Tuesday, August 10, 2010

CWG: Place Procurement in Public Space to expose Con-men

How the Commonwealth Games (CWG) preparation sucks even before the games have begun! The past few days have seen a new low in our public functioning. But what is singularly remarkable in this huge con-game – preceding the real sporting one – is the brazen manner the powers-that-be of the CWG have played out the shenanigans in full public view telling the world how much CWG is their baby and that we wretched public had better stay off it. After the crime comes their outsized belligerence! Pray, as though the world around is one big fool-dom!

More seriously, I’m least fazed with all this. It’s disquietingly natural that when you place a huge corpus with a body answering to such ad hoc name as Organizing Committee (OC) of CWG, with no firm rules and regulations, precedents and norms, procedures and processes in place, mis-and-malfeasances are bound to take centrestage. That it took such a long time for the bubble to burst over is indeed surprising.

Procurement everywhere is fraught with difficulty and temptation. This is why elaborate procedures involving checks and balances are put in place. Despite all this, scams have surfaced in the past embarrassing and sweeping governments world over off their perches. This, however, is the symptom – not the cause.

The cause is human nature, which – microscopic exceptions apart – is basically kleptocratic in nature. Let me explain. “Klepto” is thievery and “cracy” is rule; what human nature throws up is a “rule of the thieves” and these “honorable denizens” dish out a kleptocratic order that is built on the bedrock of pillage. To ensure good governance, therefore, there is need to place checks and balances, where all wings – executive, legislature, judiciary, media – pitch in with their bit to checkmate any wrongdoing. In other words, governance is best done not by a cartel of handpicked people under the blessings of one patriarch but with involvement of people from diverse disciplines, and each one of them acting independently of the other. This is the basic tenet.

Look at the OC through this prism. Without going into great detail, from the recent reportage in the media, it is amply clear that the constitution of the OC was a sure recipe for disaster and scam. No organization that has a well-set procedures and processes in place and practices the same to set up a world class facility involving India’s pride can afford to botch things up, regardless of any kleptocratic undertones. That it has come about can only lead to one or the other conclusion – lack of procedures, and lack of overseeing apparatus – or both.

It’s a complete tease to me why in today’s world of information technology, the CWG – that keeps tom-toming international best practices and standards to match Beijing and Sydney games – could not think of e-procurement. Not only would that have been faster (rather fastest) and economical and effective but also the most transparent. Digital signature – required for such tenders – has already been legislated in India. The details of every such procurement could’ve been put up in the CWG’s website for people all over the world to see. With nothing secret about the items procured (like in defence contracts, where too many items can be secreted away from classified “secrecy”) or infrastructures set up, any organization believing in transparency would have gone the whole hog to embrace this.

That the CWG didn’t think of doing this leads to few ineluctable questions. Today they can’t hide behind the fig leaf that it was beyond their knowledge. Or, they didn’t have the wherewithal to do it. I simply can’t think of either. Which, much as I hate to believe, tells me that CWG wanted the procurement to go this way only and no other – certainly not the e-transparent way.

For e-transparence has its own Achilles Heel and is (sadly) its very own enemy. It bursts forth everything onto public gaze, almost frothing over and bridling when wrongs are perpetrated; it hides nothing – more appropriately, it simply can’t, no matter how much it tries. It puts every activity otherwise closeted in red-taped files onto public space. This, to the honest, is rather enviable because he receives instantaneous applause from unknown public quarters.

But, for the dishonest with his hand in till, this is hara-kiri, pure and simple. It leaves no room to manoeuvre. And that is very limiting. Up until now, public officials (unlike their corporate counterparts) have been merciless in their pillage. This is because, and only because, the institution that’s bled could afford such indulgences, because it has not a soul; it is merely an abstraction going by the grandiloquent name of a nation, a State with all the properties that in-animality engenders. It can, with reasonable safeguards, be bled; and die it won’t. That’s the magic of it all.

Yet, even now not all’s lost. Let all procurement made till date be put (including file notings) in the public domain and let all future procurement and contracts be put in CWG’s website. We don’t need any judicial commission to take years to come out with its findings, thereby taking the wind out of present public outrage. Knowing public memory is woefully short we shouldn’t give in to this; rather the established system is enough to use this outrage to take quick, punitive action against the wrongdoers and ensure that procedures and processes are in place when public money is transacted in future. We need an honest head honcho to ensure this.

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