Security press procurement scam
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s trusted cabinet member Gokul Prasad Baskota was forced to resign on Thursday after an audio of him bargaining for Rs 700 million in bribe in connection with the procurement of security printing press came out. The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee has asked the government to halt the process of procuring security printing press worth billions of rupees after this controversial audio went to the public. In fact, we did a number of stories on the issue, from massive overpricing of the project to bribes in the name of commission. Baskota’s audio was the final straw in the printing press saga. While Baskota is no longer a minister, it is simply unbelievable that Prime Minister K P Oli was not aware of the ongoing dealings. Media reports say PM Oli heard the audio a month ago, and he chose to do nothing.
“I will not spare anyone involved in corruption,” PM Oli never misses to repeat this statement in public and private meetings. But it is ironic that his government has been dogged by one after another corruption scandal. Baskota’s case is severe because he was PM Oli’s one of the closest confidants. Baskota lives in Oli’s house in Balkot, Bhaktapur. The prime minister has many times praised Baskota’s handling of the press. Just a few days ago, PM Oli was in Kavre, praising Baskota.
In light of the audio revelations of Rs 700 million in bribe, Oli’s mantra of corruption-free governance sounds rather hollow. First, Baskota must be investigated, and if found guilty, he should be punished. Second, PM Oli must come clean on this issue. He should address the parliament at the earliest on this issue and announce a parliamentary probe committee. People will have hard time believing the PM’s words if he tries to claim innocence on this security press procurement case. Some reports say Baskota was asked to resign quickly for the fear of Oli himself being pulled into this multi-million rupees corruption case.
The massive public outrage over the leaked audio is a testament to the people’s dissatisfaction over the direction of the country. Oli and Baskota kept on hammering the media for not reporting “all the good works done by this government”. An average Nepali has not felt an iota of difference in his/her life, compared to two years ago, before the NCP-led government came to power. While the official inflation rate may not be very high, the price of goods in the market is only going up. PM Oli can claim “historic achievements” but the people do not feel confident in their ability to send their children to a good school or have a quality and affordable health care. And Kathmandu is still choking in dust and pollution. Oli’s big talk won’t relieve the people of their everyday struggles. The PM must answer to the people why he chose to keep silent over Baskota’s audio tape.