Top leaders refusing to lead House sub-panels formed to probe dodgy NAC Airbus deal conspicuous

- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu
Congress leaders Singh and Rijal cited ‘personal reasons’ and the party’s Mahasamiti meeting while refusing the responsibility

Dec 16, 2018-Even as two parliamentary committees form sub-panels to probe alleged financial irregularities in the procurement of two wide-body aircraft by the Nepal Airlines Corporation, top leaders are conspicuously silent over the controversial deal.

With top political leaders keeping mum, influential second-rung leaders, especially from the opposition party, are also trying to distance themselves from the probe. Leaders from the opposition Nepali Congress have even refused to lead the sub-panels formed to investigate the national flag carrier’s multi-billion-rupee procurement deal.

Instead, relatively junior leaders have been given the leadership of the sub-panels formed by the International Relations and Human Rights Committee, and the Public Account Committee of the House of Representatives.

Deepak Prakash Bhatta of the Nepal Community Party (NCP) leads the panel formed by International Relations committee while Nepali Congress lawmaker Rajan KC heads the Public Accounts subcommittee.

NC lawmaker Prakash Man Singh, who had initially agreed to lead the sub-panel formed by the International Relations committee, later refused to be part of the panel. Another NC leader, Minendra Rijal, who has been vocal at PAC meetings against the Airbus purchase deal, also declined to lead the panel, forcing the committee on Wednesday to have KC as its leader.

Both Singh and Rijal refused to lead the probe citing “personal reasons”, and saying that they would be busy with the party’s Mahasamiti meeting that began on Saturday.

Top leaders from neither the ruling nor opposition parties have shown any urgency over the deal even after some government agencies have clearly pointed out a series of shortcomings in the country’s biggest ever aircraft procurement deal.

The Office of the Auditor General has already stated that the NAC breached its own bylaws while procuring two wide-body aircraft. The Public Procurement Monitoring Office also concluded that the Airbus purchase process had flouted the Public Procurement Act-2007.

Despite his hard talk against corruption, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has not made any statement towards ending the confusion over the scandal-hit procurement process that has already dragged Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari and senior NAC officials to parliamentary committee meetings. NCP Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba are also maintaining silence over the procurement process.

According to a senior NCP leader, the controversy surrounding the aircraft purchase was raised during the party’s secretariat meeting about a month ago with Prime Minister Oli. But Oli allegedly refrained from making any comments while he said that “investigations are going on and we have to wait for their findings.”

Since then, the issue has neither been discussed nor presented at the party forum or the Cabinet.

In private conversations, emerging leaders from the ruling and opposition parties say issues of aircraft purchase, financial dealing and others related to bid specifications were settled before the aircraft landed in Kathmandu.

Even the Nepali Congress hasn’t raised the issue the way it should have as only a few leaders have spoken about it at the party’s Central Working Committee. NC leader Ram Sharan Mahat said the party has concluded that it should take up the issue in an effective way.

“Our preliminary conclusion is that some kind of irregularities has taken place in the procurement but there are also probes being undertaken by the House committees and the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority. We have to wait for their findings too,” said Mahat.

Srihari Aryal, former president of the Transparency International Nepal, said political leaders have the tendency to speak only when their interest is served.

According to Aryal, from Lauda to Chase Air leases, the NAC has hardly any big deal free of scandals. “In case of the new Airbus plane deal, aircraft were purchased after the government guaranteed payment to the lenders--Employees Provident Fund and the Citizens Investment Trust.

The NAC board members representing ministries and the government itself should have studied if the planes were being purchased fairly,” said Aryal.

Published: 16-12-2018 07:13

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