KATHMANDU, Jan 26: Three days after the arrest of 12 Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) employees -- including meter readers and technicians -- on charges of meter-tampering, all eight of NEA’s regional offices have transferred over 2,500 employees. NEA officials say these include meter readers, supervisors, accountants and maintenance staff.
NEA officials told Republica the aim of the transfers was to ensure ‘the detachment of unscrupulous employees from possible corruption’ while connecting electricity lines, reading meters, and supporting the cover up of such actions. Estimates put the number of staff transferred between 2,500 and 3,000 as NEA’s central administration says it is yet to collect data from the regional offices.
On Sunday, the Metropolitan Police Crime Division had arrested 16 people -- including 12 NEA employees -- on charges of being involved or colluding in meter-tampering or in the issuing of bills showing less consumption than what actually showed in meters for large-scale electricity consumers like factories, business houses, and some selected individual homes.
The police had also alleged that such practices had been prevalent during the last 12 years. This type of corruption, they said, had been possible because the arrested employees had not been transferred around for years. The law allows for staff to be transferred every three years.
Dirghayu Shrestha, the head of NEA’s Kathmandu Regional Office, told Republica that about 700 first-level to fifth-level staff had been transferred from his offices to control corruption associated with meter-reading and revenue collection. “The transfers are as per the law as a bylaw allows transfers to occur in the months of Magh, Falgun and Chaitra,” Shrestha says. Previously, such transfers happened only within a region.
Some NEA staff staged a sit-in at the Kathmandu Regional Office-head’s office in protest of the sudden mass-transfer. Similar protests were also held in all the other regional offices, backed by trade unions.
Officials say trade unions have always been influencing employee transfers. Questioning the intentions behind the union influence, officials asked whether union officials had been trying to protect corrupt officials. This is the first time such large-scale transfers have happened, according to NEA officials.
Trade unions associated with Nepali Congress and CPN (UML) issued statements after Sunday’s arrest asking that investigations be more objective.
Janardan Bhattarai, the president of NEA’s employees union, denied that unions had ever influenced employee-transfer and said accusations that unions were protecting corrupt staff were false.
“We have urged the NEA administration to postpone these transfers to the first week of March after the trade union elections have been held,” Bhattarai added.