Congress mum on wide-body deal

  • Aircraft purchase scam issue missing from minutes at Deuba’s behest, party insiders say
- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu

Jan 29, 2019-

The opposition Nepali Congress, which has announced nationwide protests on February 4 against the Oli administration and its “unpopular decisions”, has conspicuously maintained silence on the reported irregularities in procurement of two wide-body aircraft.

After media reported extensively on misappropriations crossing Rs4 billion while buying the two Airbus planes for the Nepal Airlines Corporation, the Nepali Congress had jumped on the bandwagon to demand an immediate probe into the matter.

While addressing the first meeting of the winter session of Parliament on December 26, Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba demanded an immediate probe into irregularities in the wide-body procurement deal.

Investigation by a parliamentary committee had found that along with the sitting tourism minister, the Nepal Airlines managing director, two former tourism ministers and other government officials were involved in the irregularities. It said the sitting and former tourism ministers had failed to take caution while giving the nod to release the amount for payment.

One of the two former tourism ministers indicted in the Parliamentary Affairs Committee’s report was Jitendra Narayan Dev. The Post, however, carried a report after going through documents, in which it found Dev was not the serving tourism minister when the decision to release the first instalment was taken. Then-prime minister Deuba also held the tourism portfolio on June 19, 2017, when the decision to send $79 million as the first instalment for buying the planes was taken.

Accusations then started flying over, and Deuba started denying his involvement. The Nepali Congress, which during its Mahasamiti meeting in December last week, its Central Working Committee meetings and various press briefings had been demanding investigation into the widebody procurement, set the agenda at Sunday’s Central Working Committee meeting for its nationwide protest scheduled for February 4.

Senior party leaders including Ram Chandra Poudel, Arjun Narsingh KC, Dhanraj Gurung and others demanded that investigation into the widebody deal should be one of the agendas for the protest.

But it was missing from the minutes when the party made public its agenda. 

“It was excluded at the behest of Deuba and his aides,” a Congress leader told the Post on condition of anonymity.

The party has listed six agendas for the upcoming nationwide protest. According to the decision, the NC will take up issues of forceful approval of the Medical Education Bill by the House of Representatives, government apathy for the indefinite hunger strike of Dr Govinda KC, the communist government’s bid to dismantle two hospitals to be opened in the name of Congress leaders Girija Prasad Koirala and  Sushil Koirala, Constitutional Council decisions to recommend five chiefs of the constitutional bodies in the absence of Deuba, the opposition leader; failing to maintain law and order, and failure to find the culprits of rape and murder of Nirmala Pant of Kanchanpur. The NC has also listed inflation and corruption as its agenda for the protest.

Another senior Congress leader, who also sought anonymity, told the Post that the wide-body issue was deliberately taken out of the minutes after Deuba’s name started surfacing in the media.

After the widebody procurement issue failed to be the official agenda, some NC leaders had pushed Poudel to make a strong pitch during Monday’s meeting for including it.

But Deuba prevailed, the senior leader said. NC’s statement on Monday also remained silent on contemporary cases of corruption.

“I had strongly raised the issue and urged the CWC to make serious corruption cases like irregularities in the widebody procurement deal, corruption in Budhi Gandaki Hydroelectricity Project while awarding tender to one Chinese company, 33kg gold smuggling case and Melamchi Water Supply Project delays our agenda for the [February 4] protest. I wonder how these issues were left out when the minutes were finalised,” said Arjun Narsing KC. 

Gurung also maintained that the wide-body scam should have been the top agenda for the upcoming nationwide protest. “We should have made it our primary agenda while reaching out to the public,” said Gurung.

Published: 29-01-2019 06:56

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