Procurement: Infamously Inept Becomes Epic


November 13, 2020: The infamously inept Indian procurement bureaucracy has produced another epic tale of incompetence. This time it involved an emergency $190 million order for Russian ammunition. The ammo was to be shipped immediately and the Russians complied. But ammo did not move and has been delayed since February because of another epic round of sloth, indecision and blame-shifting. Once the Russians had the order available for shipment, they awaited the Indian official who would carry out the mandatory (according to Indian regulations) PDI (pre-dispatch inspection). Initially this was “delayed” when Indian army procurement officials refused to send someone to Russia because covid19 had arrived and terrified everyone. The Indian air force and navy also had Russian shipments awaiting PDI and simply authorized their air and naval attachés stationed at the Moscow ambassy to conduct the PDI, which they did and their shipments were off to India. The army refused to use their attaché for the PDI. No reason was given. After a few months the Russians began complaining because it was costing money to store the ammo in special warehouses equipped to hold explosives. The Russians indicated that the original price for the ammo might have to increase to cover the additional costs of the inexplicable Indian delays. In September the Russians asked the Indian army to authorize a Russian official to carry out the PDI, something that was allowed in the purchase contract. Instead of simply agreeing to that the Indians replied in mid-September that there was a ten-man Indian army going to Moscow in a week on other business and that one of those officers could be designated to carry out the PDI. That did not work either because, before the team could leave, the Indian MOD (Ministry of Defense) cancelled the trip because of its expense.

In early October the Indian Army announced that they had authorized their military attaché in Moscow to perform the PDI. Arrangements had been made for the JRI (Joint Receipt Inspection) to be carried out by DGQA (Directorate General of Quality Assurance) when the shipment arrived. The army offered no explanation why their emergency ammo order was eight months late. There was no announcement about the ammo arriving in India, so these emergency items may still be stuck in Russia.

The inexplicable delay occurred despite the fact that this ammo had been ordered using FTP (Fast Track Procurement) authority to avoid any bureaucratic delays. India needed the ammo, and many other items, to bolster its forces confronting Chinese aggression on their northwest border.

When the Indian military needs to import weapons or equipment quickly it can invoke its emergency FTP procedures. This enables immediate purchase of essential military items without the usual political and procurement delays that can add years, sometimes a decade or more, to obtaining needed items. The refusal to expedite a PDI was never used before to delay delivery. Something else was going on but no one in the army will provide details. Invoking the FTP is risky because if it is done too frequently and too many incidents of related corruption are later uncovered, FTP will be made more difficult to use and might even be eliminated. Since 2004 FTP has been made easier to declare under the assumption that government efforts to clean up the corruption and other problems with the military procurement process to make FTP unnecessary. That has not happened.

The problem India has with corruption is compounded by a resistance to prosecuting the senior Indian politicians and bureaucrats who keep these corrupt practices alive. Since the 1990s there has been growing popular pressure to shut down the corruption that pervades every aspect of government and commercial enterprise. Indian officials went along with this public sentiment as much as they could without actually halting the illegal practices and the huge amounts of cash that ended up making so many politicians rich. With so many of the best foreign weapons suppliers unwilling or unable to do business with the Indian procurement bureaucracy, it became difficult to find anyone willing, or able, to provide the modern weapons India wants. Thus the need to wait for a clear emergency and then invoke FTP, which the bureaucrats cannot mess with.




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