Meghalaya: The Dome of Corruption and Cronyism

By Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh’

The first time I heard about the dome scandal was the Teapot Dome scandal in the United States of America. The Teapot Rock or Teapot Dome is a distinctive sedimentary rock formation in Natrona County, Wyoming that lent its name to a nearby oil field and the Teapot Dome was a political scandal that took place during the Presidency of Warren G Harding between 1921 and 1922. According to the United States Senate’s Report, “The Wall Street Journal had reported the secret arrangement in which the Secretary of Interior, without competitive bidding, had leased the U.S Naval oil reserve at Teapot Dome in Wyoming to a private oil company. Thus, on April 15, 1922, the Wyoming Democratic senator John Kendrick moved a resolution against the secret deal and it set in motion one of the most significant investigations in Senate history. Initially, the Republican leadership had thought that it would be a tedious and probably futile inquiry and allowed the panel’s most junior minority member, Montana Democrat Thomas Walsh, to chair the panel. The most difficult question facing the Chairman was, “How did Interior Secretary Albert Fall get so rich so quickly? Eventually, the investigation uncovered Albert Fall’s shady dealings and Fall would end up as the first former cabinet officer to go to prison. This and a subsequent Senate inquiry triggered several court cases testing the extent of the Senate’s investigative powers. One of those cases resulted in the landmark 1927 Supreme Court decision McGrain v. Daugherty that, for the first time, explicitly established Congress’s right to compel witnesses to testify before its committees”.
Meghalaya though relatively a small State, explodes with scams and corruption scandals from time to time. The two recent incidents of the leakage at the Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT) in Mawїong and the collapse of the Dome of the newly constructed Meghalaya Legislative Assembly building at Mawdiangdiang are clear manifestations of crony capitalism. Today in Meghalaya corruption has been normalized and is no longer a taboo or something that people are fearful to commit. I will never forget the crassness of the few Church elders and political leaders which one encountered during the campaigns for the anti-corruption legislation vis a vis Lokayukta Act, between 2011 and 2014. Till date those so-called keepers and teachers of morality are openly denying the existential reality of corruption and are in cahoots with the political class who continue to abuse power, assert behavioural control and patronage.
In the aftermath of the fallen Dome there are several questions that I would like to post and challenge; (i) First of all the Executive Engineer of the Public Works Department, who is in-charge of the project rushed in to explain the reasons as to why the Dome had fallen. Was he authorized to respond in such a manner when it is the brief of the Minister or high-ranking officer of the Department who should be doing so? (ii) How quick he was to assess the causes of the damage and “honestly” admitted that the design his department had approved of is flawed (?) Or is he trying to underestimate the intelligence of the citizens? (iv) How did his Department approve the flawed design and allow the construction to proceed? (v) Will the Executive Engineer and his Department now make public the tendering process and the allocation of all projects under his command?
In a parliamentary democracy the Office of the Speaker in particular and the Legislative Assembly in general are considered to be sacred and no human agency or otherwise can commit any act of sacrilege therein. Unlike in Great Britain, in which the Speaker gives up his/her party membership as soon as he or she assumes the office of Speaker according to the long and well-established convention, in Indian parliamentary history there is neither a rule nor convention that the Speaker of the House has to relinquish his/her party membership, except for Dr Neelam Sanjiva Reddy who formally resigned from his political party after he was elected as the Speaker and also emphasized on the independence of the Speaker. Ironically. In Meghalaya the current Speaker of the State Legislative Assembly is also the President of the political party – United Democratic Party, which is the major partner in the MDA government. In the situation of an alleged scam or corruption in the construction of the newly constructed Legislative Assembly, political analysts would be reading the behaviour of the Speaker while exercising his independence and authority against any form of corruption or illegality which pertains to the construction of his Office and the Temple of Democracy.
Rightfully, the Speaker had expressed shock and dismay at the incident in which the Dome of the Temple of Democracy had fallen and with a sense of urgency had referred the matter to the High Powered Committee in order to examine, assess and report the findings. Respectfully and without malice, Mr Speaker Sir, as a citizen I would also like to ask, being the President of the political party, which forms the current coalition government, will you be able to withstand the pulls and pushes if you were to find that government functionaries right up to the Ministerial level are involved in this alleged sacrilege against the Temple of Democracy? Not to question the authority and independence of the Speaker, as citizens we also urge upon the institution of Lokayukta to expeditiously act on the complaint made by Angela Rangad and others against the shoddy constructions of important projects like the ISBT, bridges and roads and also register suo-motu complaint on the collapse of the Dome of the under-construction Legislative Assembly building and begin the proceedings.
The state of affairs in Meghalaya today does not just involve corruption but deep cronyism where government jobs, contracts and other advantages are being awarded to family members, friends or trusted colleagues and amongst the political class and supportive organizations. It is universally proven that in the neo-liberal era and in the name of development, corruption abounds and it is permeating every walk of life. It is an open secret that no project/work will be allotted without a cut or percentage given to an authority etc. Unlike in the West and developed countries, like in the instant case of the Teapot Dome scandal whereby the top official in the office of Interior in the USA government was indicted and prosecuted, nothing of that sort had been achieved in Meghalaya despite the fact that there were cases of corruption involving high ranking Government officials and political masters in the past few decades.
Hence, I appeal- Dear citizens and my fellow Khasi tribals, whose socio-religious, political, economic and ethical life is grounded on the concept of “kamai їa ka hok” or to earn through just and fair means and by the sweat of one’s own brows, should we allow corruption and cronyism to continue to destroy our ethos? Is our Statehood so cheaply gained so as to transform it into the Dome of Corruption and Cronyism? The task, rather the mission before us, is to de-mythologize the political class and their usurpation. As the election in the State is not too far away, let us begin with electoral politics. That, many government officers who are due to retire and some will be taking voluntary retirement to contest the elections, are making hectic preparations and few even had the tenacity to show their faces in certain political or politically motivated government functions, shows that the rot has begun. Further, how will those officers whose intentions are to contest the up-coming elections not use their power and position to influence people to support them while serving in office? Therefore, corruption and abuse of power start early at the electoral politics for the reason that in India or Meghalaya there is no legal or constitutional provision of a cooling off period, which means that a government official cannot contest any Legislative/Parliament/District Council election within two or three years after retirement. Although there is no cooling off provision, as a conscious electorate we have the power to teach these opportunists a lesson by not electing them. At the same time we must brace ourselves for the challenge and put an end to dynastic politics which is beginning to take roots in Meghalaya.

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