Blame game begins

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NEW DELHI, October 19 – Days after the most expensive Commonwealth Games to date concluded in New Delhi, a mud-slinging contest has broken out between the event's organisers and city rulers.A panel set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has begun probing allegations of corruption over soaring costs, shoddy construction and shady payments to contractors as the budget tripled to an estimated six billion dollars.

But anti-graft watchdogs believe a protracted public war of words between those under the microscope will do little to puncture India’s political culture of unaccountability.

"The corruption has taken place — how can a report change that? What has happened can’t be undone," Anupama Jha, executive director of the India chapter of Transparency International, told AFP.

"It will matter only if the guilty are punished," she said. "Top-level politicians and bureaucrats are never punished.

"We all know that top politicians and bureaucrats get away scot-free. Everything goes back to business as usual once the media glare is off."

The panel established by the prime minister will submit its report in January, while two government agencies, the Central Vigilance Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General, will present separate probes.

"There is a chance some of the underlings could be named and nailed, while people at the top make their escape," Samuel Paul, founder of the Bangalore-based non-profit Public Affairs Centre, told AFP.

"India’s record on accountability is not great."

All parties involved in the Games have welcomed examination of their conduct, but they have also been quick to deflect blame and point the finger elsewhere.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit told the Press Trust of India news agency at the weekend that "the real corruption" took place within the organising committee.

Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the organising committee, in turn accused Dikshit of hogging the limelight and stealing credit for a "faultless" Games.

"She must indulge in self-reflection on corruption in her own departments," he said.

The organising committee received loans worth 16 billion rupees (360 million dollars) from the central government, but Kalmadi said that the committee’s budget was only a tenth of the Delhi government’s Games budget.

"It’s not surprising. Each one is trying to protect his or her back," said Paul, reflecting on the two politicians’ outbursts.

Both Dikshit and Kalmadi are wily veterans from the governing Congress party: Dikshit is a three-time chief minister of Delhi, while Kalmadi is an MP who has headed the Indian Olympic Association for 14 years.

The Central Vigilance Commission in August reported a plethora of problems with construction work, including the use of poor-quality materials and the award of dubious contracts.

In one of the worst incidents, a new footbridge next to the main stadium fell down and injured scores of labourers ten days before the opening ceremony.

India lies 84th out of 180 countries on a corruption ranking prepared by Transparency International.

The Games, which ended with a jubilant closing ceremony on October 14, were seen as a chance to spotlight India’s emerging economic superpower status after the success of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Despite poor crowd turnouts and severe ticketing glitches, many Indians cheered India’s best-ever Games’ medals haul and expressed relief and pride that pessimistic expectations of disaster had been proved wrong.

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