Tuesday , 19 February 2019

BJP Finds A Scorpion To Sting Congress 

With the arrest of A M Wachasundar, whose job contract as director of Japan International Co-operative Agency (JICA) was terminated four days ago, the Goa government obviously intends to send out a message that it is acting fast and firmly in the case of alleged bribery of ministers and officials by US construction consultancy firm Louis Berger. The state government probably also aims to rub the stain of complicity off its clothing that it had got by renewing the contract of  Wachasundar as JICA director after it had expired last year. Questions were being raised: if Wachasundar was an appointee of the Congress government, whose ministers allegedly took bribes, why did the BJP government renew his contract?  The action against Wachasundar is to make it easier for the BJP government for themselves to politically capitalize on the Louis Berger scandal by hauling him off into the camp of ‘corrupt’ Congress.

The crime branch of the Goa police wrapped up their inquiry into the alleged bribery in just a matter of few days which, to say the least, was an incredible job. Their work looks even more incredible when they claim to have found evidence to support that bribery indeed took place. The public at large would expect that the crime branch give such high speed results in every case. Else, perceptions might get strengthened about state police going fast only when the state government wants it and going slow when they want it. It would be interesting to know what evidence the crime branch has found. They have not revealed anything to the media; they have submitted their report to the government, and the government is unlikely to reveal anything.

Let us hope the crime branch has really found something that would help the CBI to take the probe to a fruitful conclusion when the state government places its request with the central investigative agency. In all likelihood, the crime branch must have found pieces of ‘evidence’ in the official records. There could be ‘undue favours’ shown to the consortium of four companies (one of them being Louis Berger) in the files of JICA (Japanese International Co-operative Agency) that funded the water and sewerage projects costing Rs 1,200 crore. However, there are more questions than answers in this regard. The entire bidding process was closely supervised by JICA under international norms, with all systems in check. The selection of the consortium as consultant too was done by JICA in accordance with the norms. At no stage was decision regarding bids or selection left to one or more ministers or high officials of the state government. Where did ministers or high officials find room to extort Rs 6.31 crore from the senior executives of Louis Berger? A supplementary question: why did the senior executives of Louis Berger, one of the four companies making the consortium, need to bribe ministers and officials to get the job for the consortium? If bribes had to be paid, the consortium should have paid, not one of the constituent companies.

If the crime branch has indeed found ‘evidence’ supporting bribe, the whole consortium comes under shadow, not just Louis Berger. For the bribes the senior executives of Louis Berger have told US court they paid should be presumed to have been paid on behalf of the consortium that included two Japanese companies and an Indian partner. The intent of the alleged bribe was winning of the JICA-aided projects for the consortium. The scope of the probe can therefore be no more restricted to Louis Berger. The CBI investigators will have to interrogate the senior executives of all the four companies in order to ascertain why and how the decision to pay bribes was taken and how the ‘extra cost of doing business in Goa’ was shared among the consortium members. The executives of the other three companies must be accomplices in the crime if at all bribes were paid to ministers and officials.

The findings of the crime branch are still very preliminary and cannot be relied upon as solid pieces of evidence. Even if they have found things in JICA files that defied norms that hardly proves anything. The probe has to prove who took the money. The crime branch has not checked where the illicit gains made by ministers and officials from Louis Berger went. They have not yet checked the accounts and investments, legal and illegal movable and immovable assets of Wachasundar and members of his family. They have not yet searched the houses of other high officials or politicians who were ministers during the concerned period. In all likelihood, we will have to wait for the CBI to do all that, and going by the overload on the shoulders of the central investigative agency, it could be a decade or two before the picture becomes clear. Meanwhile in the run-up to the next Assembly elections in 2017, the BJP will keep enjoying setting off the Louis Berger scorpion every now and then to sting the Congress.

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