KATHMANDU, Jan 4: A day after a sub-committee of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recommended action against 29 top officials including incumbent tourism minister Rabindra Adhikari, the government on Thursday formed a three-member judicial committee to look into the same matter.
According to Minister for Communications and Information Technology Gokul Baskota, the three-member committee is led by former Appellate Court chief judge Gobinda Prasad Parajuli, former Attorney General Narendra Pathak and chartered accountant Madan Sharma. Some have taken the move as an attempt to derail independent investigation into the multi-billion-rupee aircraft scam and give impunity to those involved in wide-body aircraft irregularities.
On Wednesday, a sub-committee of the parliamentary PAC had recommended action against minister Adhikari, former tourism ministers – Jeevan Bahadur Shahi and Jitendra Dev – and secretaries Prem Kumar Rai and Krishna Devkota among others. The KC report has concluded embezzlement of Rs 4.35 billion in purchasing wide-body aircraft by Nepal Airlines Corporation and implicated its tourism minister in irregularities.
Members of the probe panel, however, said they will continue their work even as the government forms judicial committee to undermine their works. “We don’t know what the government intends. A meeting of the committee is taking place tomorrow,” said KC, who led the probe as coordinator of probe panel adding, “We will keep doing our work.”
Shortly after the parliamentary sub-committee publicized its probe report, the government had expressed its serious objection saying the report was made public without discussing at the PAC and following the due procedure. Speaking at a government-sponsored television program, Janatasanga Pradhanmanri (PM with People) Prime Minister KP Oli had advocated for forming an ‘independent committee’ and involving responsible investigation bodies like the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse Authority for a fair probe into the irregularities.
Echoing the prime minister’s version Communications Minister Baskota had addressed the need of judicial probe during his regular press briefing organized at the ministry to disclose the government decision.
Minister Baskota stated that the government can’t initiate action prior to the accused are convicted by the legally assigned prosecution authorities. “One can’t be convicted immediately when someone just accuses him or her. There are several other agencies in place for that purpose,” said Minister Baskota.
When asked about the government’s move in the context of parliamentary sub-committee already recommending action against several top officials including the sitting Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari, Minister Baskota had asked to wait until final decision comes from the PAC. “We are waiting the final decision from the Committee. Then, if there is an urgency of judicial probe panel to look this matter the government will form such committee based on past practices and experiences,” said Baskota, adding, “The formation of such judicial committee, however, will not be for hiding any such information or saving someone.”
The ruling Nepal Communist Party is in a great moral dilemma after the probe committee recommended its one of influential youth leader Adhikari be booked for releasing final installment to purchase two aircraft ‘despite knowing lapses in procurement deal’ and ‘lying the parliament’ when asked about the flawed deal.
While the ruling party is standing against the parliamentary committee report main opposition Nepali Congress and other smaller parties like Bibeksheel Sajha Party and Naya Shakti Party Nepal have demanded booking the accused regardless of the status of the accused implicated in the irregularities. Among the accused two former tourism ministers--Jeevan Kumar Shahi and Jitendra Dev--are from NC while most are bureaucrats.