Convention report sees holes in FNJ account book

Kathmandu, May 8:

The Federation of Nepali Journalists is not squeaky clean when it comes to handling its finances, a financial report of the umbrella organisation of journalists indicates.

For the first time in history, general conference of the FNJ ended without passing a financial report, due to irregularities. Now, a team has been constituted to dig deep into the financial lapses.

According to the report, the FNJ had provided hefty salaries to coordinators of four projects. For example, the EC-supported project for promoting freedom of expression and independent media hired a coordinator for a month, offering him Rs 774,112 as salary. The Danida HUGOU-supported project for capacity development of media persons was no exception. It paid monthly salary of Rs 497,142 to its project coordinator. The coordinator of CIDA-supported project on ‘Preparing Nepali media for New Nepal’ got Rs 36,000 monthly as salary.

The IMS-supported project to investigate the situation in Tarai and media paid Rs 25,000 per month to its project coordinator. FNJ members do not know when vacancies were called, under which criteria candidates for lucrative positions were selected and who were the lucky project coordinators.

Seminars organised by the FNJ in districts were no less expensive. A national seminar was organised under the CIDA-supported programme at a cost of Rs 443,747 without journalists based in districts knowing much about the goings-on.

The Danida-supported project was found to have doled out as much as Rs 197,900 to a certain person for translating training manuals. The irony is that the EU-supported project has spent Rs 1.31 lakh under the same title. An IMS-supported project paid Rs 108,500 in translation works, excluding expenditure of Rs 90,000 as remuneration for a writer and Rs 45,000 as editor remuneration for two months.

The extent of expenditure would have been a non-issue if the high-level projects had brought the slightest of change in professional or social standing of media persons.

Kiran Chapagain, a journalist, claimed that the FNJ had not paid promised sum to consultants. “I was promised Rs 70,000 for working on a certain FNJ project, but I was paid just half,” he said. Some journalists want to know why the FNJ hired a “C” grade Chartered Accountant. The report has urged the FNJ to “spend money only after setting norms.”

Travelling is one of the things FNJ office-bearers indulge in. From 2007 July to April 2008, the FNJ spent Rs 267,561 from its regular expenses kitty for transportation. Three FNJ projects footed travelling expenses of Rs 1,763,737.

The FNJ was found to have spent hefty money in meetings. According to the report, one meeting costs Rs 2,000 to 70,000, an astronomical sum for district committees of the FNJ that cannot collect enough funds to pay rent for office rooms. The central committee of the FNJ pays Rs 143,684 per month on rent.

Kiran Nepal, chairman of the Society of Economic Journalists, said, “The FNJ has broken all norms of transparency. We want to see a system in our FNJ.”

Life in Kathmandu is difficult, especially for those who have come from districts to give their career a boost. It can be severe when you have dozens of “cadres” seeking financial support. These things notwithstanding, those who have promised to keep journalism as a profession must keep the promise.