Report shows signs of corruption in New Delhi games

Strong hints of government corruption, especially in bidding processes, made in audit report on India's Commonwealth Games.
NEW DELHI // A voluminous audit report from India's comptroller-general has faulted the government of Delhi and its chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, for mismanaging the city's preparations for the Commonwealth Games last October.

The report, which was released in mid-August and hints strongly at intentional corruption, estimates that the Delhi government's choice of vendors and equipment caused the exchequer losses of tens of millions of rupees.

"Many contracts were... entertained based on single bids, and in fact, some of them were even awarded on nomination basis," the report said. "Taking liberties with governmental procedure... led to [the] elimination of competition. The conclusion in fact is inescapable that this could indeed have been an intended objective."

As in many of the other corruption scandals that have plagued India over the past year, the government was accused of awarding contracts without following a transparent bidding process. Not following due process enables officials to dispense contracts to favoured firms, frequently in return for kickbacks.

At a news conference in early August, Rekha Gupta, the India's deputy comptroller-general, used the example of the streetscaping project tied to the Commonwealth Games that "was largely… consultant-driven… with the selection of consultants being arbitrary and non-transparent, and without any common design guidelines and targeted budgetary estimates."

The average cost for work that improved the appearance of roads, worked out to be about US$1 million (Dh3.67m) per kilometre. Ms Gupta described the cost as "exorbitant". The total spent on the project ended up at more than $22 million.

The report's criticisms range across the breadth of the Commonwealth Games. It said the tender documents for building new roads displayed traces of correction fluid, suggesting that documents had been changed after the bidding process. The number of high-value complimentary tickets handed out was more than three times that in earlier Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and Manchester.

During the launch of the Queen's Baton Relay in London in October 2009, "highly suspect payments" of $623,500 were made to two little known firms "with uncommon haste", the report said. In the construction of stadiums, extra payments were made for work that was already covered within the contract's scope.

The contract for the Commonwealth Games Village was awarded to Emaar MGF Constructions, a joint venture between MGF Developments and the UAE's Emaar Properties. But this process too had "serious irregularities," the audit report said.

Emaar MGF was "not qualified in terms of the PQ [pre-qualification] criteria," but it emerged "as an eligible (and successful) bidder through the consortium route… [It] was declared technically qualified, and was awarded the contract on the basis of a single financial bid."

K T Ravindran, who was until June the chairman of the Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC), told The National that the report's conclusions came as no surprise to him.

"Even a couple of years ago, when the government was preparing for the Games, it was clear that rules were being broken," Mr Ravindran said. "There were many projects that should have been cleared with us first, as per law, but no such clearances were obtained. The government would keep insisting that time was in short supply."

The audit report has virtually stalled proceedings in the monsoon session of parliament this week, as the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has demanded the resignation of Ms Dikshit, a Congress Party chief minister.

The controversy surrounding the Commonwealth Games claimed its biggest victim in April when Suresh Kalmadi was fired from his post as the long-time president of the Indian Olympic Association. Mr Kalmadi was arrested. He was charged with cheating and corruption and is now facing trial.

But the BJP is seeking bigger game, especially after the numerous other corruption accusations that have emerged out of this Congress Party-led Indian government.

The president of the BJP, Nitin Gadkari, told a rally this week in New Delhi that the Congress was "hesitant in asking Ms Dikshit to step down [because] after her it will be the turn of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh… I want to ask [Congress president] Sonia Gandhi why action is not being taken against Sheila Dikshit, despite her stating publicly that all those involved in corruption will be punished."

The Congress, for its part, has denied that the audit report indicts the chief minister directly. Ms Dikshit, in one of her few statements to the media since the audit report was released, has told reporters that the report will be referred to the Public Accounts Committee, which can call any concerned authorities or officer for questioning.

Manish Tewari, a Congress spokesperson, attacked the comptroller-general itself, saying that it functioned by way of "pips, leaks and squeaks… There is no whisper of an insinuation on the issue of probity of the chief minister."

 

ssubramanian@thenational.ae

Published: August 24, 2011 04:00 AM

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