Kerala's ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government's 2019 decision to rope in a multinational firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC, in a consultancy project related to e-mobility smacks of corruption as it was done without inviting tenders and when the firm was blacklisted by Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), alleged the state's leader of the opposition from Congress party Ramesh Chennithala on Sunday.
Technically, however, the firm does not seem to be blacklisted when it was appointed. The Kerala government, through an order issued by Transport Secretary KR Jyothilal on 7 November, had appointed PwC for preparing a Detailed Project Report (DPR) on electric vehicle manufacturing in the state— as part of an ambitious Rs-4500-crore e-mobility project to put one million electric vehicles on the road by 2022. On 19 November, the Supreme Court stayed a part of the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT)'s order that had quashed Sebi's two-year ban on audit firm Price Waterhouse (PW) in the wake of the Satyam Computer fraud in 2009.
"We would like to clarify that the entity performing work for Kerala Government’s Department of Transport is PricewaterhouseCoopers Private Limited (“PwCPL"). PwCPL is a limited liability company which provides consulting services and is not an audit firm. The SEBI Order of January 2018 neither applied to PwCPL nor did it impose any restriction on PwCPL whatsoever," said the company in a statement.
The statement added that even otherwise, the said SEBI order is now sub-judice and there is no stay imposed by the Supreme Court "on the ability of any Price Waterhouse audit firms in India to render their services."
Kerala's Transport Minister A.K. Saseendran told reporters that he will react only after studying the allegations.
The opposition leader also argued that roping in PwC is also an act of hypocrisy from the leftist ruling party, Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM. The communist leaders in India have often been vocal against government patronage given to multinational consultancy firms, alleging that they could parrot the interests of the capitalist class and lead to harmful policy impacts.
Chennithala also said that a forum called 'Citizens Whistleblowers Forum', headed by AP Shah, former chief justice of Delhi and Madras High Courts, had also written to Kerala government and Union Finance Ministry against awarding PwC the work on another project, Kochi Industrial Corridor, and advised the state government to not hire this firm any further.
"With all of this happening, we need to know why a firm like PwC, which has an alleged tainted past, was hired. CM
@vijayanpinarayi hired this firm, bypassing Cabinet and various depts, without even issuing a tender. CM must reveal his ties with this firm," tweeted Chennithala. "For a party that stands against capitalism, why does LDF Government and @vijayanpinarayi hire such firms with tainted pasts?" he said in another tweet.