Cabinet forms panel to probe disputed aircraft purchase

  • Three-member commission set up after a parliamentary subcommittee charges sitting minister and top bureaucrats with embezzling billions
- TIKA R PRADHAN, Kathmandu

Jan 4, 2019-

The government has formed a high-level commission to probe the controversial procurement of two wide-body Airbus planes by the Nepal Airlines Corporation.

A Cabinet meeting on Thursday decided to form the three-member commission after a subcommittee of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee concluded that purchase of the two A330 jets by the NAC siphoned Rs4.35 billion from the state coffers.

The commission headed by former chief judge Govinda Prasad Parajuli 

has former deputy attorney general Narendra Prasad Pathak and chartered accountant Madan Sharma as members. The commission has got 45 days to come up with a report.

The Cabinet formed the commission to look into issues raised over the procurement process according to the Commission of Inquiry Act-1969, said Gokul Prasad Banskota, the government spokesperson.

The KP Sharma Oli-led administration was forced to form the commission after the subcommittee report implicated 

a sitting minister and top bureaucrats in the embezzlement surrounding the purchase of jets.

The subcommittee headed by Nepali Congress lawmaker Rajan KC submitted a 58-page investigation report to the PAC on Wednesday, indicting officials who were in charge of the Tourism Ministry when the procurement process began.

The report, prepared after a 20-day investigation, has charged Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari and former ministers Jivan Bahadur Shahi and Jitendra Dev with failing to stop the deal.

The report categorically names NAC Managing Director Sugat Ratna Kansakar as the kingpin of the corruption. It has recommended immediate suspension of Kansakar alongside sitting Secretaries Prem Kumar Rai and Krishna Prasad Devkota, and former secretary Shankar Prasad Adhikari, who had acted as the NAC chair in the capacity of the tourism secretary.

On Wednesday, the prime minister objected to the leakage of report before it was presented to the PAC. Talking at the fortnightly televised programme “Janata sanga Pradhanmantri” on Wednesday, Oli expressed his rage at the subcommittee for revealing the report before submitting it to the committee.

Oli also remarked that the subcommittee was not an “all-in-all” authority. “The decision to bring the wide-body [jets] was not taken when I was the PM. But the government is serious about corruption, whoever may be responsible for it,” he said. After members of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Standing Committee questioned Oli over corruption in the aircraft procurement process, he had pledged to form a probe panel.

In line with the prime minister’s statement, the government spokesperson on Thursday afternoon said no action would be taken against anyone right away as the procurement case had yet to be settled.

“The subcommittee’s report is not the final truth,” Banskota, the minister for communication and information technology, told a regular news conference at the ministry on Thursday.

The PAC will discuss the subcommittee’s report on Friday.

Formation of inquiry commission before the PAC could give its final decision has surprised committee members. 

Bharat Kumar Shah, chairman of the Public Account Committee, said he failed to see why the government formed the commission when the committee was still working on the matter. The committee would finalise the report on Friday.

Published: 04-01-2019 06:26

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