House sub-panel to probe NAC wide-body row

This is a sovereign Parliament, not Ason Chowk. This Parliament nominates people like you to top posts, so behave responsibly — NCP leader Bhim Rawal tells NAC MD Sugat Ratna Kansakar

Kathmandu, November 23

The Parliamentary International Relations Committee today formed a three-member sub-committee led by Nepali Congress lawmaker Prakash Man Singh to investigate the controversial procurement, ownership and operation of two wide-body aircraft by Nepal Airlines Corporation.

Other members of the sub-panel are Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmaker Narad Muni Rana and Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal’s lawmaker Renuka Gurung. IRC Chairperson Pabitra Niraula Kharel said the sub-committee had been mandated to come up with a report within a month.

In today’s meeting of the IRC, lawmakers from both ruling and opposition parties grilled Minster of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari, Secretary Krishna Prasad Devkota and NAC Managing Director Sugat Ratna Kansakar, asking them to furnish documents related to the aircraft procurement.

Present in today’s IRC meeting were former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, former deputy prime ministers Bhim Rawal, Sujata Koirala and Prakash Man Singh, and lawmakers Surendra Thapa, Pushpa Bhusal, Agni Sapkota and Dibya Mani Rajbhandari.

Furnishing his reply, Minister Adhikari said the aircraft procurement process had started three years ago, way before he took charge of the ministry, and that he was in the office only at the time of receiving the aircraft.

He urged the House committee to investigate the row and come up with truth. “The ministry will fully cooperate with the investigation by providing all the documents related to aircraft procurement within 24 hours,” he said, adding the government would abide by the directions of the committee after the investigation.

Amid reports that NAC does not own but has leased one of the two aircraft, Secretary Devkota reiterated that NAC owned both the aircraft and that the committee could cross-check all the procurement documents. He also made it clear that the aircraft came with around 6,000-flight hour warranty, which roughly translated to around one-and-a-half years.

The first wide-body Airbus A330-200 aircraft was added to NAC’s fleet on June 28 while the corporation acquired the second long-haul aircraft on July 26. Through the procurement of these big aircraft, costing almost Rs 24 billion, NAC intended to fly to long-range destinations including Japan, Korea and Saudi Arabia. However, NAC’s failure to do so has raised many eyebrows.

NAC MD Kansakar said although he had all the aircraft procurement-related documents, he could not distribute the documents at ‘Ason Chowk’. “I have already forwarded a vehicle-full of documents to the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee,” he said. “But I cannot make public original documents because of the precondition agreed upon by the two signatory parties that makes consent mandatory from both sides before making the documents public.”

NCP lawmaker Rawal rebuked Kansakar for making ‘irresponsible statement’. “This is a sovereign Parliament, not Ason Chowk. This Parliament nominates people like you to top posts, so behave responsibly,” Rawal said.

Former prime minister and senior NCP leader Nepal said the aircraft procurement process should be transparent, and that an investigation was mandatory.

NAC has been operating the two wide-body aircraft at a huge loss. In fact, the corporation has made earnings worth Rs 264 million through the operation of the wide-body planes between August 1 and September 15, while it has incurred an expenditure of Rs 756 million for their operation in the said period.

NAC Executive Chairman Madan Kharel was absent from the meeting.