Sajha Prakashan chief accused of multiple irregularities

Published On: July 23, 2017 07:42 AM NPT By: BISHNU PRASAD ARYAL/BASHANT KHADKA

•    Those close to political leaders and media persons hired
•    No record of annual incomes, book publications
•    Rs 5 million  transferred from Sajha to GM’s account
•    GM  also serving as chairman against the rules
•    No audit for a decade

KATHMANDU, July 22: Dolindra Prasad Sharma, chairperson and general manager (GM) of Sajha Prakashan, the state-owned publishing house established 105 years ago, has become a byword of controversy because of his working style.

Then education minister Chitra Lekha Yadav appointed Sharma as general manager of Sajha publications in January, 2015. He was given the responsibility of chairperson as well a month later. Sharma’s tenure ended in January 2017. but the same month  he was reappointed as  chairman and GM for four years. Dhani Ram Paudel of the CPN(Maoist Center) was education minister at the time.

Sharma’s working style has dragged him into controversy. He has been accused of misusing his authority for personal benefit, making decisions without the permission of  the governing board, forging documents and various other miisdeeds.

The  Pushpa Kamal Dahal government decided in the second week of December to provide Rs 300 million, including  100 million in grants, to  Sajha Prakashan, against a demand for Rs 400 million. The government released the funds for  paying its retired staff, repaying loans and upgrading the office management and infrastructure.

Sajha has taken loans of nearly Rs 70 million, including Rs 18.8 million from Citizen’s Bank and Rs 46 million from Sahakari Bikas Bank. Sharma claimed that it has to pay Rs 280 million to its retired staff and Rs 15 million  in royalties to writers and authors.
Of the Rs 300 million provided, 150.8 million was used to repay loans from Janak Education Materials Center. About Rs 30 million was paid as interest on bank loans, according to  Sajha. However, there is no specific record of  expenditures and incomes. It is also reported that Sajha properties have been  put to personal used by its top  officials.

Sajha Prakashan bylaws allow the retiring of staff through golden handshakes, and  96 of them were retired under this provision  a year ago. But they are yet to be paid their dues. “We were paid just 20 percent of the remaining allowances and salaries,” said Santa Bahadur Mahat, who retired with a golden handshake.  Sajha Prakashan claimed that it has to pay Rs 280 million to 172 staff  retired  at different times in the past.

Sajha Prakashan  bylaw 2073 (2017) clearly states that new officials are not be  appointed while staff who have served  at least 20 years are being given the golden handshake .

However,this has not prevented Sharma from appointing 85 new staff,  including four at officer-level. A vacancy announcement in the last week of January sought applications for 42 staff but Sharma appointed 85  on contract. Those appointed  include close relatives of political leaders, administrators and journalists and Sharma’s own neighbors. Some of the staff were appointed after the election code of conduct had kicked in.

Sources said  Gita Paudel is the sister of former Maoist minister of education Dhaniram Paudel, while  Nirmala Nepali and Yashoda Bhattarai  were recommended by Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s daughter Renu Dahal, Hirananda Jha and Dinesh Kumar Mandal  were recommended  by UML’s Ranju Kumari Jha, Sumitra Khadka and Subas Prasad Pandey by Dolindra Sharma, Shivani Dahal by former Maoist minister Dinanath Sharma, Diluck Hamal and Kumar Hamal by Shastradutta Pant of NC, Binita Khadka by UML leader Agni Kharel, Bimal KC by Shankar Bhandari, Lalit Bahadur Bishwakarma by Netra Bikram Chand of Communist Party Nepal and Laxmi Bohara by Mamata Jha, former chairperson of Sajha.

Also, some staff, including Rewata Paudel Belbase, Sunita Bhattarai, Sajita KC and Meghraj Rai, were recruited on the recommendations of some journalists.
A statement of commitment and programs submitted by the Sajha Prakashan board to the Prime Minister’s Office a year ago  stated that  no appointments would be made at Sajha  in view of its financial crisis. Meanwhile,  the Ministry of Finance directed  Sajha Prakashan 31 months ago not to hire any staff and increase the  financial burden on the publications.

 The  secretary level directive reminded  Sajha to take decisions about finances and expenditures and make new appointments only with prior permission from the ministry. However,  Sajha has not sought any permission from the ministry.

Sajha Prakashan is now under the Ministry of Education (MoE), which appoints its top officials. But  Sajha  is still operating under 53-year-old regulations for lack of a specific Act. MoE is entitled to draft the new regulations but it has shown reluctance because of pressure from corrupt Sajha officials. “Definitely, the new regulations will be stricter, such as in  the restriction against one person holding the post of chairperson and general manager both,” said former lawmaker Bijaya Subba, who is a board member of  Sajha Prakashan.

Dr Hari Prasad Lamsal, spokesman at MoE, expressed ignorance about the formulation of new regulations for Sajha. “The publications is under the ministry. I am unaware of any committee formed to formulate the new regulations,” he said.

Officials at  MoE vehemently objected to the holding of the two top positions by a single person. “Matter should be properly studied when a minister appoints the GM or chairperson,” said Lamsal.

