While the general expectation was that the government would correct the controversial decision to extend the lease period of Yeti Holdings to operate Gokarna Forest Resort and that it would direct the authorities to investigate the case, Prime Minister K P Oli has instead stood strongly in defense of the controversial decision. On Saturday, PM Oli blamed the media for “creating illusion” instead of supporting good job done by his government. It is clear that government has extended undue favor to Yeti Group by bending the law. In case of Gokarna Forest Resort (GFR), the lease period was extended for another 25 years, while the current lease contract would still be valid for yet six more years. Clearly, the government has done this to allow the Group to take advantage of political connection of its members with the ruling party and the PM. Prime Minister’s defense of the government decision is, therefore, unwarranted.
The question is not only that of GFR. The government has awarded a huge plot of land at the prime location of Durbar Marg, and four ropanis of land in Kalimati to Yeti Holdings. And so that the questions cannot be raised about this conduct on legal grounds, the government has reshuffled Nepal Trust Board and revised the Trust Act to open the way for the Gokarna Forest Resort lease. Perhaps encouraged by the government’s open protection, Yeti Holdings is reported to have initiated homework to secure a lease on yet another prime property belonging to the Trust in Pokhara: Hima Griha, which spreads across more than 10 ropanis of land on the shores of Phewa Lake. There is a concern that this land too will be leased out to Yeti Holdings for the decision to lease out the property was taken by Nepal Trust in April, 2016 when KP Oli was prime minister and it was withheld only after locals staged demonstrations against it.
We are not opposed to the government leasing out public land for business purpose, as long as it is done in transparent and fair manner and it is equally beneficial for the state. Many questions have been raised about PM’s favors to Yeti Holdings because the leasing process is not transparent enough and the same company is bagging contract of prime property. Why does the PM have to stand in favor of a certain company as if Yeti Holdings is the only such company which is legitimate to conduct businesses? It is unfortunate that PM, who should stand in favor of transparency and fairness, is himself involved in the defense of controversial decisions. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the PM and his government appear to be abetting policy corruption and they are dismissing all media criticisms against these questionable acts as the attempts to discredit the government. Nepali media have exposed the wrongdoings of various actors. They should and will continue to do so. Regarding the current controversy, we wonder why anti-corruption watchdog, Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), has not initiated investigation even while there have been widespread criticisms against the government’s questionable conducts.