The Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh, we are often reminded, is a great economist and a man of integrity. Despite mounting allegations of corruption and the general opinion that he heads the most corrupt government India has seen since independence, these eulogies have sustained him in office and he has, until now, not faced much of a threat from within the Congress Party or outside.

Is the Prime Minister really worthy of all the encomiums that are showered on him by his admirers and those who eke out a living working for his government? Let us examine some of the broad conclusions drawn by the Comptroller and Auditor General  (C&AG) of India in his report on the Commonwealth Games (CWG) held in Delhi last October and see whether Mr Singh’s so-called personal integrity or his understanding of economics have helped us one bit as a nation.

Delhi won the bid to host CWG-2010 in November, 2003. Thereafter the host city contract was signed that very month between the Commonwealth Games Federation, the Indian Olympic Association, the Union Government and the Delhi Government. The Union Government and all other entities therefore had seven years to build the infrastructure and host the games and Mr Singh, as Prime Minister had the key responsibility to supervise the preparations from May, 2004. Unfortunately, things began to go wrong from the very beginning. First of all, in typical Indian fashion, a plethora of committees and agencies were formed to plan and execute the games-related projects. This lead to considerable chaos but Mr Singh never got down to constituting an apex body at the Union government level to untangle the mess. Secondly, again in typical Indian fashion, work did not begin immediately after the contract was signed. The initial years were marked by procrastination because every entity responsible for the games thought that they had a lot of time on their hands.

Serious concerns were raised about our preparedness to host the CWG only in 2009 and until then, despite several warnings from several qualified persons, the Prime Minister took no initiative worth the name to attend to the crisis, which was bringing shame to the country.

The C&AG fired the first warning shot in July, 2009, 15 months before the games and told the Union Government that in view of the complexity and multiplicity of activities and organizations and the progress till date, there was need to rethink the governance model for the games project …….”. The auditors warned that there could be no further slippages and delays if the games were to be held as scheduled. This report was meant to help the government to benchmark progress, monitor the projects and make mid-course corrections. But, as the nation belatedly realized, Mr. Singh did not pay heed to the C&AG’s warning.

The C&AG has now presented a comprehensive audit of the CWG from the time the bid was submitted in May, 2003 to December, 2010. This report constitutes a stinging indictment of the Prime Minister. In May, 2003, the bid document said the Organising Committee (OC) of the games would be a government-owned registered society with the chairman of the OC board being a government appointee. However, when the OC was finally set up in February, 2005, it was a non-government registered society with Mr Suresh Kalmadi, President of the Indian Olympic Association as the Chairman. Shockingly, the C&AG says Kalmadi was appointed as OC Chairman based on a recommendation of Mr.Manmohan Singh’s office. The Prime Minister’s office overruled the objections of then Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Sunil Dutt while promoting Kalmadi. This decision facilitated the conversion of the originally envisaged government-owned OC into a body outside government control, without commensurate accountability to government and concomitant controls to ensure propriety and transparency. Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, who was the Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports in 2007 and Mr SK Arora, the
Secretary in the department also highlighted the lack of government control over the OC, but the Prime Minister did not listen to them either. When thousands of crores of public money was being spent, why did not Mr Singh ensure that the OC was in government control? Why and at whose behest did he overrule two sports ministers and allow a private entity to gobble up public funds? When we raise such questions, those close to him say he is a great economist and his personal integrity is above reproach!

In the absence of a single point of authority and accountability and the lack of a clear governance structure, there was all round chaos. Finally, some steps were take in August, 2010 but by then scandalous stories and photographs of filthy toilets, garbage heaps and water-logging in the games village were hitting the headlines across the world making India a laughing stock. The C&AG says there was a seven year window to host the games, but this was never properly utilised. So, should we not hold Mr.Singh, the man at the helm, accountable? Yet, there are people in this country who believe that Mr Singh should not be called to account. Why? Because he is great economist and his personal integrity cannot be called to question!

Let us now turn to costs. As we have seen, even run of the mill economists are good with figures. The C&AG has said that the Union government did not have “a clear and realistic assessment” of the estimated cost of hosting the games. The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) estimated an all-inclusive cost of Rs 1200 crore, but the overall cost of CWG 2010 for the union government, the Delhi
government and other agencies was Rs 18532 crore!.

This means the cost of CWG spiraled to15 times the original cost. On the other hand, let us see what became of the revenue the country was supposed to earn from the games. The OC consistently claimed that that the cost of hosting the CWG would be revenue neutral, meaning that the government would recover all that it spent on the games.

However, the auditors found that this claim of revenue neutrality was never supported by robust revenue projections. For example in March, 2007 the OC claimed that the revenue from the games would be Rs 900 crore, but by July,2008, it said the games would generate a revenue of Rs 1780crore – that is double of what it had projected a year earlier.

This was done by inflating the projections for sponsorship revenue and donations because the OC wanted more money from the government. However, since the Prime Minister had over-ruled the idea of government control over the OC, the Minister of Sports could not challenge the OC’s claims. Eventually when the games got over, the auditors found that after deducting revenue generating costs all that the OC had earned by way of revenue was a paltry Rs 173.96 crore, which was less than 10 per cent of the Rs1780 crore it said it would earn. Does this not amount to criminal misrepresentation? Should not the Prime Minister, who allowed Kalmadi to hoodwink everybody on this score, be held responsible? When such questions are raised, we are told the Prime Minister is a great economist and his personal
integrity is above reproach!