The Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) under its Managing Director Sugat Ratna Kansakar had been doing rather well in recent times. New aircrafts and new routes were being added to its foreign fleet and the national flag-carrier, after years of mismanagement and loss-making, seemed to be slowly coming back to life. But the old symptoms of malaise are appearing again. First, the airline management seemed intent on retaining a pilot who has confessed to smuggling US currency. Following a Republica exposé, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation had to write to MD Kansakar not to send Captain Subarna Awale to Singapore for renewal of his license. Now, it has transpired, Kansakar had personally approved a separate all-expenses-paid Singapore trip of some two dozen NAC officials to ‘observe and inspect’ one of its aircrafts that is in Singapore for regular maintenance. The interesting part is that members of this jumbo delegation, who were sent to Singapore at the cost of Rs 2 million, would not even be allowed into the hanger where the aircraft, a Boeing 757, was being repaired. Thus the purpose of the visit was purely recreational.
It is tragedy that one of our rare well-functioning government entities is backsliding on its recent reforms. Things were looking up for NAC when it decided to buy two new Airbus passenger jets, at a cost of US $209.6 million. The new fleet of five long-range planes would be flying to new destinations like Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. This deal was meaningful because the purchase process, which started way back in 2009, could not be completed owing to allegations of corruption. So when the deal was finally done this April, MD Kansakar was justifiably proud and a new chapter seemed to have been opened in the book of Nepali aviation. But since then it has been all downhill for the national flag carrier, as it struggles to sell its one aging Boeing 757 and new controversies about it keep coming in the media. It is true that even the best of hands would struggle to properly manage NAC. No matter what you do while at the NAC cockpit, buy new planes or sell an aging craft, foul play is invariably suspected and the decision is intensely scrutinized in the media.
But, then, that is part of the job. If you are not ready to bear with the burdens of managing a doddering state entity, you should have not taken up the job to start with. It is not easy to enact even vital reforms in our state agencies, as you are opposed every step of the way by recalcitrant unions and as obdurate bureaucracy. A lot thus depends on the leadership abilities of their bosses. One of the indispensible traits while managing these bodies is sound judgment. It is hard to see what Kansakar was trying to achieve by sending his staff on frivolous visits and retaining a pilot who has accepted to a serious crime, especially when he knows that his each important decision will be closely scrutinized by the probing media. Now there has to be a credible assurance from NAC boss that such flagrant errors of judgment will not be repeated. Otherwise he will have to be replaced.