KATHMANDU, Dec 27: At least three umbrella organizations in the tourism sector have come out with statements concerning the government’s controversial decision to extend the lease of Gokarna Forest Resort, which is owned by Yeti Holdings, for another 25 years. The statements of all three organizations – Nepal Mountaineering Association, Everest Sumitters’ Association and Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents – is almost the same.
All three have accused media of defaming Yeti Groups to serve their own interests and not showing appreciation for the largest tax payer company. They warn that the news reports could render Visit Nepal Year 2020 a failure. Their statements are not much different from the official position taken by Yeti Holdings.
Without presenting any credible evidence, all three organizations have accused media of practicing yellow journalism. Tourism sector insiders say the loyalty of the heads of these organizations to the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has clearly been at work.
Santa Bir Lama, who now heads the NMA, was elected to the body from a pro-NCP panel. Similar was the case with NATA President CN Pandey and ESA President Maya Sherpa. Sherpa is said to be loyal to the NCP and had emerged victorious as NMA second vice-president in the election after the party included her in its panel.
TAAN, the largest tourism association in the country by membership, has however not issued any statement on Yeti Holdings involvement in former royal family property through the influence of Prime Minister KP Oli.
Asked why TAAN has not taken a position, Khum Bahadur Subedi, who was elected as head of the body a few months ago defeating the NCP panel, said, “When national newspapers cover a certain issue widely it will have drawn the attention of the government bodies concerned.” He added, “I think a statement from me won’t solve the problem, so I’m silent.”
Media have been questioning why the government extended the lease for Gokarna Forest Resort for 25 years before the current lease expired. The decision has courted serious controversy as the government, acting under PM Oli’s influence, extended the lease without any competitive bidding.
Oli has been accused of replacing Ram Bahadur Thapa with Ishwar Pokharel as Nepal Trust board chairman after Thapa refused to lease out land on Durbarmarg to Thamserku Trekking Company, one of the companies under Yeti Holdings.
Instead of demanding a fair probe into the matter, tourism organizations led by NCP loyalists have questioned the independent media coverage.
Observers say the statements of tourism organizations about the media were just pay back for political favors. “It seems the whole thing was ill-intentioned. They are now struggling to counter critical voices including media with misleading statements,” said Khem Raj Regmi, president of Transparency Nepal, adding, “Media are doing a great job. No need to blame media or civil society organizations.”