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Working towards clean political funding: Jaitley

Prashant | New Delhi |

With the Election Commission flagging concerns related to transparency in the structure of the electoral bonds proposed by the BJP government, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Saturday blamed the poll panel for failing to check the use of "invisible money" in elections for the past 70 years.

Addressing the  Delhi Economics Conclave, Jaitley slammed political parties for preferring the status quo instead of suggesting improvements to the electoral bonds scheme proposed in this year's Budget.

The finance minister said the government has taken various steps in the recent past to improve the country’s economy and polity to a new level of transparency. “For the past 70 years, India's economy has been funded by invisible money. Elected representatives, governments, political parties, Parliaments and the Election Commission completely failed in checking it,” Jaitley said. He added that his government encouraged political funding through traceable digital transactions and the reduction of cash donations from Rs 20,000 per person to Rs 2,000 per person.

Jaitley added that the demonetisation of high-value currency notes in November last year and the roll out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) from 1 July are bringing more people and businesses into the tax net, while the new bankruptcy code is changing the credit culture of corporate borrowers. “Demonetisation and GST are also leading to greater tax compliance and digitisation of the economy and signs of expansion in direct and indirect tax base are already visible,” Jaitley said.

Jaitley said politicians and civil servants are no different from businesses when it comes to using shell companies to launder money. “One easy format of conversion has always been shell companies. It has almost become a standard operating procedure. And this is not only used by people in businesses, it has been used by politicians, civil servants,” Jaitley said.

“Large tax non-compliance used to be a norm. Use of shell companies had become a common practice,” the minister said, adding that tax avoidance and round tripping of proceeds of corruption ought to stop in the country.

Subhash Chandra Garg, Secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs, said the demonetisation drive succeeded enormously in unearthing the dormant cash in the system and gave a fillip to the digital economy.

Speaking at the inaugural session of the conclave, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, said one of the main challenges faced by India is job creation, where the policy makers of the country have a limited window of opportunity.  Toeing US President Donald Trump’s line on immigration, Tharman also sought to defend his country's visa regime, saying that one-third of its workforce is "already foreign" and it would be "mindless" to have an open border without any policy framework to control the flow of people.