Yes, most pink papers support reforms. Nor do all white papers present conflicting views. How do these factors take away the journalist's credibility?

First Published: December 12, 2012, 12:38 PM IST
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