More ministers, officials under PAC scanner

  • Relief irregularities
- POST REPORT, Kathmandu

Jun 21, 2015-

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament is expanding its probe to cover more ministries with fresh clues surfacing about alleged irregularities in the purchase of relief supplies--tents, tarpaulins and food--for earthquake survivors and while conducting rescue and relief operations.

The House committee, which has already grilled Urban Development Minister Narayan Khadka and Secretary Arjun Kumar Karki on the charge of embezzling millions of rupees in purchasing tents and tarps, on Monday summoned Commerce and Supplies Minister Sunil Bahadur Thapa and Secretary Naindra Upadhyay in connection with the irregularities.

Acting on a tip off, the parliamentary committee is said to be scrutinising Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam, Foreign Minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey and Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat as well. More senior officials from the concerned ministries are on the watch list, according to committee members.

“Interesting and unbelievable facts are coming to the fore on the misuse of the state coffers in the name of relief distribution. The investigation gets more complicated,” said PAC member Dhan Raj Gurung. “We want to grill all the ministries involved in relief distribution before drawing up a conclusion and book those involved in corruption.”

According to PAC members, customs offices have noted that a total of 3.8 million tents and tarpaulins were imported for sheltering quake survivors. “But records show only 1.1 million tents were distributed to the displaced people. The Home Ministry states that nearly 800,000 houses were damaged in the devastation caused by the quakes,” said another PAC member Ram Hari Khatiwada.

It is not clear where the remaining tents and tarpaulins are. Lawmakers suspect many of them are in the market and some were distributed as per the instruction of influential politicians. The government waived duty on the import of the essential relief items after the disaster in order to facilitate their flow to the needy. Probe reports prepared by the Urban Development Ministry, National Vigilance Centre and Prime Minister’s Office show that the price of tents and tarps remained higher than usual even after the government waived their duty.

Rs1.77 billion was lost in revenue due to the waiver, said Khatiwada.

It is not yet clear where all of the tents and tarpaulins received in grant were distributed. An informed source at the committee said some 12,000 expensive tents provided by Saudi Arabia, which were handed over to the Home Ministry, were not distributed to the needy. “We have been briefed that the durable tents were distributed to the cronies of the home minister,” said the source.

“Evidences indicate that taking action against those involved in misusing tents is not easy as senior officials from the anti-graft body to lawmakers themselves are involved in the scam. Serious homework is necessary to book them,” said Khatiwada.

A probe report from the Urban Development Ministry shows 3,199 tarps were distributed without receipt while 2,332 were provided to several organisations and individuals without disclosing their names. Lawmakers have demanded immediate action against those using the disaster as an opportunity to earn money.

Published: 22-06-2015 08:12

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