Taken from: http://www.greenlightdhaba.org/2010/08/commonwealth-games-fail-is-corruption.html
Allegations of high level corruption and rumours of even darker things suggest there may be more at stake here than embarrassment. And pretending these problems don’t exist will only make them worse!
Mani Shankar Aiyar stirred up the pot last week when he told reporters, “Personally, I will be unhappy if the Commonwealth Games are successful.” Suresh Kalmadi, the head of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee promptly labeled Aiyar “anti-national.”
Lost in the smoke of the Aiyar-Kalmadi tamasha was Aiyar’s central point: the Games were a mistake from the start, and it might take an obvious failure–one that could not be glossed over or denied– to prevent us from having to undergo a repeat of this fiasco in years to come. Kalmadi has made no secret of his desire to see India get the Olympics some day, but he seemed to understand that this would be a bad week to highlight that ambition; instead, he responded to Aiyar’s attack by attempting to change the subject.
Usually, people use labels like “anit-national” in order to discredit and dehumanize their opponents. Labels like this are also commonly used to distract people from real and pressing problems on the ground; that’s why, during times of rapid change or uncertainty, ultra-nationalist and communal forces often do their worst work.
If one has been following Kalmadi over the past few months, as I have, one might assume he was just trying to divert attention from some of the many silly pronouncements he’s regularly taken to making. Like how the Games village is “going to be the best in the world,” in spite of the fact that it is so far behind that the government has had to displace 3,000 Delhi University students in order to accommodate athletes and officials who would not otherwise have housing during the Games… or how just a few months back he was still promising “The Games won’t cost the country a penny.”
As it turns out, Kalmadi was almost certainly (and rather desperately) trying to distract us from two much bigger stories. First, preparations for the Games are much further behind schedule than we’ve been led to believe. Second, it appears that corruption–not the monsoon rains—is largely responsible for the sorry state of affairs we all find ourselves in.
A recent cover story in India Today suggests that in spite of all the brave talk we are hearing from officials, failure of the Games in obvious and embarrassing variety is indeed an option: major sports venues are incomplete, and some of the venues that have been completed are falling apart before they have even been used. Housing and food arrangements for delegates and athletes are still up in the air. As disturbing as they are, plans to banish 75,000 beggars from Delhi’s streets are totally compatible with the ideology behind the drive to make Delhi a “World Class City.” But evicting thousands of students in order to find housing for athletes? That smells of desperation. We probably have no idea how bad things really are, because Chief Minister Dikshit recently ordered her ministers to keep their mouths shut as they go on inspections of Games facilities. But it seems obvious that the overall situation is very bad indeed.
Of course if you think about it, this should come as no surprise. Delhi is one big construction zone, and most of what we are seeing on major roads and markets is a far cry from “finishing work.” Connaught Place is still a mess. Officials conceded on Friday that much important work there, including the subways, will not be finished in time for the Games. Crossing the outer circle will apparently continue to be a real adventure for months to come.
The failure at CP is particularly worrisome, because we can only assume that if the city cannot finish renovating this flagship market in time for the Games, it will fail elsewhere as well. My advice: officials should invest in rolls of bright blue plastic tarp right now; if all else fails, they can use that to cover last minute leaks in markets and Games facilities.
Now that failure seems a real possibility, much of middle and upper class Delhi seems almost titillated by the story. You hear this all over: “Oh, dear, how embarrassing it will be…nothing ever gets done right around here…such a mess…”
Corruption, Damn Corruption, and Commonwealth Games Contracts!
The problem, unfortunately, is that there is something much more serious going on than embarrassing incompetence—it’s called corruption—and it’s not just embarrassing, it’s criminal, it’s unsafe, and it strikes at the heart of this country’s democratic institutions.
In different ways, I’ve long argued that the Games are flawed because they have provided an excuse to divert money from things that all people need– like housing and clean water—to unsustainable things that benefit only a few, like infrastructure for cars and airplanes.
Metaphorically, rhetorically and even morally speaking, one might call this theft. But in reality, it’s not illegal, and it’s not even always been ill-intentioned—a lot of good people thought the Games were a good idea.
Rampant corruption, on the other hand, is a completely different matter.
It is becoming increasingly clear that these are the most expensive Commonwealth Games in
history not because we are building the highest quality stadiums. And of course we can’t say the Games have cost so much because of the lavish accommodations or wages given to the workers labouring day and night on Games-related projects.
In fact, the government has known for a long time that its contractors have been violating wage, safety and labour standards, and what has it done? Children of Games workers, when they haven’t been working, have been denied their rights as well–you don’t need a hyper link for this if you live in Delhi, it’s out in the open. But here’s one anyway. With all that money, why couldn’t the Government insist that contractors put up some mobile creche facilities for these kids?
It wasn’t just a reckless driver who was responsible for the death of a fourteen year old and three of his co-workers last week; it was also the contractors who hired him to work illegally in unsafe conditions– and the government which failed to seriously enforce their own labour standards. And these workers are not alone; so far, dozens have died in Games-related projects. Violating labour laws is a way for contractors save money; it is a kind of corruption, a kind of theft. And far too often, it has deadly consequences, which makes it a kind of homicide, if you think about it.
Of course, there are other kinds of corruption at work, as well. Most importantly, there are the “irregularities” or “overpricing” in the contracts that have been awarded that we’ve all been hearing about. The more you read about this interrelated set of scandals, the more you realize it is probably much bigger than any of us can imagine, and it really amounts to massive theft—if things turn out to be as bad as they currently appear to be, people should go to jail for this for many years. NDTV took an in-depth look at one very small part of this problem and what they found some mind-boggling: many medical products have been bought by the government for many times their actual price. IBN reports that in addition to over charging, contractors have regularly saved money by cutting corners on construction materials–which, in addition to being dishonest, is unsafe.
Every day, there is a new revelation; it increasingly appears that the people awarding contracts did everything they could to rig the system so as to limit the number of companies qualified to bid—as a result, we’ve ended up with low quality work done at criminally high prices. A lot of money is being made by a very few companies—and presumably by some of the people who have helped to “facilitate” this process.
Of course this could just be disorganized, random greed. But rumours are beginning to circulate that there are darker games afoot, that you just have to follow the money trail to see that vast amounts of wealth are being concentrated in very few, very ambitious hands. Some say new political dynasties are being built through this unsavory process and ask if it is possible for rulers who rise out of corruption to be anything but corrupt.
I don’t know about that—though it doesn’t seem hard to believe. What I do know is that putting on a happy face and pretending there are no problems is the last thing we need to be doing.
Yes, corruption is embarrassing. But it’s not nearly as embarrassing—or poisonous—as letting corruption go unchecked. The press, along with honest officials and all people who care about democracy and justice need to make sure this is not swept under the rug. This may be painful, but if we learn from our mistakes and move forward in an honest and fair way, we will have nothing at all to be ashamed of. The only shame here is in letting the bad guys profit from this mess!
There’s a lot to be done, even for those of us who aren’t reporters, officials or lawyers. Why not write a letter to the editor of your newspaper or local government official; let them feel the heat. If you are a student, why not work to fight the evictions at Delhi University? :
Also, go check out out ACORN International’s Commonwealth Games Campaign. I’ve heard good things about this campaign. This site tells you how to sign a petition and get involved.
To read more about the CWG, go see our special page, here.