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Chief Minister must intervene to stop unfair practices in tourism department

Those at the helm of affairs in the tourism department seem to care not much for accountability and transparency. They have not put in place systems for due diligence in works tendered and executed. Cases have surfaced showing that the department is getting its works tendered and executed in an arbitrary manner. Decisions on organizing events are taken at the last moment leaving no room for a fair competitive bidding and creating room for favouring a particular bidder. Tenders were recently invited for selecting an agency to set up a Goa stall at the Kolkata travel and tourism fair. However, by the time the tenders were called just 24 hours were left for the pavilion to be made. It is very intriguing that selection of an agency to set up a pavilion was delayed till the last minute. Fortunately good sense prevailed following reports in the media about the absurd tender for the Kolkata fair pavilion and the department cancelled it. 

Arbitrary exercise of authority has been going on in the tourism department for quite some time. The Tourism Minister has been directing and approving works such as exhibitions and pavilions hurriedly in different parts of India and abroad. He should have been the one to stop such unfair and shady practices. He should have insisted on transparency, accountability, probity and advance planning. How could he approve of tenders for selection of agencies at the last moment which would leave just a day for the selected agency to complete the process? There were even more questionable aspects of the Kolkata fair tender. The tender estimate included more than Rs 10 lakh as the cost of lease of 150 square metre for setting up a Goa pavilion at the Netaji Indoor Stadium. The reality was that the space was never booked. If no space was ever booked why did the department officials try to mislead the agencies that the area was booked? The government should order a thorough probe into the episode and find out why attempts were made to misguide agencies and the public.

The malpractice was not only about including the cost of space when it had not been booked and leased in. It also involved the total absence of expertise with the tourism department – such as designers, architects, artists and so on – who can make an estimate of the cost of a Goa pavilion according to a particular design and choices of motifs and construction materials. In the absence of such expertise the tourism department has been blindly approving whatever costs the agencies show of building a pavilion. There is no one to raise objections to their cost estimates. The tourism department should appoint experts or should have approved panels of independent experts to make an estimate of a pavilion or other works and also assess the cost accounts of the agencies. The experts could also improve the aesthetic quality of the pavilion and other works with their artistic inputs and supervision. There have been suggestions made in the past, but the tourism department has resisted using the services of experts to evaluate the creativity and costs in the presentations by bidding agencies. It is worth noting here that the Entertainment Society of Goa and the departments of information and publicity and art and culture have committees of experts from respective fields to evaluate bids.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant must immediately intervene to advise his colleague in the tourism department to stop decisions and practices which are arbitrary, hurried, clumsy and casual and not transparent. Works carried out in such a manner are a loss to the public exchequer and gain to the vested interests in the department and the agencies doing shoddy jobs. The central government and the governments in several states have in the past one decade or so established systems for tenders in order to remove any scope for favouritism and corruption. They have used technologies starting with e-tendering in which manipulations of bids have been curbed. The Goa government too has been promising to establishing a transparent bidding process. The tourism department is where they need to work first.

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