KATHMANDU, Aug 22: A report of the panel formed by the Ministry of Education (MoE) to look into irregularities at Sajha Prakashan has recommended the sacking of its board members and initiation of further action against them.
MoE on July 27 formed the probe committee headed by Ganesh Dhakal, undersecretary at the Monitoring and Evaluation Division of MoE. The committee included Resham Sigdel, undersecretary at the ministry's Law Section, and Bhola Nath Paudel, accounts officer. MoE later removed Paudel from the panel when GM Dolindra Prasad Sharma appointed Paudel's wife Nabina to a post at Sajha.
The ministry nominated Sunita Khanal, accounts officer at the Department of Education, in his place.
The report, which the panel submitted to Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Gopal Man Shrestha recently, recommends immediate sacking of the board and further action against those involved in irregularities.
The report concludes that a single person should not be given the posts of both GM and chairperson, and the chairperson should be a joint-secretary level government officer.
“It is found that printing paper was purchased without a tender process, books published were not inventoried, no records were maintained for their sale and distribution, printing jobs were outsourced although Sajha's own printing machines were not proved to be out of order, and its accounts were left unaudited,” the report says. “These indicate enough room for irregularities and should be further probed.”
The report further says that a loan taken from the government was not used for paying off Sajha loans and for disbursements to retiring staff as purported. “The amount the government provided was also not audited,” it adds.
The Pushpa Kamal Dahal government decided in the second week of December to provide Sajha Rs 300 million, including Rs 100 million as grant. In order to pay the retired staff, settle loans and upgrade its office and infrastructure, Sajha had demanded Rs 400 million. The government released the amount to the publishing house after one month.
Sajha has pending bank loans of nearly Rs 70 million, including Rs 18.8 million from Citizen's Bank and Rs 46 million from Sahakari Bikas Bank. According to GM Sharma, it has to pay Rs 280 million to retired staff and Rs 15 million in royalties to writers and authors.
Of the Rs 300 million, about Rs 150 million was paid to Janak Education Materials Center. Another Rs 30 million was paid as principal and interest on the bank loans, according to Sajha.
However, there are no specific records of incomes and expenditures. It is also reported that Sajha properties have been put to personal use by the board members.
Sajha Prakashan, the state-owned publishing house established 105 years ago, is an icon in its field. However, it has fallen into a sorry state over the last decade due to mismanagement and irregularities taking place under political protection.
Shanta Bahadur Shrestha, secretary at MoE, said that they would take necessary action as recommended by the probe report. “If it is not against the existing rules, the board members will be sacked soon,” he said. “We are also planning to frame new bylaws for Sajha,” he added.
Then education minister Chitra Lekha Yadav had appointed Sharma as GM of Sajha in January, 2015. Sharma was also given the post of chairperson on July 26, 2015. His term ended in January 2017. But he was reappointed as chairman and GM for four years while Dhani Ram Paudel was education minister.
Sajha Prakashan board members include Pradip Nepal, Dinanath Sharma and Dr Krishna Hari Baral who were nominated, while Bijaya Subba, Harihar Khanal and Jeevan Chandra Koirala are elected members.
Parliament's Public Accounts Committee has been investigating the irregularities at Sajha. The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has also started investigations following news reports carried by the Republica and Nagarik dailies.