Manmohan strikes back at industry criticism
AFP NEW DELHI PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh has struck back at his corporate critics, saying their negative comments over his government’s reform programme have only served to dampen economic confidence.
Singh’s Congress party-led government has been the target of mounting attacks from business leaders upset over its inability to push through much-vaunted reforms and a string of multi-billion-dollar corruption scandals.
It was “disappointing to sometimes hear negative comments emanating from our business leadership or be told government policies are causing slowdown and pessimism,” Singh said in a speech posted on his website on Friday.
“Such comments have added to (economic) uncertainty,” said the 79-year-old leader whose personal reputation has taken a beating with critics describing him as the dithering captain of a rudderless administration.
“Our government is committed to creating a growthoriented economic environment,” he told the Council on Trade and Industry, an advisory body that includes corporate luminaries such as Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani, in the closed-door speech.
Businesses have slammed the government’s retreat this month on plans to open up the estimated $470 billion retail sector to foreign competition, saying the move was symptomatic of policy drift and inaction. Singh, known as India’s economic liberator for easing the government’s grip on the economy in 1991 as then-finance minister, argued that the country’s sometimes fractious democracy required patience.
“In a democratic polity like ours and in the era of coalition politics, it often becomes necessary for the government to build a broad consensus on major public policy issues,” he said.
“This may sometimes take longer than what we would like.” Since its re-election in 2009, the government has taken no major liberalisation initiatives, hobbled by multibillion- dollar corruption scandals linked to the Commonwealth Games and the allotment of telecom spectrum.
But Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee insisted Delhi had not abandoned plans to allow foreign investment in multi-brand retail and other economic reforms.
“We are working hard to build a consensus,” he told another business audience Friday. “We have problems..
but that does not mean that we have shelved it (retail reform).” Mukherjee shaded downward his expectations for India’s economic growth to a range of 7.25 percent to 7.50 percent from a previous forecast of 7.50 percent. At the year’s start, the government was projecting nine percent growth.
Business leaders have expressed alarm about the slowing economy, which grew an annual 6.9 percent in the most recent quarter, the weakest pace in more than two years.
Some have suggested the slowdown is due to investment uncertainty over the government’s economic policies as well as aggressive monetary tightening to curb high inflation.