Airbus A330 purchase scandal: Oli government faces moral quandary

Thursday, January 3rd, 2019 | | Politics

The KP Oli government faces a serious moral quandary as a sitting minister and top-level bureaucrats have been indicted by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament in the embezzlement scandal surrounding the purchase of two Airbus A-330 jets.

The inquiry report of the committee has charged Civil Aviation Minister Rabindra Adhikari, Civil Aviation Secretary Krishna Prasad Devkota, Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office Sisir Prasad Dhungana, and Managing Director of Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) Sugat Ratna Kansakar, among others, with misappropriating at least Rs 4.35 billion while procuring the two wide-body aircraft.
The report recommends that the government take necessary actions against the individuals accused in the case.

The parliamentary inquiry has held 34 incumbent and erstwhile government officials responsible in one of the largest corruption incidents in the country’s history. Among them are former aviation ministers Jeevan Bahadur Shahi and Jitendra Dev, who had served in the governments led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Sher Bahadur Deuba respectively, and former aviation secretaries Shankar Prasad Adhikari, Prem Kumar Rai and Maheshwor Neupane.

The members of the inquiry panel and officials closely following the case say that the incumbent government officials accused in the case should step down to facilitate further investigation by either the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) or a parliamentary body.

But with the indicted officials remaining largely silent on the report’s findings, the onus of creating a conducive environment for a fair inquest now lies on Prime Minister Oli, said Shree Hari Aryal, senior advocate and anti-corruption activist.

“Minister Adhikari was caught recording false statement before parliamentary committee. If he does not step down voluntarily, then it is the job of the prime minister to take appropriate steps,” said Aryal. “It is the test of will for the prime minister. Whether he will take the high road and call for a fair probe into the case remains to be seen.”

The full house meeting of the Public Accounts Committee is expected to deliberate on the report on Friday, before submitting it to the government and the CIAA.

It is up to the Oli government to open a fair and comprehensive probe into the case and take it to its logical end. However, some leaders from the ruling Nepal Communist Party say that the government is not going to take any decision in haste. “Until now, we have been going by what media has reported. The government will take appropriate decision only after it has received and studied the report,” said one leader.

Many see this as an open-and-shut case, given that the officials from both the Aviation Ministry and the NAC had tried to obstruct the investigation.

Pradip Yadav, a member of the inquiry panel, said Minister Adhikari had instructed the NAC officials not to divulge any details pertaining to the procurement of jets to the panel members.

“If Adhikari and the other officials named in the report have even a modicum of moral sensitivity, they should resign from their positions,” said Yadav.