The way Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan sliced opposition leader Ramesh Chennihala to pieces during his customary sunset briefing on Monday, it looked like Pinarayi yearned to have Chennihala as special dish for dinner.
Giving examples of Chennithala's tendency to swallow his own words, earlier in the case of the data theft of ration card holders and lately in the charge that KPMG was chosen for Rebuild Kerala without a tender, the chief minister said it was usual for the opposition leader to level what he called “blind charges” without a proper understanding of facts.
It was with this preface that the chief minister went about dismantling Chennithala's latest charge that the “tainted” PricewaterhouseCoopers was chosen as consultant for the Rs-4500-crore E Mobility project flouting all established norms.
Before getting into the task of cutting Chennithala to size, Pinarayi also hinted that the charge, though baseless, was a distraction from the government's anti-COVID activities.
Why PwC was chosen
The chief minister said the government was sworn to have more electric vehicles. “But we just cannot implement the policy on a whim. It can be taken up only after a scientific study of the project's possibilities and limitations,” the chief minister said, underscoring the importance of professional consultancy.
He said the firm in question, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), was empanelled by National Informatics Centre Services Inc. (NICSI), which is under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
The chief minister said PwC was one of the three companies, all of them in the approved list of NICSI, that were chosen, through an order on August 13, 2019, to prepare the action plan of bus ports, logistics ports and E Moblity projects.
PwC was asked to develop the plan for the southern region (Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha and Ernakulam).
The other two were KPMG Advisory Services Private Limited (central region - Kottayam, Idukki, Thrissur, Palakkad and Malappuram), and Ernst & Young (northern region - Kozhikode, Kannur, Waynad and Kasaragod).
“In this context, let me also mention that PwC does consultancy work for sensitive union ministries like Home and Defence and also critical institutions like Indian Council for Medical Research,” the chief minister said.
No norms violated
On February 20 this year, the Transport Department issued an order appointing the three companies as consultants for the bus ports and PwC alone as the consultant for the logistics port of electric vehicles' manufacture ecosystem.
For each bus ports Rs 2.15 crore was allocated, and for the logistics ports, Rs 2.09 crore each. For E Mobility, Rs 82 lakh was earmarked.
“There is nothing unnatural in all this. All norms were strictly followed. The decision was taken after the proposal was vetted by the Transport, Planning and Finance departments," the chief minister said.
Chennithala had argued that the decision to award the consultancy to PwC was taken arbitrarily by the chief minister.
The other major charge levelled by Chennithala was that PwC was banned by Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) for its involvement in major scams like the Satyam scandal.
The chief minister also said Chennithala mistook the PwC Kerala government picked for another PwC. “The company empanelled by NICSI is PricewaterhouseCoopers Private Limited, which is a consulting company and not an audit firm. It has no ban. The ban is for the audit firm Pricewaterhouse and Company, Bengaluru, LLP,” the chief minister said.
Augusta Westland connection
He then hinted that the Congress party had an axe to grind with the audit firm. “It was this audit firm that found out gross irregularities in the Augusta Westland deal during Dr Manmohan Singh's tenure. They had revealed with proof the problems in the deal and the involvement of middlemen,” Pinarayi said.
Nonetheless, he said both were separate legal entities. “The simple truth that audit and consultancy are two different activities is sought to be masked,” he said.
The chief minister said it was usual for Chennithala to make blind charges and then retract later. "Earlier he said the KPMG was chosen as consultant for Rebuild Kerala without inviting tenders. Later, he said he had checked and found that tenders were indeed invited. Same happened with an earlier charge he made about the data theft of 85 lakh ration card holders. When the government came out with facts, he meekly conceded," Pinarayi said.
No clay mining at Technocity
The chief minister also trashed Chennithala's charge that soft clay from Technocity were being mined. "There was a proposal from a public sector company (Kerala Clays and Ceramics Products) to replace soft soil from the Technocity land with hard soil. A high-level team constituted to look into the issue had recommended rejection of the proposal. The government, therefore, has not taken any decision on clay mining in the area," the chief minister said.