Sunday, June 16, 2024

Cartelisation & Clandestine deals


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Meghalaya’s second name is obfuscation. Opacity has been the hallmark in the distribution of government largesse particularly in awarding contracts. It is only fair therefore for the High Court of Meghalaya to quash the work order given by the Meghalaya Power Generation Corporation Limited (MePGCL) to a certain contractor, stating that the Corporation indulged in ‘bid rigging’ and cartelization. The MePGCL had on July 4, 2023 floated a tender notice for construction of a multi-purpose indoor stadium at Nongtrai Village in Mawsynram worth Rs 2.87 crore. According to the petitioner, the whole process was rigged to favour one party which perhaps had insider information. What is cartelisation? It means a lobby working in cahoots with insiders in the MePDCL. That four tenderers would submit identical rates shows they are a cabal working in tandem to win all contracts by manipulation. The Court has cited procedural impropriety, irrationality, arbitrariness and unreasonableness on the part of the tender committee which had gone beyond its brief to award the contract on a pre-decided party. The Court has rightly stated that there is a serious flaw in the decision-making process and set aside the work order given to one of the parties that is part of the cartel.
This particular case has gained notoriety because one tenderer approached the High Court at the risk of never getting another contract because governments are known to penalise any whistle-blower. The fact is that this is a regular phenomenon in Meghalaya which is the reason for sub-standard construction of roads and buildings. The manner in which contracts for the Medical College in Tura or the Meghalaya State Assembly building and the PA Sangma stadium were awarded are all shrouded in secrecy. Hence the extra-long gestation periods when a contract bid won by a local contractor has to be sub-contracted to another construction firm – naturally from outside the state – because of its expertise, better machinery and technology. No one really follows up on these contracts once they are awarded. The Shillong-Dawki road is one example of a project that was awarded without any transparency. Projects are invariably marred by time and cost overruns and it has been the practice to award escalation costs to contractors. This is also part of the deal where everyone – the PWD minister, the engineers and others down the line benefit. No government in Meghalaya has had the spine to tackle this cartelisation of contract awards and to take on the number of rent-seekers that are growing by the day.
At this rate, can Meghalaya ever develop at the speed that is needed for it to get out of its under-development and poverty syndrome? On the contrary Meghalaya is slipping on critical human development indicators. Sadly, the bureaucracy believes that all is well with the State they are posted to. After all, what can they do when the political system is buried under the weight of corruption. It’s a case of – If you cannot beat them; join them.

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