In an embarrassing racist remark, Kerala Public Works Department Minister G Sudhakaran referred to Work Bank’s senior infrastructure specialist Dr Bernard Aritua, who is associated with a road development project aided by the agency in Kerala, as “a negro”, leading to the World Bank officials taking a serious note of the remark.
In a speech made after reviewing the progress of World Bank-aided Kerala State Transport Project (KSTP) in Kasaragod district on Monday, the Minister said, “World Bank means America. Kerala has existed even before America was born. Don’t threaten us to withdraw the bank loan. KSTP is one of the corrupt projects in Kerala. Officials of the World Bank are responsible for the tardy progress of the project. Since I became the Public Works Minister, the representatives of the World Bank had met me four times….Their (World Bank) team leader is an African-American. That means he belongs to the race of Obama. He is a Negro. Centuries back, they were ferried from Africa to America and were engaged in bonded labour. When slavery ended, they were freed. This official is part of it,’’ reported The Indian Express.
World Bank has been funding the Kerala State Transport Project (KSTP) to improve traffic flow and road safety with a focus on vulnerable road users on selected roads in Kerala since 2002. Different teams from the organisation have conducted many inspections in Kerala over the years.
There were also allegations against the World-Bank funded project over poor supervision and unscientific preparation of DPR.
In November 2016, there were reports that World Bank would stop funding the project as the KSTP Phase II of 363 km of State Highway development has missed milestones and completion target. The phase II project which would cost $445 million, was marked badly by World Bank in its report card 38 months after its commencement.
There were a couple discussions with World Bank and the Public Works Department regarding the same, after this.
In February 2017, Sudhakaram met Bernard Aritua and had told media that World Bank will not back out from the project.
However, in his speech on Tuesday in Kasaragod district, Sudhakaran blamed the World Bank officials’ irresponsibility for the slow progress of the KSTP project.
Following severe criticism for his racist remark, Sudhakaran apologised for using the racist slur claiming he was not aware that the term was banned in the United States.
“I have heard the word in assembly, I did not know that the word was banned in the United States. I will apologise to the officer in writing. I have never thought to insult him, I was using the word generally, as we use caste names like Nair, Brahmins in Kerala,” Sudhakaran told media.
This is not the first time the minister has found himself embroiled in a controversy. In May this year, Sudhakaran faced backlash for his comment saying, “Farmers seldom get time to abuse women...he does not have the time because he will be busy with farming.”