Ex-Indian Minister who raised corruption allegations queried

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 15 June 2018, 12:00AM

The former Member of Parliament of the Government of India, Sh. P.K. Bansal, who raised allegations of “corruption” against the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure (M.W.T.I.), Afamasaga Su’a Pou Onesemo, has an interesting past.

The allegations he made in a letter to the Chairman of the Public Service Commission on 28 May 2018, in his capacity as the Executive Director of a company called Ascent Navals, have led to the suspension and a Police investigation against the C.E.O.

But it has emerged that Mr. Bansal, who once held India’s Railway portfolio, resigned from his post amidst a cloud of controversy five years ago.

According to a report on the Wall Street Journal, dated 10 May 2013, Mr. Bansal resigned after a relative was arrested by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation.

“India’s Railway Minister, Pawan Kumar Bansal, has resigned from his post following the arrest of one of his relatives by the Central Bureau of Investigation, the country’s federal investigator,” the report by Wall Street Journal staff reads.

“Vijay Singla, the railway minister’s nephew, was arrested May 3 for allegedly accepting a bribe to ensure a promotion for a senior railway official. Opposition parties, claiming Mr. Bansal knew about his relative’s actions, had been calling for Mr. Bansal to step down this week.”

When Mr. Bansal alerted the Samoa Observer about the initial allegations against Afamasaga, he was asked why he was no longer a Member of Parliament. 

He did not respond to the question.

This week, when the Samoa Observer sent him links of the articles from the Wall Street Journal and another one from the Washington Examiner where he is implicated, Mr. Bansal again refused to directly address the questions about his past.

“Thank you for the mail,” he wrote back.

“Our Director General Capt. Suniel K Sharma is the person who submitted application to M.W.T.I. for becoming RO for Samoa and in response to that he faced these issues which he discussed with the board and then we wrote these to you for support and to the government departments to enquire on it.”

He did not elaborate.

According to an article titled “2 Indian ministers resign in latest gov't scandals” published by the Washington Examiner on 10 May 2013, Mr. Bansal quit after one of his relatives was accused of accepting a bribe in exchange for a plum appointment on the railway board.

The story goes on to say that Mr. Bansal's relatives had “enriched themselves by trading on their connections with the Minister”.

“Federal investigators said they have arrested five people, including ministry official Mahesh Kumar, who allegedly paid 9 million rupees (US$166,000) to Bansal's nephew Vijay Singla to get a plum appointment to the railway board.

“Indian media reports say the money paid was part of a 100 million rupees (US$1.85 million) payoff to secure for Kumar the key position with control over awarding huge contracts to private parties for signal and telecom equipment.”

Mr. Bansal at the time declined to comment.

But Bhakta Charan Das, a Congress party spokesman, told The Wall Street Journal that: “Even though the CBI has not framed any charges against Mr. Bansal, he has quit as Congress wants to give a clear message that it will not tolerate any corruption charges.”

The Wall Street Journal went on to report that Mr. Bansal started his political career in 1976 aged 28, as the general secretary of the Chandigarh Youth Congress. 

“A trained lawyer, with a degree in law from Punjab University, he served as the general secretary of the Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association in 1978.  

“In 1982 Mr. Bansal became the President of the Punjab Youth Congress. 

“From there he was appointed a member of the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house of parliament, in 1984. 

“He was elected to the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of Parliament in 1991 as the member for Chandigarh, representing the Congress party.

“He was re-elected to the Lok Sabha for the fourth time in 2009 and has held several portfolios including two stints as parliamentary affairs minister. He has also served in the finance ministry. 

“Mr. Bansal took over the reins of India’s railway ministry in October 2012. India’s railway network is the largest in Asia and Mr. Bansal became the first member of the Congress party in 17 years to take charge of the ministry. 

“Mr. Bansal, who is married and has four children, had been under growing criticism from leaders of the opposition since allegations of corruption within his ministry, allegedly involving members of his extended family, emerged last week.”

Back in Samoa, Afamasaga strongly rejected the allegations made against him.

During a previous interview with the Samoa Observer, Afamasaga not only denied the allegations in the letter, he counter-accused Mr. Bansal and Ascent Navals of being corrupt themselves.

 “These allegations is due to their frustration from numerous visits to Samoa and offers to myself and the Ministry that I continued to deny,” Afamasaga said. 

 “He even offered a proposal to Samoa Shipping Corporation, which was also denied. These people are so demanding and the approach of bribing officials that I never accepted. Had there been any offers accepted, I would have been hesitant to remove them from the selection process.”

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 15 June 2018, 12:00AM

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