Swapna Suresh and her appointment at Kerala Government-owned Space Park is back in the news. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) inquiring into the alleged crime of gold smuggling using the diplomatic route had made it clear that she was clearly recommended for the post by none other than Pinarayi Vijayan, the CM after she met him in the presence of IAS officer M Sivasankar, who was then Vijayan’s principal secretary.
Under the guise of temporary assignments, the state government appointing its cronies to top positions is nothing new. This is routed through private companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). Preferential treatment in quid-pro-quo style is then allegedly handed over in legitimate deals. The flip side for consultants and private contractors is that they get banned from participating in tenders all across Bharat even if one of their ‘supposed payroll employees’ go rogue.
Now embroiled in legal battles, allegations are flying thick and fast. PWC had also participated and won tenders relating to West Bengal Electronics Industry Development Corporation (WBEIDC) for IT-related works. WEBEL works under The West Bengal government’s IT department.
The Kerala government had earlier banned PWC from participating in state tenders. News surrounding this ban had reached the Bengal government following which they wrote to the Kerala government for clarifications. Kerala meanwhile replied in writing that the matter is sub-judice and admitted to faulty due diligence on their part. They added that PWC was banned for two years starting 27th November 2020.
Earlier when the gold was confiscated at the airport and Swapna was subsequently arrested, it was found that Swapna was appointed as a consultant in Space Park using fake degree certificates. PWC routed her appointment through a third-party HR firm called Vision Technologies who obviously never did a background check of Swapna. The Kerala government used Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Ltd. (KSITIL) which was reporting to the IT Department which in turn had M Sivasankar as its Secretary.
It was also revealed that Swapna’s October 2019 appointment was done at a cost of 3.18 lakhs per month expenditure to the tax-payers. By the time of her arrest, she had been paid 19.06 Lakhs excluding expenses and PWC has not repaid the amount as directed by the government, as yet. The criteria for the Space Park chief stipulates 25 years of senior executive experience at an expense of 85000/- per month to the coffers and his junior, in this case, Swapna was offered obscene amounts as salary in itself points to corruption and nepotism in such ‘Consultant appointments’.
Trouble started when the Kerala IT Department removed PWC from a few projects that they had won, citing the selection of Swapna by PWC. PWC moved legally and submitted in court that a State Government establishment recommended Swapna for the job and are now blaming them for the same. They added that KSITIL MD Jayasankar Prasad was the one who forwarded Swapna’s resume to PWC representative, Sudeep Das. These are serious allegations.
In early 2019 October, Sudeep conducted preliminary interviews with Swapna. Space Park Special Officer Santhosh Kurup then interviewed her in the absence of any PWC officials following which Jayasankar issued appointment orders and Swapna joined Space Park by late October.
What is suspicious here is the fact that the cabal never actually solicited the government’s advice or permission before appointing Swapna. The fact that another consultant, KPMG was first consulted in this regard, and apparently they knew very well that it was Swapna who was being pushed by bureaucratic higher-ups. That they did not reply talks volumes about how private companies are practically forced by corrupt officials to partake in crimes. PWC fell for the trap and will now find it extremely difficult to score government contracts in the future.
The Kerala Government meanwhile is of the opinion that PWC is trying to tarnish their image and is asking PWC for proof! Anyone who knows such under-the-table operations very well knows that such dealings are confirmed orally with the possibility of evidence being purely circumstantial. PWC has maintained that they have plenty of evidence and that it is not liable to explain to the government and will prove things in court.
The court had also given PWC the benefit of the doubt and had stayed the Kerala Government order till the 5th of this month. By working with favoritism PWC has ended up destroying itself.
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