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Tumultuous chapter in KUKL closes with Basnet’s resignation

  • Nepal Chamber of Commerce to send new member to represent the private sector
- RUPAK D SHARMA, Kathmandu

Mar 22, 2017-Suresh Basnet, the unpopular board director of Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL), has finally stepped down, closing a tumultuous chapter in the history of the Kathmandu Valley’s sole drinking water supplying company that is gearing up to bring in 170 million litres of water per day from the Melamchi River by October.

Basnet’s permanent departure from KUKL’s boardroom comes days after he stepped down as the chairman of the drinking water company.

Basnet had formally resigned from the chairman’s post at KUKL during the company’s board meeting last week. Following this, Ghanashyam Bhattarai, executive director of the Melamchi Water Supply Development Board and government’s joint secretary, was elected as the new chair of KUKL. With Bhattarai’s arrival, Basnet’s role was limited to that of board director.

“He recently resigned from that post [director’s] as well,” a reliable source of the Nepal Chamber of Commerce (NCC), a private sector umbrella body, which owns 9 percent stake in KUKL, told the Post. “Basnet has stated busy work schedule as the reason for quitting KUKL.”

The NCC had asked Basnet to represent the umbrella body in KUKL’s board in 2008. He then went on to become KUKL’s chairman in June 2014.

“With Basnet’s resignation, NCC will have to send another representative to KUKL,” the source said. “The next meeting of executive members of the NCC will take a decision in this regard.”

Basnet declined to comment on the issue. He only said: “The NCC’s executive committee has the right to send any of its members to represent the umbrella body in KUKL. It also holds the right to recall any of its members from the KUKL board.”

Basnet’s tenure as KUKL chairman was dogged by “delays in decision making processes” because of his “high-handed conduct”. This behaviour, according to officials, was preventing the management from hiring new staff to expand services and holding annual general meetings.

Basnet also faced charges of “using political influence to compel board members to take decisions to suit his needs”, and “intervening in the company’s general manager selection process to appoint his candidate for the post”.

Because of his questionable behaviour, the board of directors endorsed a no-confidence motion against him in May 2015, and appointed Padam Kumar Mainali, a government joint secretary, in his place.

Basnet then moved the then Patan Appeals Court claiming his dismissal was illegal. But the court upheld the decision made by the KUKL board.

Basnet then took the case to the Supreme Court around two years ago, which issued a stay order, barring KUKL from sacking him from chairman’s post. The hearing on the case was postponed for around 18 times. The continuous postponements indicated there was no way to replace him unless someone convinced him to step down or the Nepal Chamber of Commerce, which sent him, recalled him.

These developments were taking place at a time when KUKL was eagerly waiting for completion of the first phase of Melamchi Drinking Water Project.

Upon completion of the first phase of the project in October, around 170 million litres of water will start flowing every day from the Melamchi River in Sindhupalchowk to the Kathmandu Valley, which has been facing chronic shortage of drinking water for years.

The arrival of this water is not only being eagerly awaited by millions of residents of water-starved Valley, but also by financially-troubled KUKL, which is hoping for a turnaround in its fortune through higher sales of water.

Yet Basnet was not showing any sign of budging. Around that time, four of the five trade unions of KUKL also sought Basnet’s resignation citing incompetence.

Finally in February Basnet retracted the case filed at the Supreme Court after the company’s board agreed to roll back its decision to relieve him from his duty on charges of incompetence.

This paved the way for KUKL’s board to replace Basnet with a new chairman.

“We hope things will now be fine at KUKL and it will be able to frame long-term growth plans, as our representative has now become the company’s chairman,” Bhim Prasad Upadhyaya, secretary of the Ministry of Water Supply and Sanitation (MoWSS), which owns 30 percent stake in KUKL, said.

The company’s new chair, Bhattarai, however, is retiring from civil service on April 13. Whoever the government decides to replace Bhattarai with will become the new chairman of KUKL, according to Upadhyaya.

Published: 22-03-2017 10:01

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