Almost eight months after the one-man inquiry commission headed by former Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal submitted its report on Walmart’s lobbying activities to enter the Indian market, the Centre is still unsure whether to make the report public or not.
The report and the action taken report will have to be placed before Parliament by the corporate affairs ministry (MCA). One reason behind this indecision is that the inquiry remained inconclusive since the US major refused to provide answers and documents, sought by the panel to establish whether the alleged lobbying activities undertaken by Walmart were in “contravention of any Indian law”.
But, while asserting that the US company had not engaged any lobbying firm in India, senior company officials claimed that “all FDI lobbying” had been done by salaried executives of the company.
However, the panel, which, incidentally, didn’t have power to summon records/persons or order any investigation as it had not been constituted under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, was not happy with the dilly-dallying responses by senior functionaries of the US retail major, referring also to its non-cooperative attitude. According to sources in the MCA, in its 31-page report, the panel has said that even the oral testimony of Scott Price, CEO of Walmart (Asia), was “lacking in sufficient detail”.
During his meeting with the panel on March 22, 2013, where he was accompanied by Raj Jain, the then CEO of Walmart India, Price first said that Walmart has its own lobbying firm which lobbies on its behalf but later said salaried employees of the company do the lobbying. He also claimed that the lobbyists were “not accountable to him”. When the committee “repeatedly” asked him to provide break-up of the money spent by the firm on lobbying in India, Price refused to do so. Responding to an emailed questionnaire sent by The Indian Express, a Walmart India spokesperson said, “Under US law, on a quarterly basis, all companies which meet certain time and expenses thresholds, are required to disclose issues and expenditures spent in connection with contacts with the US government, including staffing cost, association dues, and payments to consultants ... Our Washington office naturally had discussions with US government officials about a range of trade and investment issues that impact our businesses in the US and worldwide and identified those in accordance with the law.”