Dolindra Prasad Sharma has been holding the posts of Chairman and GM of  Sajha Prakashan since being appointed  GM about 30 months ago. Mamata Jha was also appointed chairperson and GM of Sajha Prakashan. The publications, which was making a decent profit earlier has run into red ink in  recent years.

Secretary at the PM’s Office Raju Man Singh Malla, while forming a high-level committee four years ago, also recommended not allowing a person to hold two vital positions.
Chairman and GM Sharma admitted that the bylaw has not clearly provisioned a single person holding two key positions. The publications board was responsible for recommending the appointment of  the GM or the chairperson.

Sajha Prakashan does not have any record of its annual income and the number of books published annually. “I don’t know about the actual income and number of published books,” said GM Sharma. “Rs 26.9 million was spent in the last fiscal year,” he claimed.
Sajha Prakashan has not made out an annual budget and fiscal programs. It has also  nor audited its accounts annually. “Since I was appointed GM, not a single audit  has been carried out,” said Sharma. “As no auditing has been done for a decade, I  recently hired an auditor for Rs 1.5 million to audit the accounts,” he added.

Sharma was found transferring Rs 5 million to his name. “I personally borrowed Rs 2 million to pay the salaries of staff and Rs 5 million was allocated for this,” he said. Asked  about borrowing for paying office staff or for individual purposes, Sharma did not answer.
Sajha Prakashan started witnessing a decline since the tenure of  Mamata Jha, who was appointed GM by Mrigendra Kumar Singh Yadav, former minister for Agriculture and Cooperatives and leader of the then Madhesi Janadhikar Forum.

Ministry protecting Sharma

A case was filed on March 5, 2017 at the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) over the irregularities taking place in  Sajha Prakashan. The CIAA urged the Ministry of Education to probe  the matter and submit a report by March 26. Instead of studying  the case, Lila Mani Pokhrel, undersecretary at  MoE, issued a letter to Sajha on April 2  to submit its reactions and suggestions. The ministry’s interest was to save Sharma and cover his misdeeds, said Sajha board members. “The CIAA issued me a clean cheat regarding the controversy,” GM Sharma told Republica.

Sharma clever at courting power centers

Sharma, who was appointed GM by former minister Yadav of the Nepali Congress, became very loyal to erstwhile education minister Dhani Ram Paudel from CPN(Maoist Center). As a result, after the conclusion of his first tenure, he got appointed a second time. A high level source said  he has also already succeeded in winning the support of Education Minister Gopal Man Shrestha of Nepali Congress.

“I visited Pushpa Kamal Dahal today. I have also visited other leaders of different political parties to work in the interest of  Sajha,” he told Republica. However, he could not answer when asked about visiting line ministries  and the prime minister to create an environment for the development of Sajha.

Though Sajha regulations don’t allow him to work for other organizations in similar fields, Sharma is reportedly involved indirectly in private publications. “While Sajha has its own printing press, Sharma prints Sajha books  outside,” said informed sources. Though it was said that Sharma sold Oxford International printing press, which was later converted to Alpine Offset Press, Sharma is still owner of the press. “Can you produce evidence about this?” Sharma questioned. However, he admitted that the work  carried outside  Sajha is done through Alpine.

Forgery scams

The board meeting of  Sajha Prakashan held on July 2, 2016 decided to provide 35 percent commission for the sale of Sabaiko Lagi Nepali (coursebook for Grade XI), the coursebook Link English and the novel Ek Chihan for only one year. However, GM Sharma has extended this decision without holding any meeting to take the relevent decision.

Eight years ago, an agreement was signed between Suprad Chandra Singh Pradhan, son of Hridaya Chandra Singh Pradhan (author of Ek Chihan) and Hom Nath Bhattarai, publications chief at Sajha Prakashan, for publishing the book.

However, GM Sharma allowed the publishing of  the sixth edition of Ek Chihan by Alpine Offset Press Pvt Ltd (This  was earlier the Oxford International and was owned by Sharma until it was sold after he assumed the post of GM).

After board members objected over  copyright, Sharma expressed ignorance and withdrew the published books to Sajha. He admitted that the returned books are sold by Sajha. “We allowed  publishing by a private publisher as  Sajha failed to pay royalty  to Pradhan,” he said.

On May 27, 2016, a bill was issued by Sajha in the name of Ganesh International, allowing a 30 percent discount for the purchase of Sabaiko Lagi Nepali and Link English. However, the  Sajha board meeting  held on July 2, 2016 decided to provide 35 percent discount on the purchase of books worth more than Rs 1 million. On July 12, GM Sharma cancelled the bill of May 27 and produced another bill with 35 percent discount, reducing the profit of Sajha Prakashan by Rs 73,500.

Despite his voluntary retirement, staffer Kiran Khanal who was deputed in Biratnagar submitted an application on January 23 seeking to continue working at Sajha.  Sharma issued a letter mentioning the rejection of Khanal’s appeal by the board meeting held on May 2. However, the board meeting on May 2 was actually postponed due to lack of a quorum, according to a board member. “Sharma made some of the board members  sign  the forged decision under an  earlier date after he came under criticism.”

Sharma, who contracted the auditing firm recently for Rs 1.5 million, has started hiring  auditors of the same firm separately. Officials at Sajha are shocked by such decisions. “It’s a direct loss of Rs 1.5 million for Sajha,” the officials said.

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