Thursday, January 3, 2019

Government forms judicial panel to probe aircraft scam

The government today formed a three-member judicial committee to probe the controversial procurement of two wide-body Airbus aircraft by the Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC), a day after a sub-committee under the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recommended action against 29 top officials including incumbent tourism minister Rabindra Adhikari.
The sub-committee – led by parliamentarian Rajan KC – under PAC came up with a report concluding that there had been 'corruption' amounting to more than Rs 4.34 billion in the entire aircraft procurement process of the two A330 jets by the NAC and recommended legal action.
The government move has demeaned the anti-graft body CIAA and under valued the sovereign representatives of the people after the government has formed the committee led by former Appellate Court chief judge Gobinda Prasad Parajuli, former Attorney General Narendra Pathak and chartered accountant Madan Sharma. The move could derail independent investigation into the multi-billion-rupee aircraft scam and give impunity to those involved in wide-body aircraft irregularities.
According to communication minister Gokul Baskota, the three-member committee will study the multi-billion scam that is said to be the biggest scam. It has been given 45 days to submit the probe report to the government. "The cabinet formed the commission to look into issues raised over the procurement process according to the Commission of Inquiry Act-1969," said the government spokesperson Baskota in his regular press briefing today.
A sub-committee of the parliamentary PAC led by KC has recommended action against minister Adhikari, former tourism ministers – Jeevan Bahadur Shahi and Jitendra Dev – and secretaries Prem Kumar Rai and Krishna Devkota. The report has concluded embezzlement of Rs 4.35 billion in purchasing wide-body aircraft by Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC).
Shortly after the parliamentary sub-committee publicised its report, the government had expressed its serious objection. Speaking at a government-sponsored TV programme, Janatasanga Pradhanmanri – PM with the People – yesterday evening Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has outrightly rejected the report and advocated for forming an ‘independent committee’ to investigate the case. But the PM's move is unconstitutional and unlawful as the report should be forwarded to the CIAA as the constitutional anti graft body has the only right to move forward with the investigation of corrupotion.
Chairman of the Public Account Committee Bharat Kumar Shah said that he failed to see why the government formed the commission when the committee was still working on the matter.
The full meeting of PAC, which is scheduled for tomorrow, is expected to give necessary direction to the government and the CIAA on wide-body aircraft procurement irregularities on the basis of the 58-page investigation report, prepared after a 20-day investigation by the sub-committee. 
The report categorically names NAC managing director Sugat Ratna Kansakar as the kingpin of the corruption. It has also recommended immediate suspension of Kansakar alongside incumbent 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.

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