Kerala IT Department faults on Public Relations Contract

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Trivandrum: According to documents sourced through RTI and in possession with Kerala IT News, there are irregularities galore in the contract given to a Public Relations (PR) Agency from organisations under the Kerala IT Department. The PR agency which did not meet the Tender norms or qualify the Tender process was awarded the contract in July 2009 to handle the PR activities of Technopark, Trivandrum; Infopark, Kochi; Cyberpark, Kozhikode and Kerala State IT Infrastructure Ltd. (KSITL) for a retainer fees of Rs.18 lakhs per year.

The contract with this PR firm has been renewed every three months since then and an amount of about Rs.72 lakhs has been paid, till date. The last contract expired on June 30, 2013 and as per the information available, the contract has been renewed for another three months.

What is interesting is that the same person has handled this account for several years under different company names and needless to say, this could have happened only with the connivance of the concerned officials.

Background & Timeline of events:

  • In August 2008, Infopark, Kochi, on behalf of Technopark, KSITL and Infopark, under the Department of IT, Government of Kerala, called for Expression of Interest from PR / Marketing – Communication Agencies.
  • About 20 agencies responded to the Tender and based on their qualifications, the agencies were ranked and top five agencies were called for a presentation in September 2008.
  • Based on their presentations, the agencies were ranked by the Selection Committee for awarding the contract in the following order – 1. Concept Communications 2. Lin Opinion (Lintas) 3. Stark Communications
  • Mumbai based Concept Communications was given the PR contract from October 2008 for one year, for a retainer fee of Rs.7 lakhs per month.
  • In April 2009, citing poor performance Termination Notice was issued to Concept Communications.
  • Without going for retender, Lin Opinion, the agency ranked second was given the contract from July 2009 for national PR (outside Kerala) @ Rs.1.5 lakh per month, initially for three months which was then extended till December 2009. The contract not renewed after that.
  • Trivandrum based Radiance 24xLive (which did not meet the Tender norms or qualify in the Tender process) was given the contract from July 2009 for inside Kerala PR @ Rs.1.5 lakh monthly, initially for three months and then extended every six months.
  • In August 2010 Radiance 24xLive changed its name to Thought Factory PR.
  • The contract with Thought Factory PR @ Rs.1.5 lakh per month, has been renewed every three months, since then.
  • The cost of PR is shared by Technopark (35%), KSITL (25%), Infopark (25%) and Cyberpark (15%).
  • At one point, Thought Factory was handling Technopark, Infopark, Cyberpark, KSITIL, Technopark -TBI, Akshaya, Kerala State IT Mission and ICFOSS.

Few questions / issues that are still unanswered

  • How did a company which did not meet the Tender norms or qualify in the Tender process get the contract?
  • Who are the beneficiaries of this contract? (Former Chief Minister Shri V S Achuthanadan was handling the IT portfolio during this period 2008 – 2009.)
  • The proprietor of Radiance 24xLive had sub-contracted the PR activities from Concept Communications during 2008-2009. He was earlier handling Kerala IT as a representative of Perfect Relations, a Delhi based PR agency, till 2008. This means that the same person has handled this account for several years under different company names.
  • The Technopark based ICFOSS had also given their PR contract to Thought Factory PR without going through the Tender process.
  • In November 2011 Asianet News had carried a news item about the irregularities in the Kerala IT Department’s PR Contract and some Malayalam websites had also published news articles about this issue in March 2012.
  • Why is that no action has been taken so far on this issue despite the media reports?
  • Why is the contract with this company being renewed every three months?

This issue was brought to the notice of the present IT Minister, Shri P K Kunhalikutty and the IT Secretary, Shri P H Kurian IAS in April 2012 and again in March 2013, but there has been no response on this except for the standard “We will investigate and get back to you” answer.

Anil Philip
Kerala IT News

News update / note from the Editor:

In November 2013, Infoparks Kerala on behalf of Infopark, Technopark, Cyberpark and KSITIL invited fresh Expression of Interest (EOI) from PR / Communication agencies. About 20 agencies participated in the process and three of them – IPAN Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Adfactors PR and M D Niche Media Consultants were shortlisted. M D Niche was finally awarded the contract as they had the lowest bid among the other two shortlisted agencies.

Meanwhile, despite all the allegations and news reports about their corrupt practices, Thoughtfactory PR continued to handle Kerala IT till March 2014. The new agency started their work only after May 15, 2014. Till date, no action has been initiated by the IT Department to look into the malpractices or to take action against the officials who were hand-in-glove with the agency.

(Last updated on May 31, 2014)

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