Probe panel unearths massive corruption

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu
Probe panel unearths massive corruption

Sep 8, 2014-

An investigation committee formed to look into the alleged financial irregularities at Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) has uncovered that government officials, the NTB head and its board members were involved in the misuse of millions of rupees of  tax money.

The report has stated policy and financial corruption has plagued the country’s tourism promotion body, and has recommended the Tourism Ministry take stern action against those involved in the malpractices.

A 75-page report submitted to Tourism Minister Bhim Prasad Acharya on Monday stated “institutional corruption” promoted by NTB’s corporate and account departments, and its head. The tourism board is headed by Subash Nirola.

The seven-member fact-finding panel led by Purna Chandra Bhattarai, joint secretary at the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development, and represented by the private sector, produced the report after a 48-day study. Bhattarai headed the panel when he was joint secretary at the Tourism Ministry.

“In particular, we have found both institutional and policy corruption at NTB,” said Achyut Guragain, a member representing the private sector in the committee.

Guragain said there was mismatch between vouchers and payment. For example, NTB allocates Rs 600,000 annually for legal consultancy services, but in reality, the payment stands at more than Rs 3.6 million. Likewise, for audit, NTB allocates Rs 500,000, but the payment has been shown Rs 4 million. In the name of outstanding revenue heading, NTB officials have been found to have submitted hefty amounts of new restaurant bills to artificially inflate the figure.

The report also reveals the 192nd NTB board meeting approved payment of Rs 74 million although the quorum was not met. Two private sector representatives—Dhurba Narayan Shrestha and Rewat Bahadur Thapa—who had been barred from representing on the NTB board by the Patan Appellate Court, had signed the minutes of the meeting to fulfill the quorum to release the payment. “The number of financial irregularity cases is huge, which shows the issue is very serious,” said a senior official at the Tourism Ministry.

Top government officials have also been charged with abusing authority to amend the Board’s Financial Bylaws. The report, however, does not mention the government officials’ names.

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

“A committee under joint-secretary Bhattarai had prepared a draft of the new Financial Bylaws for NTB and was told to implement it without changes. But more than 90 percent content of the Bylaws was modified,” said Guragain.

The amended Financial Bylaws was kept hidden for more than six months. Later, the private sector brought the issue to the light. “High-ranking Tourism Ministry officials have misused their authority to implement the Bylaws,” Guragain said.

As the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) is also investigating the issue, the report produced by the committee will also be submitted to the anti-graft body, said ministry officials.

On June 26, CIAA formally launched an investigation into the alleged financial irregularities at NTB immediately after the probe panel was formed by the ministry.

 

Published: 09-09-2014 09:23

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