KATHMANDU, Aug 4: Dolindra Prasad Sharma, chairperson and general manager of Sajha Prakashan, was incoherent when grilled by lawmakers over irregularities at the state-owned publishing house during discussions at the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Friday.
PAC summoned the secretary at the Ministry of Education and Sajha chief Sharma for enquiries after the alleged irregularities were reported continuously in the media. Most of the lawmakers participating in the discussions grilled Sharma for not maintaining financial discipline and not running the organization as per the rules.
Lawmaker Ram Hari Khatiwada said that the government provided Sajha Rs 300 million seven months ago to pay off loans and give golden handshakes to staff under a plan to minimize costs at the loss-making publisher. “Why didn’t you pay off the loans and settle accounts with staff who were given the golden handshake? Where did the money go? Why did you appoint on contract individuals who are close to political leaders and to media influentials?” asked Khatiwada. “Why are you spending government funds for foreign visits by Sajha board members?”
Most of the lawmakers also lambasted the government for doling out big amounts to Sajha, which has not even maintained regular audits.
A clearly shaken and sweating Sharma urged the lawmakers not to believe news reports appearing in the Republica and Nagarik dailies. “Theirs is not the final truth. You have to see the documents I have furnished the PAC,” he added.
Hari Nepal asked Sharma to present the annual incomes and expenditures and list the books published. However, Sharma had no coherent answer.
“I don’t have an actual report as there has been no audit since a decade. There is no specific record as such,” he said adding, “What we earn is spent annually. Last year’s earnings were Rs 26.9 million.” Sajha was not fully a government office but an autonomous body, he argued.
It might be pointed out that Sharma was appointed GM by then education minister Chitralekha Yadav and former education minister Dhani Ram Paudel extended his tenure.
Bikas Lamsal, another member of the PAC, said that after listening to Sharma he had the impression the irregularities at Sajha must be worse than reported in newspapers. “I have never seen such irresponsibility by the head of a public organization,” he said.
“Shouldn’t you at least follow the financial regulations at a public office?”
Usha Gurung raised serious concern over the use of the Sajha logo by private publishers. “This is illegal,” she said. Another PAC member, Bharat Shah, questioned how the GM transferred Rs 5 million to his own account. He also said, “Why did you appoint 85 temporary staff on contract after giving the golden handshake to permanent staff?” He called for immediate cancellation of those contracts.
Haricharan Sah wondered how Sharma managed to land the posts of both GM and chairman.
The PAC urged the Ministry of Education (MoE) to streamline Sajha management. Dr Hari Lamsal, spokesman at MoE, said “We have formed a panel to probe these issues and submit a report ASAP.”
Dor Prasad Upadhya, chairman of the PAC, directed Sajha to submit all particulars on the financial and administrative processes, appointments, staff, income and expenditures for the last five years as well as the MoE probe report, within five days.
Choking and reduced to sobs, Sharma urged the PAC to carry out a fair investigation. “I want to work for Sajha’s betterment. I have not done anything wrong or ill-intentioned,” he said in a feeble voice.