Local workers preparing for the 2018 Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Photo: justicefrombiennale18_19.

Kochi Biennale Foundation Accused of Failing to Pay Local Workers and Contractors

A local contractor has sent a legal notice to the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, accusing organizers of failing to pay for $112,451 worth of structural work completed on various venues for the festival, which opened in Kochi, India, in December and closes on March 29. Daily wage laborers, including fabricators, plumbers, and other independent contractors, have also aired their complaints of non-payment on an Instagram account, @justicefrombiennale18_19.

The legal notice submitted by Thomas Clery Infrastructures and Developers (TCID) on March 18 against the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) reads: “Our client fails to understand how a foundation that has always prided itself as giving voice to a people’s movement can adopt such unethical and hypocritical practices that hurt the very same people—vendors and countless employees—of Kochi, who have worked extremely hard for the success of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018.”

Appu Thomas, president of TCID, told “[The Kochi-Muziris Biennale] is a very beautiful and most admired program. We have worked with the foundation in the past and have worked out things amicably. But this year, there has been mismanagement of funds. And there’s no one to talk and rationalize within the KBF. They still don’t have a chief financial officer.”

Thomas alleges that the foundation gave the company only two months to complete the project and that local workers labored days and nights to meet the biennial’s deadline. He also claims that more than two hundred laborers and forty businesses and construction material suppliers have yet to be paid. 

In response to the allegations, the foundation issued a statement on March 23 that reads: “In light of the disinformation campaign regarding non-payment of construction workers, the Kochi Biennale Foundation makes the following clarifications. The contractor and his vendors entrusted with the construction of the Biennale Pavilion at Cabral Yard have to-date been paid Rs 18,059,000 [$261,000]. The payment of on-ground workers is the responsibility of the contractors.”

The statement continues: “Since the final bills submitted by the contractor were considered exorbitant, the foundation, in mutual agreement with the contractor, appointed an independent government approved valuer to look into this. The report submitted by the valuer has found that the bills are greatly inflated, and that the amounts demanded by the contractor are arbitrary. This matter is now being pursued legally.”

Following the KBF’s independent valuation, the foundation informed Thomas that it would pay half of the pending amount. However, a supplement to the legal notice states that the foundation also owes around $66,300 to ten other vendors. The contractor has threatened to file a civil and criminal suit if the foundation fails to pay its promised funds.