Walmart’s investigation will go nowhere because the US trends to be tolerant about what its companies do overseas to get into new geographies.
Does history have a way of repeating itself? As the controversy over foreign direct investment (FDI) seems likely to stall the winter session of parliament, we have news that Walmart Inc, the global retail giant, is investigating bribery by its own staff in many countries including India. Immediately, one hears that the Enforcement Directorate has jumped on to the investigation bandwagon and is probing if any rules have been violated. This reminds us of the early 1990s when controversy raged over how laws were re-written and techno-economic feasibility reports doctored to clear a gold-plated contract for Enron’s Dabhol power project in costal Maharashtra with a hefty sovereign guarantee. The collusion between politicians and bureaucrats (at the state and Centre—with key ones continuing to occupy powerful positions in government today) was evident, but there was no proof. Around then, an Enron employee told the US senate that the company spent $6 million to ‘educate’ Indian officials. ‘Education’ immediately became a euphemism for bribery and LK Advani had even thundered, “I want to see some of those Graduates educated by ENRON.”