Kerala CPM leaders hire family members for PSUs, go against Pinarayi Vijayan's poll promise

Barely four months into its existence, the Pinarayi Vijayan government in Kerala that came to power crusading against corruption, has fallen victim to the same weakness that the previous United Democratic Front (UDF) allies were afflicted with.

It’s not yet blatant corruption, but something very close — cronyism, that too involving the families of the CPM apparatchiks.

On Friday, the state’s media reported that the government appointed the son of a former CPM health minister, PK Sreemathi, who is presently a member of parliament, as the managing director of the state-run Kerala State Industrial Enterprises, flouting eligibility criteria. Incidentally, the man in question is also the nephew of the industries minister, EP Jayarajan, whose department chose him.

Representational image. Agencies

Representational image. Agencies

As the controversy threatened to loom large, the government cheekily withdrew the appointment saying that the candidate asked for more time to join, which it had rejected. Reportedly, the appointment was cancelled at the instance of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who had said in the past that his government’s policy was to appoint qualified people to state-run enterprises. Sreemathi was at the centre of a similar scandal during the last Left government as well, when as a state minister she appointed her daughter-in-law as her "cook", who subsequently became her official assistant.

It’s not just one family member of the CPM, but many that have been chosen to head government-run institutions now. Reportedly, close family members of senior party leaders have been appointed in the Kinfra Apparel Park, Clay and Ceramics Limited and the Women’s Development Corporation. And more are in the pipeline.

Not that the UDF was clean. Under its rule, there was absolutely no control over such postings and they were meant only to employ close associates and party functionaries. The industries department, which managed a number of a public sector units, had the worst record. By the time the last government left the office, majority of them were making losses and their combined loss to the exchequer stood at about Rs 2000 crore. According to the CAG, in 2015, 53 state enterprises alone had incurred a loss of Rs 889 crore.

Although some of them were public utility services such as the electricity board, transport corporation and water authority that are not meant to make profits but serve people, majority were small industrial enterprises that hardly had any relevance to the state’s wealth generation or industrialisation, except providing lucrative backdoor employment to political leaders or their associates, and avenues for kickbacks. For instance, one such unit, headed by a Congress leader, imported inferior cashew from Africa, costing the state a few crores. Similarly, a loss-making state-run cement factory, the Malabar Cements, has made headlines only for corruption scandals.

The eligibility of some of the people who headed such institutions during the UDF regime was laughable. Some of them are now facing vigilance cases.

What’s disappointing about the CPM’s apparent cronyism is that it contrasts with what Pinarayi Vijayan had promised when he came to power in May. He spoke of a grand vision of transforming the industrial landscape of Kerala with 'Silicon Valley' type hubs, big highways, high-speed railway lines and a lot of jobs. And his vision couldn’t have excluded the 100-plus government-run undertakings because they are a big drain on the state’s economy and employ a large number of people. Appointing cronies from the party leaders’ families, with or without eligibility, through processes that look rigged doesn’t seem to be a move that befits Vijayan’s vision.

It’s not yet blatant corruption, but something very close — cronyism, that too involving the families of the CPM apparatchiks.

Interestingly, communist China had (and still has) a similar problem of cronyism, in which a club of elites had cornered plum positions in the party, and government and military run institutions. This was one of the major challenges of President Xi Jinping when he became the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 2012. Jinping went after the big shots and felled about 50 senior officials in the first two years since launching his anti-corruption campaign. A large number of party functionaries and cronies were prosecuted and punished. The New York Times had noted that

Corruption has penetrated so very deeply into the party-state that it has become the glue that holds it together.

In a minor scale, there’s a similar glue in Kerala’s CPM as well: families of the party leaders need jobs that pay them well. Industrially barren, contracts and kickbacks are hard to come by.

If massive infrastructure development and privatisation opened opportunities to the political elites in China, who over the last three decades had formed an invincible party-state syndicate, in Kerala, the situation appears similar in a much smaller scale. The opportunities before the party are the state-run enterprises and the gates that Vijayan’s industrial drive will open. Going by the early trend, if the people are not vigilant, these opportunities will be cornered by cronies and relatives of the party leaders.

In this 2005 paper in the International Review of Sociology that looks at the cultural context of corruption in communist societies, authors Wayne Sandholtz and Rein Taagepera argue that “communism created structural incentives for engaging in corrupt behaviors, which became such a widespread fact of life that they became rooted in the culture in these societies/that is, the social norms and practices prevailing in communist societies.” No wonder that many of the party leaders and proxies found nothing wrong in party leaders’ family members grabbing premium government jobs.

They had waited for five years while the Congress-led UDF had a free-for-all. Looks like it’s payback time, and the tax payers have to foot the bill this time as well.

Updated Date: Oct 07, 2016 13:30 PM

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