Adhikari upbeat as criticism builds over aircraft deal

- TIKA R PRADHAN, Kathmandu
Minister says he will  not resign only for the ‘superficial’ charges  even as it created moral pressure on him

Jan 6, 2019-Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on Saturday enquired Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari about the controversial aircraft purchase by the Nepal Airlines Corporation. 

The meeting comes ahead of Oli’s scheduled address to Parliament on Sunday while a subcommittee of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee questioned the role of Adhikari, former tourism ministers and secretaries, and NAC officials in the disputed procurement process.

After the meeting in Baluwatar, Adhikari told the Post that the prime minister inquired him about the issue as part of his preparations for his speech in Parliament on Sunday. “I told the PM that my ministry has not committed any mistake,” he said.

Less than a year in office, the Oli administration faces public outrage over a number of controversial moves including the botched investigation into the Kanchanpur rape and murder of a teenager in July. Oli was scheduled to address the concerns on Thursday but the plan was postponed citing the lack of preparations.

On the subcommittee’s report, Adhikari said he would not resign only for the “superficial” charges even as it created moral pressure on him. Stating that the subcommittee had failed to pinpoint his involvement in the aircraft procurement process, he said the report was prepared and publicised with an “ill-intention”.

Adhikari added that he would respond formally once the House committee reveals its final report. “I’m ready to face the consequences if found guilty,” he said. 

A popular youth leader within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), Adhikari’s tenure as the tourism minister had been free of controversy. His measures to reform the aviation sector—enforcing the Montreal Convention after 10 years, expediting stalled works at the Gautam Buddha Airport in Bhairahawa and the Pokhara International Airport, initiating the pending process to split the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal into two entities, and action against the organised tourist rescue scam—made him a popular minister in the Oli Cabinet.

In the NCP, leaders and lawmakers say that Adhikari claimed to have talked with the auditor general before releasing the final payment instalment, and he did not probe when media reported the anomalies in the multi-billion-rupee aircraft purchase deal. They suggest that he could have cleared the final instalment only after discussing all the problems.

Talking to the Post, Adhikari said he was not to blame for completing the payment because it was already in the ministry’s plan and that the Supreme Court had ordered the authorities not to obstruct the process.

Even as the party defends Adhikari, some NCP leaders said he should step down after getting into such a serious controversy.

Party Spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha said the ruling NCP will come up with an official statement after the Accounts Committee makes the subcommittee’s report public.

PM Oli and government Spokesperson Gokul Banskota have already said that the subcommittee’s report was not “final truth”. The government has formed a three-member enquiry commission led by former chief judge Govinda Prasad Parajuli.

The subcommittee leaked the report without submitting it to the committee. The PAC failed to endorse the subcommittee’s report due to the demand of NCP members for a revision.

Published: 06-01-2019 06:49

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