Travel traders reject panel to probe NTB

- POST REPORT, Kathmandu
Travel traders reject panel to probe NTB

May 11, 2014-

Agitating travel trade entrepreneurs have rejected a probe panel formed by the government to look into charges of financial irregularities at the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) for not including any representative from the private sector.

The Tourism Ministry created the three-member investigation committee on Sunday bowing to a 12-day-long protest movement by the private sector. The body was formed by a ministry-level decision.

Travel traders launched the demo after accusing some of the NTB top brass of committing irregularities by amending its Financial Bylaws in contravention of the Public Procurement Act (PPA), which lays down the rules for procurement by public entities.

The probe committee led by Purna Chandra Bhattarai, joint secretary of the ministry, has been given 15 days to submit a report. The other members of the body are an under secretary of the Finance Ministry and an account officer of the Tourism Ministry.  

The ministry’s move follows criticism by lawmakers that the government has turned a deaf ear to the “financial irregularities” uncovered by the private sector at the NTB. On Friday, legislators representing various political parties had asked the government to settle the issue immediately by forming an investigation committee.

The committee has been entrusted with the task of studying the amended financial bylaws and recommending necessary action.

Likewise, it has been told to investigate the NTB’s income and expenditure for the past three years and advise the government on the measures to be taken if financial misconduct is detected.

Other tasks given to the committee are studying the complaints filed against NTB at the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority and other agencies, looking into the expenditure of tax money collected by issuing Trekkers Information Management System (TIMS) cards to foreign trekkers and recommending better ways to manage it.

The ministry has appealed in a press statement to the agitating travel traders to withdraw their intensifying protest against the NTB. However, the disgruntled entrepreneurs said that the committee was not acceptable to them as it has not included any private sector representatives.

“We had asked the government to form a high-level committee so that the issues would be exposed,” said Ramesh Dhamala, president of the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal which has been leading the private sector movement.

“In fact, the committee formed under the ministry’s staff could manipulate the matter,” Dhamala said, adding that they would be continuing the movement unless the government meets their demand.

The amended bylaws that have upset the tourism industry have given the NTB’s chief executive exclusive rights to spend freely in excess of the limit set by the PPA.

The bylaws also allow the board to award contracts without competitive bidding even though the act says that tenders should be called before doing so.

Under the amendments to the Financial Bylaws that give sweeping powers to the NTB boss to dispense cash, the CEO can spend up to Rs 10 million at a time for tourism promotion activities inside the country.

Similarly, the chief can spend $ 400,000 at a time outside the country without following any due process of the PPA. The CEO has also been given the power to spend up to $ 400,000 at a time through its honorary representatives and firms. As per the new rules, the NTB can procure goods and services worth up to Rs 2.5 million through a quotation. The board can also purchase goods and services including promotional materials through a single supplier directly through a written proposal.

Published: 12-05-2014 09:04

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