Kathmandu, January 9
Startling facts are emerging at the prevailing practices in Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal as this daily investigates the deeper malaise afflicting the country’s aviation sector, and thereby air safety in Nepal.
This time the matter concerns the squandering away of US$ 4.2 million of loan offered by the Asian Development Bank for the ‘Capacity Development of CAAN’ project.
Though the three-year project, which started in March 2012, aimed to address CAAN’s deficiencies in operation, staffing, and to enhance CAAN’s ability to efficiently administer, manage, operate, maintain and expand civil aviation infrastructure and services in Nepal, its visible outcome, however appeared in a very strange way: over a dozen high-profile CAAN officials enjoyed a family trip to Europe and spent more than fifty per cent of the project fund.
The Spanish firm INECO offered the paid jaunts for officials and their kin while the contractor in the joint venture with Prointec and ERMC was appointed by CAAN to carry out the prestigious project in addressing one of the significant safety concerns raised by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
The European Commission had put Nepal on the European Union air safety list after ICAO identified a significant safety concern regarding CAAN’s ability to properly oversee the airlines under its jurisdiction in 2013.
“Initially, the project was conceptualised to enhance CAAN’s capacity in six different areas such as legal, planning, restructuring, human resources, computerisation and management information system. However, apart from producing a few reports, it ultimately turned out to be successful only in offering a family trip to Europe for more than forty people.”
According to an official at the project directorate, then Director Generals at CAAN Ratish Chandra Lal Suman and TR Manandhar as well as other directors including Sanjiv Gautam (now DG), Rajan Pokharel, Suman Kumar Shrestha, Dinesh Shrestha and Dhruba Das Bhochhibhoya, among other,s made it to Europe along with their family members in 2013/14.
Dr Punya Raj Shakya and Okil Kumar Chimoriya who had flown to Spain in the capacity of project directors, also managed to convince CAAN’s trade union by offering a lavish trip for two union leaders Daman Rawal and Bishnu Prasad Marasini. “A week-long holiday trip to Europe is really unforgettable,” one of the directors recounted.
Besides sending CAAN officials and their family members to Europe, the project, under 108 different terms of references, also welcomed highly-paid experts Jorge Castanyer, Jose Luis Pardo de Santayana, Jose Estaban Cerazal, Patricia Moreno, Fernando Lopez and Marta Martinez Puerta, to name a few, to Kathmandu for workshops and seminars.
“Most of the reports can still be found in the CAAN storeroom.
The ministry of culture, tourism and civil aviation also failed to finalise an integrated Civil Aviation Act drafted by the project to replace the existing Civil Aviation Act 1959 and Nepal Civil Aviation Authority Act 1996,” a CAAN director said, adding that the project’s aim to eliminate conflicts between operators and the regulator failed to materalise due to delay in separating a regulatory body and a service provider.
Most CAAN officials admitted that ADB-funded projects in the country’s aviation and tourism sector failed to produce significant results apart from providing a number of merry making opportunities to a few lucky at the aviation regulator-cum-monopoly service providing agency. “ADB as well as CAAN clearly have gotten their priorities wrong and therefore to expect any significant improvement in any of the key areas of civil aviation would be naïve,” an official added.
A version of this article appears in print on January 10, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.