Kathmandu, February 20
Minister of Communications and Information Technology Gokul Prasad Baskota today resigned from his post after the release of an audiotape in which he is heard negotiating kickbacks with a Swiss equipment supplier in the government’s security printing press procurement deal.
Baskota, who was in Dhangadhi this morning, submitted his resignation to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli in Baluwatar upon his return. In a Twitter post, Baskota said, “I inform that I have tendered my resignation from the minister’s post to the prime minister on moral grounds after questions were raised against me.”
Baskota is a close confidant of the PM. He has been living in Oli’s personal residence in Balkot, Bhaktapur, since Oli moved to his official residence in Baluwatar soon after becoming the prime minister.
Without referring to the Baskota scandal, Oli this morning said he was fighting for system and good governance. “I won’t spare anybody working against the system and good governance, no matter how close they are to me,” said Oli at an event to launch a book written by Nepal Rastra Bank Deputy Governor Chintamani Siwakoti.
Baskota’s resignation followed a meeting between ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Co-chairs Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal in Baluwatar this morning after the release of the audiotape. Sources said NCP co-chairs agreed that Baskota must resign. Oli then summoned Baskota to Baluwatar and asked him to resign.
News portal hamrakura.com was the first to release the audiotape last night. In the audiotape, Baskota is heard negotiating around Rs 740 million in commission with Bijay Prakash Mishra, said to be the Nepal agent of a Swiss equipment supplier, for procuring security printing press.
“I want the procurement deal to be sealed at Rs 26-27 billion. If the deal is sealed, let’s assume, at Rs 25 billion, what amount will we receive?” Baskota is heard asking agent Mishra.
In his reply, Mishra says the kickbacks will amount to around Rs 740 million — 70 per cent of which Baskota will receive in commission. Baskota is then heard saying that the deal amount could be raised by Rs 1 billion to increase the commission amount.
Baskota is also heard using obscene language in reference to bureaucrats involved in the project. “If I tell the (abusive Nepali word) bureaucrats about it, they will prevail over me. So you [Mishra] deal with them,” says Baskota. Mishra then agrees to do so.
The main opposition Nepali Congress had this morning demanded that Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli sack Baskota after the release of the audiotape.
Organising a press conference at the party headquarters in Sanepa, Lalitpur, NC Spokesperson Bishwa Prakash Sharma said it was not only Baskota’s responsibility to resign to pave the way for fair investigation, it was also Oli’s responsibility to ask Baskota to resign and encourage authorities concerned to conduct investigations fairly.
Sharma also urged the prime minister to listen to the obscene language Baskota used while he negotiated kickbacks with Mishra.
“The prime minister has said he will not even look at the face of the corrupt. But he has to listen to the obscene words his minister has used in the audiotape,” said Sharma. “Any politician using obscene language in reference to bureaucrats is disgraceful.”
Sharma also questioned the word ‘we’ that Baskota used in the audiotape referring to those supposed to receive the kickbacks. “We ask the prime minister who Baskota was referring to when he said in the audiotape ‘we need the said amount’,” said Sharma.
Meanwhile, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority stated that it was closely following developments related to the Baskota audiotape scandal. “If we receive a formal complaint in line with constitutional and legal provisions, we’ll start investigations immediately,” said CIAA Spokesperson Pradip Kumar Koirala.
“Since we’ve not yet received a complaint, and the scandal has just surfaced, we are closely watching the developments. We will soon take a decision on the matter.”
A version of this article appears in print on February 21, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.
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