Sunday, April 14, 2024


Early this month, Chief Minister Neiphiu was reported saying that the “State as a whole” can progress and develop if the money provided by the Government is judiciously used for the intended purpose. So far, so good. Speaking during an event at Sechü (Zubza) in Kohima, the Chief Minister went on to underscore that utilisation of funds provided by the Government can lead to the development of both small and large villages ~ ultimately resulting in the State’s overall progress. So far, so true. Then came this puff of gold dust: “And to achieve this, he said it is important for the village leaders to display honesty and dedication towards implementation of any developmental works. However, he observed that often village leaders failed in their responsibilities”, as one of the local newspapers reported. It sounded ~ to use a cooking gear analogy ~ a lot like the kettle calling the pot black. Remember Mark Twain’s famous observation: “An honest politician is an oxymoron”. If you prefer a different analogy than cooking gear, it seemed as blatant and daft an act as the head of a Dry State inviting a heavyweight from one of the country’s top liquor companies to a sporting event in a place where the Excise Department seizes and destroys all kinds of liquor. The things you can get away with in Nagaland today, no? And as a timely epilogue, the Chief Minister’s comment on honest leaders was promptly followed by the news that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has filed an FIR against Nagaland’s Additional Secretary (Agriculture) Jitendra Gupta and two other officials working in the Fostering Climate-Resilient Upland Farming System (FOCUS) project for allegedly receiving bribes of more than Rs 2 crore. The CBI had initiated the action on a complaint from the Air Intelligence Unit of the Income Tax Department, which had intercepted 2013-batch IAS officer Gupta and two of his co-passengers ~ the then Deputy Conservator of Forests, Rampaukai and Veterinary Assistant Surgeon in the Animal Husbandry Department, Auto Vihoi ~ who were travelling from Dimapur to New Delhi on December 17 last year in a flight allegedly with huge cash. After registering the FIR, the CBI had conducted searches at the office of FOCUS at Kohima on February 8 and seized Rs 71.50 lakh that were collected by the corrupt officials as kickbacks and bribes. Come to think of it: all those gleanings are from a mere one-month sample. The recent incident provides a case study of how public resources are squandered through mismanagement and irregularities by both public officials as well as contractors. And if officials and contractors are involved, how can politicians be not? The planets must indeed revolve around the common sun. Public projects in Nagaland are routinely plagued by corruption and irregularities that invariably shoot up costs, such as inflated bills, budget overruns caused by delays, post-project repairs hastened by low-quality work, etc. It is simple math: the longer a project runs, the wider the scope for bribery. Here, more often than not, contracts are given based on political considerations, and those behind such firms or the relevant officials are seldom held accountable for their eventual failures. We have frequently seen construction and installation projects go wrong soon after completion and repair/maintenance works taken up to fix them, thus keeping the engine of profits running for those involved. This must change. Instead of indulging in sanctimonious sermonising, the Chief Minister and the State Government should introduce measures to prevent fund wastage in public projects. And there is one thing beyond finances that can make a big impact: ensuring accountability of all, from head to toe. Establishing accountability at every stage of a project is not just essential to end this cycle of corruption. It will also ensure quality work, proper use of funds, and the long-term returns of public investments. As a bonus, it will also ensure that hypocrisy stays where it belongs: moral science textbooks.