(This is the third part of the Malayala Manorama series 'Government Jobs: Playbook of Nexus and Nepotism'. Read Part 1 here: Backdoor appointments cost the public money and the government its face. Part 2: In Kerala’s IT department, job offers come tailor-made for candidates)
The consultancy culture starts from the top. The Chief Minister has five advisers. To top it, another journalist from the party organ was picked as a press secretary with a salary of Rs 1 lakh. Not all advisers take home a salary though.
The Chief Minister’s Office was a free-for-all during the tenure of Oommen Chandy. His successor, Pinarayi Vijayan, vowed to keep out ‘avatars’ from the corridors of power. Chief minister’s aides took over the fourth and fifth floors of the North Block.
While the CM and personal staff worked from the fourth floor, the principal secretary, M Sivasankar, advisers and the social media team occupied the fifth floor. Sivasankar and the advisers had vast attractive office rooms and lobby.
The Chief Minister’s advisers include Raman Srivasthava (police), N K Jayakumar (law) and M C Dathan (science). V S Senthil has been appointed as a principal secretary in charge of coordination. He had retired as an additional chief secretary.
The Chief Minister’s personal staff has 25 staffers. Another 27 people have been appointed to manage social media accounts and websites. Rules have been amended to make their posts permanent.
Minister A C Moideen was shifted out of the fourth floor to create an exclusive space for the Chief Minister’s team. The offices were not easily accessible even for party members but consultants and middlemen were always welcome. Most of the visitors were in suits.
With M V Jayarajan quitting as the Chief Minister’s private secretary, the party’s hold on the office became nominal.
There are 11 daily-wage domestic workers in Cliff House, the official residence of the Chief Minister, according to the documents released by the Tourism Department in response to a query under the Right to Information Act.
The responsibility of appointing staff for the smooth functioning of the ministers’ bungalows lies with the Tourism Department.
Though the staff are supposed to work in the official residences of ministers, some are assigned to the Chief Minister’s house in Kannur.
Temporary appointments can be done only through the employment exchange but ministers’ bungalows have been a convenient place to employ anyone as they please.
This has been going on for a long time. Some ministers had even asked the temporary workers in their departments to do their household chores.
Few titles are as catchy as ‘Chief Minister’s IT Fellows’. If you picture them to be executives at the elbow of the Chief Minister helping him out with the nitty-gritty of technology, you got it all wrong. They have no direct communication to the Chief Minister. Many of them work out of the distant Technopark.
Yet they live up to the magnificence of their designations. They can make or break deals. The little-discussed post came into public glare after Arun Balachandran’s name was dragged into the gold smuggling case, which also hurt Sivasankaran. Balachandran was a CM’s IT fellow.
A three-member team was formed in 2017 to ensure better communication with the corporate world and attract investment to the technology sector in Kerala. They were armed with enviable educational qualifications and professional experience. They were appointed for a two-year term with attractive packages that matched multinational companies. Their stints were later extended.
The title was later changed into marketing and operations director but their responsibilities were unchanged.
Though the team was formed to help out the IT high-power committee, the professionals gradually evolved into the executive secretaries of the Information Technology Department honchos. One of them quit to pursue other jobs recently.
They coordinated the Kerala delegation that went to the United States and European countries in 2018 to sell the state’s IT model. They organised the #Future digital summit held in Kochi. Balachandran represented Kerala in the Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona, Spain and the GITEX Global Expo in Dubai.
All in the family
A case was filed in the Kerala High Court challenging the appointment of the wife of a former MP as an assistant professor in the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT). Candidates with PhD were superseded to appoint her to the post. The appointment was thorough an interview board which was against the rules mandated by the University Grants Commission. (UGC).
Another former MP’s wife was appointed as an assistant professor in the Kerala University’s biochemistry department. About 100 candidates with higher marks and NET qualifications were relegated in the process.
Another political leader’s wife was appointed as an assistant professor in the Kannur University, but her appointment was successfully challenged in the Kerala High Court. She had to quit the post after an unfavourable verdict from the court.
A minister’s wife was appointed as the director of the self-financing institutions under the Kerala University, but she quit after the move drew flak.
A CPM leader was appointed as a private secretary of the vice-chancellor of the Malayalam University, 10 years after his retirement from the University of Calicut. The new post is in the same rank as a deputy registrar.
A standing committee chairman in the University of Calicut who decided to grant 21 additional marks to an SFI leader in 2010 and 2018 was appointed to a post equivalent to that of a registrar.
(Reporting by Renji Kuriakose, Mahesh Guptan, V R Prathap, S V Rajesh, M R Harikumar, K P Safeena and Jikku Varghese Jacob)