India's PM makes last-minute bid to rescue shambolic games

 

INDIA’S PRIME minister has appointed a panel of officials to oversee the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, which have been beset by delays and allegations of widespread corruption.

At the weekend, Manmohan Singh said no stone would be left unturned to make the fortnight-long games, scheduled to open in the Indian capital on October 3rd, a success, even as stories of inflated contracts appear in the media almost daily.

Mr Singh ordered investigations into allegations of corruption surrounding the games, which are intended to showcase India as a rising global economic power like neighbouring China.

In its report earlier this month the Central Vigilance Commission, the federal government’s anti-corruption regulator, identified at least 16 projects where financial irregularities were suspected.

The event, involving 71 nations, all former British colonial states, has emerged as the costliest Commonwealth Games ever. The original infrastructure and organising budget of $2 billion (€1.6 million) has risen more than 17.5 times.

Three senior officials have already been suspended over financial irregularities and new revelations. Graft is suspected not only in the awarding of contracts but in the hiring or purchase of equipment such as air conditioners, treadmills and even toilet and tissue paper.

The vigilance commission also revealed a host of problems with shoddy construction work, including the use of poor-quality materials and the awarding of dubious contracts that place in doubt the safety of some sporting venues.

Serious allegations have also been raised over the transfer of large sums from the games’ organising committee to a London-based firm for the Queen’s baton relay – akin to the global journey of the Olympic torch launched in London last year.

Mr Singh’s moves to rescue the games and India’s flagging reputation came a day after he accorded “overriding powers” to a panel of senior government officials to take charge of the management and preparation work associated with the games that are barely 50 days away.

His decision was seen as a direct slight to Suresh Kalmadi, the head of the games organising committee who, over the past few weeks, has faced strident calls from the media, sporting personalities and the opposition to resign amid the scandals associated with the sporting event.

Mr Kalmadi, a ruling Congress Party MP, has denied any wrongdoing and refused to step down. Meanwhile, many sporting venues in Delhi still resemble construction sites and heavy monsoon rains have hampered efforts to finish construction work, during which 42 labourers have died.