Minister Adhikari claims his innocence

Kathmandu, January 7

After being criticised by lawmakers at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) under the Federal Parliament, who also recommended legal action against him, Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari, has denied his involvement in the wide-body aircraft purchase deal of Nepal Airlines Corporation.

Organising a press conference in the ministry today, Adhikari clarified that the line minister is only involved in the formation of policies and regulations related

to the ministry but is not actually involved in any purchase decisions like in the wide-body aircraft procurement process.

Moreover, he said that he is surprised to know that his name has been associated with the procurement process, which he claims to be a hypothesis and prejudice.

The PAC sub-committee that was formed to look into possible anomalies in the aircraft purchase deal has recommended action against Adhikari for giving his clearance for the payment of the final instalment even when the Office of the Auditor General had pointed out lapses in the procurement process.

Earlier, the PAC had also accused Adhikari of lying to lawmakers as he had mentioned that he had taken permission from the auditor general to pay the final instalment.

Meanwhile, during a PAC meeting held on December 26, Adhikari pledged his cooperation in the investigation into the alleged embezzlement in procurement process.

“I have trust in the Parliament and the regulatory body as well as the media. I am confident that I will be given a clean chit on this issue,” Adhikari said, adding he was ready to own up the responsibility if any weakness, fault or irregularity could be proven during his term.

According to him, NAC had already finalised the schedule for payment to Hi-Fly X, the company through which NAC purchased the wide-body planes, before he assumed office and the arrival of the aircraft on time would not have been possible if the clearance of the third instalment was stopped, which would put the government’s Rs nine billion at risk. “However, it is not the ministry that makes the payment. NAC is an independent body and the ministry had only permitted it for the foreign currency exchange facility. I have no involvement in the matter.”

The minister further questioned on who would take the responsibility if the aircraft had not arrived on time or if the amount at stake had to be forfeited, pushing NAC to the edge of bankruptcy.

In his reply to a question on whether the payment was made following the permission from the Office of the Auditor General, he said only informal talks were held with Auditor General Tanka Mani Sharma on the issue.

Meanwhile, NAC board member Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane, stated that there could have been anomalies in the aircraft purchase deal as the specifications mentioned in the request for proposal (RfP) and the specifications of the planes that arrived were different. He said that the external take-off weight capacity that was mentioned in the RfP was 242 tonnes, which according to him is the mean capacity, but the planes that arrived had external take-off weight capacity of only 230 tonnes.

Adhikari, meanwhile, has promised his full support and cooperation in any investigation into the matter to be undertaken by the parliamentary committee, regulatory body and the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority.

He expressed his hope that facts related to the issue would come out and all the confusions and illusions persisting at the moment would be cleared.