KATHMANDU, Jan 4 : Lawmakers from the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) on Friday questioned over the credibility of the report produced by the sub-committee of the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee which had concluded that over 4.35 billion was embezzled in the purchase of wide-body aircraft for the Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC).
During the meeting of the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee, the lawmakers from the NCP even defended Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari and Secretary Prem Kumar Rai who were implicated by the PAC sub-committee behind the embezzlement.
Most of the lawmakers from the NCP were of the view that the report was not final one and it needs to be discussed at the full committee of the PAC. The ruling party lawmakers also hailed the government's decision to form the high-level probe committee on the matter.
NCP lawmaker Hridayesh Tripathi argued that those should be held responsible behind the scam who initially took decision with regards to purchase of the wide-body aircraft for the NAC.
"Everything was done in the past and not during the tenure of this government. The incumbent tourism minister only directed to give the final payment to the company. Nothing more than that," Tripathi told during the meeting.
The report submitted by the sub-committee to the PAC full committee found the involvement of Tourism Minister Adhikari and two former ministers, Jiban Bahadur Shahi and Jitendra Narayan Dev, behind the scam.
The ruling party lawmakers also expressed displeasure for leaking the report to media without holding enough discussions in the full committee of the PAC.
The other implicated are 29 high-level officials including three secretaries—Krishna Prasad Devkota, Shankar Prasad Adhikari and Prem Kumar Rai, Managing Director of NAC Sugat Ratna Kansakar, and NAC board members.
During today's meeting, Minendra Rijal, a lawmaker from the major opposition Congress, was of the view that the committee does not have jurisdiction to hold debate over the fate of the Nepal Airlines. He pointed out some of the lapses in the sub-committee's report as well.
"I think we cannot examine the quality of the engine used for the airlines because we are not experts on the matter. However, we can raise question over why the then government preferred to purchase the aircraft through the middlemen and not through the direct negotiations with the relevant company," Rijal said.
As today's meeting of the PAC failed to endorse the report submitted by the sub-committee, the next meeting has been scheduled for coming Monday.
On Wednesday, PAC sub-committee coordinator Rajendra KC submitted the report to PAC chair Bharat Shah at a full committee meeting. KC read out the recommendations to take action against those named.
According to the report, then minister Jeeban Shahi had failed to issue proper directions to exercise caution although the secretary at his ministry chaired the NAC board that took the decision to purchase the two wide-body planes for Rs 25 billion. “Shahi as the then tourism minister failed to exercise caution and direct that advance payment for the aircraft be halted, and is morally responsible over the issue. PAC should direct the CIAA to take action against him,” the report reads.
Likewise, the report has stated that then minister Jitendra Dev had allowed a secretary-level decision to pay the first installment for the aircraft purchase to Hi Fly X, a company based in Ireland, thereby ignoring that the agreement was against the law.
In the case of incumbent Tourism Minister Adhikari, the sub-committee report has mentioned that Adhikari ignored the 55th annual report of the Office of the Auditor General.
“The 55th audit report of the OAG issued in April 2018 clearly stated that procurement laws were breached in the purchase of the two aircraft. However, disregarding the report, Adhikari directed the payment of the final installment to the company instead of going for an in-depth investigation of financial embezzlement,” the report further reads.
Likewise, the report has also said that Minister Adhikari formed a probe committee that included the same individuals involved in the procurement process. The probe committee formed by Adhikari was just a formality rather than being meant for getting to the truth, it is stated. Furthermore, the report has mentioned that Adhikari had provided the wrong information that he had had informal discussions with the OAG before making the final payment. “OAG itself has denied having discussions with the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation regarding the aircraft procurement,” the report added.
Besides ministers, the sub-committee has also concluded that tourism secretaries including incumbent Krishna Prasad Devkota were involved in the corruption in their capacity as chairs of the NAC board. The other secretaries implicated in the report are Prem Kumar Rai, who is now home secretary, while Shankar Prasad Adhikari has already retired. The three have been accused of abuse of authority and corruption in the aircraft procurement. Likewise, the sub-committee has also recommended action against NAC Managing Director Kansakar.
“PAC should direct the bodies concerned to take strict action against the incumbent and former secretaries and the NAC managing director for abusing authority and corruption,” the report said. Likewise, NAC board members, procurement sub-committee members and other officials involved in the procurement process are also to face the music.
The PAC had formed the seven-member sub-committee on December 12, 2018 for further investigating the procurement.
Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Adhikari has been vehemently denying his involvement in the scam. Responding to the report of the sub-committee, Civil Aviation Minister Adhikari claimed that he was innocent and he had no involvement in the wide-body procurement.
"I am not involved in any process in the aircraft procurement as it had already been affected before I took over the ministry," he said adding that he had just formally welcomed the aircraft when they arrived. “The final report of the Public Accounts Committee may show that I am not involved in the wide-body procurement scam,” he said.