KATHMANDU, August 2: In what may be considered conflict of interest, Dolindra Prasad Sharma, the chairman and general manager of Sajha Prakashan is learnt to have given a job to the wife of a member of a panel formed to probe irregularities at the publishing house.
The Ministry of Education (MoE) had formed the panel on July 27, had formed the panel to probe into the irregularities at Sajha Prakashan. However, it has been revealed that GM Sharma, without announcing the vacancy, appointed Nabina Koirala Paudel, wife of Bhola Nath Paudel, a member of the probe panel as assistant III level staff on contract basis on July 30. She started working at Sajha from July 31, according to Sajha Prakashan officials.
The committee headed by Ganesh Dhakal, undersecretary of Monitoring and Evaluation Division at MoE, includes Resham Sigdel, undersecretary of the Law Section of MoE and Bhola Nath Paudel, accounts officer of MoE. Sigdel is reportedly closer to GM Sharma.
Paudel admitted that his wife Nabina was appointed at Sajha after he was nominated as a member of the probe panel. “She had earlier applied in response to a vacancy announcement. Sajha appointed her recently as a few positions were lying vacant after contracts of previous appointees ended,” he claimed.
“However, this will not affect the investigations. Because the investigations will be based on documental evidences.”
GM Sharma claimed that Nabina started working at Sajha from July 16, long before the probe panel was formed. “She received her appointment letter on July 28 or 29. I don't know the exact date,” he added. “This does not amount to conflict of interest.”
Saraswati Pokhrel, joint spokesperson at the MoE, said that the appointment does not send a positive message. “Definitely, it can allow room for suspicions if she was appointed after the formation of the probe panel,” she said.
About seven months ago, GM Sharma appointed a three-member team to assist him in finding out irregularities made by members of the previous management committee of Sajha. The committee included Paudel, Thakur Belbase and Aryan Dangol. Belbase's wife was already appointed on contract at Sajha Prakashan.
Sharma, has been accused of appointing those close to political leaders and media persons, maintaining no records of annual incomes, creating fake documents, publishing books illegally, transferring Rs 5 million from Sajha to his own bank account, serving both as GM and chairman against the rules and not getting Sajha accunts audited during his tenure of 30 months.
Sajha Prakashan is a state-owned publishing house established 105 years ago. However, it has fallen into a sorry state since the past one decade due to mismanagement and irregularities taking place under political protection.
Sajha Prakashan publishes the textbooks Sabaiko Nepali, Link English and Ek Chihan for Grades XI and XII compulsory subjects. The number of students in Grade XI is increasing every year. But the official record of books published by Sajha Prakashan has been decreasing after Sharma was appointed GM.
According to the trade unions at Sajha Prakashan, Sajha published 145,000 book copies in 2014; 50,000 in 2015; 50,000 in 2016 and 63,000 in 2017. The student numbers in Grade XI were 366,943 in 2014; 370,661 in 2015; 374,398 in 2016 and 448,926 in 2017, according to the National Examination Board (NEB).
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. He was reappointed as chairman and GM for four years in January 2017. Dhani Ram Paudel of the CPN (Maoist Center) was education minister at the time.