EDITORIAL: Step down

Minister Adhikari would do well to step aside by taking moral responsibility for the bad deal, and cooperate with the investigation

Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari has landed in controversy over his alleged involvement in financial irregularities worth Rs 4.34 billion while purchasing two Airbus wide-body aircraft for the state-owned Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC). A sub-committee of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC), led by Rajan KC, submitted its report to the PAC on Wednesday, which mentions the minister’s involvement while paying the final tranche of the aircraft purchase deal to an American leasing company - AAR Corp – that supplied two-wide body Airbus A 330-200 aircraft. Other high-profile figures implicated in the scam include Tourism Secretary Krishna Prasad Devkota and his predecessor Prem Kumar Rai, who is now the Home Secretary, and Shankar Prasad Adhikari, who has already retired from civil service. NAC Managing Director Sugat Ratna Kansakar, a number of NAC board members and members of the committees formed at the time of purchasing the two aircraft have also been implicated, along with two former tourism ministers – Jeevan Bahadur Shahi and Jitendra Dev – who were also part of the initial deal. The KC-led sub-panel has recommended legal action against the minister and others for their involvement in misappropriating funds in the aircraft purchase.

The sub-committee has sought action against Minister Adhikari for his “failure to initiate proper investigation” into the deal. Adhikari has been accused of releasing the final installment of the deal, even after the Public Procurement Monitoring Office and the Office of the Auditor’s General had warned that the NAC had used “loopholes” in the Public Procurement Act. The sub-panel has said the NAC also changed its bylaws to acquire the Airbus aircraft. The bylaws were changed in a manner that only Airbus Company could take part in the bidding, according to the report. Adhikari has also been found to have lied to the PAC. Duing a PAC meeting, he had said he “had consulted the auditor general” before releasing the final tranche to AAR Corp. The following day, Auditor General Tanka Mani Sharma refuted his claim, saying the minister did not discuss the issue with him or any of his officials. This is a case of perjury, as the minister gave a misleading statement in the PAC meeting.

After assuming office in March last year, the minister should have held a thorough investigation into the deal to see if it was made in accordance with the law of the land – Public Procurement Act – before releasing the funds to the leasing company. No financial irregularities were found when two narrow-body Airbus aircraft were purchased earlier directly from the manufacturing company. Why didn’t the concerned officials follow the same procedure to purchase the two wide-body aircraft? It clearly shows the concerned officials had ill-intention of minting money from the fishy deal. As the PAC has received the report from its sub-panel, it should ask the anti-graft Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority to launch further inquiry into the scam. At this point, Minister Adhikari would do well to step down by taking moral responsibility for the bad deal, and cooperate with the investigation. While the law takes its own course Adhikari is expected to show high degree of political morality.

Impure water

Not a day goes by without a news report of some bottled water processing plant being shut down for failing to maintain the minimum standard. With so many water processing plants sprouting across the country, they must be a very profitable venture indeed. And it is not just Kathmandu or big cities outside that are attracting such industries. Even small towns with a sizable population have them today. Siraha in south-east Nepal has just seen eight water industries shut down for failing to meet even the minimum sanitation standards or hygiene.

People are switching to processed water in bottles or jars for drinking purposes, mainly supplied by private companies, because one can’t trust the water being supplied by the government entities through the mains. It is unfortunate that such laxity is allowed in the production and delivery of such a vital human necessity as water. Private companies must not be allowed to play with the health of the people. The only way to stop unscrupulous entrepreneurs from profiting from an unsuspecting consumer is to slap severe penalties on them with jail terms.