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Govt rolls back decision to transfer caan director general

- RUPAK D SHARMA, Kathmandu

Oct 9, 2017-The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has rolled back its decision to transfer Sanjiv Gautam, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan), to the ministry, in a major victory for the chief aviation regulator, who was about to be discharged from the duty for no concrete reason.

The latest development comes three days after the Election Commission sought clarification from Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Jitendra Narayan Dev for transferring Gautam without consulting the commission.

The commission had stated the decision to transfer the chief of the aviation sector regulatory body was against the election code of conduct.

On September 26, the ministry had directed Gautam to stop attending the office and be present at the ministry every day to: review the Aviation Policy; expedite the process of extending compensation to the Korean firm that conducted detailed feasibility study on construction of an international airport in Nijgad; formulate strategies for effective implementation of national pride projects [under the jurisdiction of the ministry]; and initiate the process of establishing Aviation Safety Inspection Bureau to enhance air safety standards.

The ministry at that time had said a three-member committee had been formed under Gautam to perform these tasks.

Many had seen this move to temporarily relieve Gautam from his duty as the first step towards sacking him.

But on Sunday, the ministry again wrote to Gautam stating the decision to form a committee under him had been annulled. “The decision was taken at the ministerial level,” says the letter signed by Undersecretary Tek Narayan Poudel.

This decision has paved the way for Gautam to attend office as in the past.

Gautam was appointed as the chief of the Caan little more than two years ago for a four-year term. 

One of his biggest achievements since joining the office was to remove the tag of ‘significant safety concerns’ put on Nepal’s aviation sector by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the global aviation watchdog, for failing to raise air safety standards. 

Removal of this tag is considered as the first step towards removing the country from the blacklist of the European Union, which has barred all Nepali carriers from flying in its skies because of poor safety records. 

In spite of this achievement, a ploy was hatched to sack him in the second week of September when Civil Aviation Secretary Maheshwar Neupane was not in the country, according to reliable sources. 

In Neupane’s absence, Suresh Acharya, a joint secretary at the ministry, was working as the acting secretary.

Acharya, at that time, had sought clarification from Gautam on 11 different issues, in an attempt to sack him before expiry of his term.

The ministry had initially said the clarification was sought after Gautam failed to “meet some of the targets mentioned in the performance contract” signed with the ministry around a year ago. 

But later the ministry, through a statement, had acknowledged some of the questions were irrelevant and not part of the performance contract.

One such issue was Caan’s decision to terminate contract with Constructora Sanjose, the Spanish contractor for the $92-million Tribhuvan International Airport Improvement Project.

The contractor was sacked after it could not even meet 20 percent of its construction target in six years and did not show any sign of improving the performance.

It is widely known that the decision to fire the Spanish contractor was not made by the Caan alone. It was made collectively by the Civil Aviation Ministry, the Ministry of Finance, the National Planning Commission and the Asian Development Bank, the main financier of the Tribhuvan International Airport Improvement Project.

The case to sack the Spanish company was so strong that petitions filed by the contractor in Nepali and Spanish courts were quashed. The case has now reached the Singapore International Arbitration Centre. 

If Nepal loses this case because of the ministry’s decision to question the legitimacy of sacking the Spanish company, the government will have to pay billions of rupees to the contractor in compensation.

Considering the gravity of the issue, the ministry, on September 20, sought clarification from Acharya for making a blunder.

It is not known whether Acharya has submitted his clarification letter or any action has been taken against him.

Civil Aviation Ministry Spokesperson Ghanshyam Upadhyaya did not want to comment on the issue, while Secretary Neupane did not respond to Post’s calls and text message

Published: 09-10-2017 08:46

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