New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says he would rather regulate than back a ban on middlemen in defense deals, as announced by Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
"Earlier the Government tried to get the agents to be registered. But nobody accepted the offer. So, it was a non-starter," said Mukherjee.
Thus came the Defence Ministry's recent decision to restore the ban on middlemen in arms deals.
Now, the PM has stepped in and says that India cannot do without middlemen but they have to be to be regulated.
“The assumption that one cannot do without agents does require re- appraisal. If they cannot be done away with it's much better that we should know who the agent are through registering or some other mechanism," said Singh.
The PM’s remarks make it clear that there is a debate going on in the UPA Government whether to ban middlemen in arms deals or just regulate them.
After defense scams began to tumble out of the upboard, middlemen were banned in 2001 during the NDA regime but the ban was lifted later.
The idea was to bring the shadowy arms bazaar into the sunlight and to ensure transparency.
Middlemen were asked to register themselves with the Ministry of Defense but they preferred to remain in the shadows and not even one of them came out in the open.
"Nobody did come forward. So, it is neither here nor there. Now it is not possible because we've put a ban on it by having an integrity pact," said Mukherjee.
With hardly any takers for voluntary transparency in the arms market, the PM’s latest remarks suggest that the Defense Ministry's approach will not be the last word on the role of middlemen in arms deals.