What’s Facility Management got to do with the art of thievery?

By | September 20, 2016

What comes to mind when somebody mentions Facility Management? Workplace space allocation, catering, security, fire safety, operational, cleaning, business continuity planning, etc.? Yes? Then, you are correct; mostly, that’s all to Facility Management. Well, mostly, that is, until you pull back the curtain to reveal some ugly truths.

Did it ever cross your mind that vendors have to pay kickbacks and bribes to executives to win contracts? Furthermore, did you know that favoritism, cronyism, nepotism and other factors play a role in determining who gets awarded the contracts? No? I don’t blame you. It never crossed my mind, too, until I came in touch with people who had to grease the palms of senior executives in private firms to get various contracts.

Some of you may even say, “Wait, what? Kickbacks and bribes in the private sector? No freaking way! I thought it is the public sector that’s steeped in corruption.

Nope, you couldn’t be further from the truth, it seems corruption is prevalent in the private sector, too, especially in the Facility Management functional area. However, the corrupt practices are transparent to all, there is no evidence of wrongdoing, no paper trails of bribes being paid, no way to connect the dots back to the executive(s) in charge of Facility Management. Everything I am going to mention in this blog post happens many layers removed from the executives holding the string, the purse or issuing the contract. Consequently, you will be hard-pressed to find any evidence of kickbacks/bribes being paid to them. Most of all, nobody will talk about these dark secrets when sober. It is only when they lose their inhibitions, the stories come pouring out.

A commercial building will require Facility Management services.

A Facility Manager gig in an organization is a very profitable endeavor for many executives. © omygdala.com

What is Facility Management (FM)?

First, here is a brief introduction about Facility Management. According to Wikipedia, the scope of Facility Management includes:

FM covers two main areas: ‘Space & Infrastructure’ (such as planning, design, workplace, construction, lease, occupancy, maintenance, furniture and cleaning) and ‘People & Organization’ (such as catering, ICTHR, accounting, marketing, hospitality). The first refers to the physical built environment with focus on (work-) space and (building-) infrastructure. The second covers the people and the organization and is related to work psychology and occupational physiology.

Now, many areas of FM are outsourced. For e.g., furniture is leased, housekeeping is outsourced, cafeteria operation is outsourced, building security is outsourced, employee transport is outsourced, etc. Each of this area is a money-making opportunity for the executive in charge. Let me explain how.

Cough-it-out-eria… er, I mean cafeteria

A cafeteria

Cafeteria food is inedible because the quality of food is abysmal. Even houseflies hate ’em. © omygdala.com

Let’s talk about the cafeteria operations—in almost all organizations in India, cafeteria is run by an outside vendor. The vendor has to bid for the contract and win it. It is during the process of contract negotiation that money changes hands. No outside vendor can win the contract without paying a huge bribe or a kickback to the executive in charge. The executive in charge will never overtly ask for the money, the demand for money will be implied—”if you don’t pay me/us a certain amount, then, you will never get the contract” will be “telepathically” communicated to the outside vendor.

The payoff

The monetary transaction is conducted with or the bribe is paid to a person who is five to ten layers removed from the executive. The third son of his father’s fifth maternal cousin will act as the conduit of the ill-gotten money. The person who acts as the conduit will, of course, get a cut from the deal while the executive(s) keeps the rest, and the contract is awarded. This process is repeated when the contract is up for renewal. Hence, either pay kickbacks or be kicked out!

Now, do you understand why cafeteria food sucks or the coffee from an on-premises café tastes like watered-down pumpkin juice? The answer is very simple, really. Since the owners/operators of the cafeteria/café had to cough out a huge bribe to win the contract, they are already in the red even before they start their operations. Therefore, where will they cut corners to make up for the money already paid in bribes and kickbacks? Yes, you are right, it will be skimmed off the quality of food/coffee served.

The outcome

So, who gets ultimately screwed—the average employee, of course. How many executives eat cafeteria food regularly, anyway? So, they are never really affected by the quality of food served. The average employee gets steamrolled by the vendors, because somebody has to pay for the money that has been already spent on bribing the higher-ups to win the contract. There is no free lunch, folks. Somebody’s gotta pay. And, mostly, those in the bottommost rung are the ones who pay.

An exemption, please!

Please note that nobody is exempt from paying a kickback to the executives. A person operating a small Idli stand in the cafeteria of a well known firm had to pay ₹1.5 lakhs (150,000 Indian rupees) to win the contract. He will have to pay the same amount, if not more, when his contract is up for renewal. Inflation, you know. The executive, after all, has a lifestyle to keep up. Now, imagine the kickback amount that an operator of a large cafeteria of a coffee shop has to pay to win the contract.

Now, some of you may ask, what proof do you have of such kickbacks or bribes being paid. None, I’d say. I don’t have any. Search as much as you want, investigate as much as you want, but you won’t get any proof/evidence of wrongdoing. There is no paper trail; no money deposited to the bank; no records of phone conversations about the kickback or the bribe. None, nothing, nada! As I have mentioned, it is transparent to an outside observer. No paper trail, but fiat currency exchanges hand while contracts are awarded. In this country, we have mastered the art of taking bribes and kickbacks.

Where else…

Building security is another area where vendors pay bribes and kickbacks. Security of large premises are outsourced to an outside vendor, and the outside vendor has to grease the palms of the executives to get the contract. The same rule is in effect for service providers of employee transport, housekeeping, leased furniture, etc. Each and every vendor has to fatten the wallet of the executive in charge, else they don’t get the contract. Believe it or not, the same is true for the IT department, too. Almost all IT equipment are leased, and to get the contract… well, you get the drift.

Career advice

Facility Management is the functional area where huge contracts are awarded and where big bucks change hands. Therefore, if you are corrupt government worker looking for an opportunity in the private sector, then, please consider FM, because it is in this functional area where you can continue to master the art of thievery without facing any repercussions.

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