Panel formed to probe into jet purchase deal is directionless

  • 19 days have passed since the probe body was formed, and it still lacks terms of reference

Jan 23, 2019-

The government has yet to decide the terms of reference for the high-level commission formed earlier this month to investigate into the alleged misappropriation of funds during the procurement of two wide-body aircraft by Nepal Airlines Corporation.

After a parliamentary sub-committee pointed out irregularities worth Rs 4.35 billion in the aircraft purchase deal and implicated the sitting tourism minister, the NAC managing director and several government officials, the government had formed the commission under former chief judge Govinda Prasad Parajuli on January 3.  

The commission was given 45 days to submit its probe report. Nineteen days have passed, and the commission has not even started its work.

“We have not received ToR yet. We don’t know what type of ToR will be given to us,” Parajuli told the Post. “As the prime minister is abroad now, we are not sure when we will receive the ToR.”

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is currently in Davos, Switzerland, to participate in the World Economic Forum conference.

Officials knowledgeable about corruption investigation processes have doubted the government motive behind forming the probe panel.

Srihari Aryal, former president of Transparency International-Nepal, says there is no meaning of forming a commission to probe into the matter when a parliamentary committee had already submitted its report.

Along with Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari, the House panel had sought “lawful action” against former tourism ministers Jivan Bahadur Shahi and Jitendra Narayan Dev, and asked them to take “moral responsibility”.

Nonetheless, the House committee’s investigation had also come into question because it had missed various crucial issues, including the fact that Dev was not the tourism minister when the decision to release the first instalment to buy the two Airbus A330 jets was made.   

The report has also implicated sitting Secretary Krishna Prasad Devkota, former secretary Shankar Prasad Adhikari, and NAC Managing Director Sugat Ratna Kansakar.

“There is a constitutional body—Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA)—to look into corruption cases. So, forming a commission is just waste of time—and money from the state coffers,” Aryal told the Post.

When the government formed the commission under Parajuli, with Narendra Pathak, former deputy attorney general, and Madan Sharma, a chartered account, it had said it was trying to investigate into the alleged scam in line with the demand of the leader of the main opposition, Sher Bahadur Deuba.

Speaking at the first day of the winter session of Parliament on December 26, Deuba had demanded a fair probe into irregularities in the wide-body procurement.

It, however, came to light later that Deuba was the tourism minister, not Dev, when the decision to release the first instalment was taken on June 19, 2017.

“The government seems to have formed the commission in defence as a sitting minister was facing corruption charges,” said Aryal. “The commission cannot even recommend action. It can only provide details.”

Even the members of the commission say they are not happy to be part of the investigation.

A member of the commission told the Post on condition of anonymity that it can work only as a fact finding agency. And its findings cannot be produced in the court of law as evidence.

“There is no point in forming such a commission as the anti-corruption agency can initiate an investigation. It is just a waste of money,” the member said. However, Surya Nath Upadhyay, former chief commissioner of the CIAA, has a different take.

“The government has every right to form a commission like this, as the primary responsibility of preventing corruption lies with the prime minister himself,” he said. “The lapses in parliamentary committee’s probe report have already been exposed. It happened due to the lack of expertise and experience among the parliamentary committee members on technical issues related to plane procurement.”

“The government should not be blamed on the assumption that it has formed the commission with a view to giving the clean chit to people facing corruption charges,” he added.

Published: 23-01-2019 08:46

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