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Tourism Minister defends charges levelled against him

 Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari has today claimed that he is not involved in the Nepal Airlines Corporation’s wide-body aircraft purchase deal.

In a press meet organised at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation in Singha Durbar, Minister Adhikari committed to assisting a sub-committee formed by Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament to probe into possible anomalies in NAC’s wide-body aircraft procurement process.

For the first time, the tourism minister publicly spoke defending himself, the employees of NAC and Ministry secretary since parliamentary sub-committee confirmed his involvement in financial irregularities worth Rs 4.34 billion while purchasing two wide-body airplanes for the state-owned Nepal Airlines Corporation.

The sub-committee has also sought action against NAC Managing Director Sugat Ratna Kansakar, a number of NAC board members and members of committees formed at the time of purchasing the two aircraft. The sub-committee has identified Kansakar as the designer of the embezzlement plot.

The annual audit report of OAG has revealed irregularities amounting to a staggering Rs 6 billion in the wide-body aircraft purchase deal. It has been reported that NAC had used an agent to purchase the planes instead of seeking bids from aircraft manufacturing companies as envisioned in the law.

On the occasion, NAC board member Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane clarified that there seemed anomalies in aircraft purchase deal as the specification mentioned in the request for proposal (RFP) differed. Lamichhane clarified, an external take-off weight capacity of 230 tonnes was mentioned in the specification under the RFP, which according to him is the mean capacity, while the aircraft manufacturer company specified the capacity as 242 tonnes.

For the criticism faced by NAC over the aircraft purchase process in recent days, and doubts whether the aircraft were purchased or brought on lease, the NAC board member stated that the ownership of the two wide-body planes has already been transferred to NAC.

Previously, the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and the Citizen Investment Trust (CIT) had written to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal to not allow NAC to either sell or lease the wide-body aircraft that the national flag carrier recently acquired without their permission. The correspondence mentioned that one of the wide-body aircraft with call sign 9N-ALZ was under primary ownership of EPF and secondary ownership of CIT, while, the other aircraft with call sign 9N-ALY is under primary ownership of CIT and secondary ownership of EPF.

The Minister committed to assisting in the investigation of the wide-body purchase deal saying that there was nothing to worry as the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) would definitely get to the truth. Minister Adhikari opined that the country’s national flag carrier should be encouraged. He claimed that NAC was progressing well and had a bright future ahead.

In April 2017, NAC had signed a purchase agreement with the United States-based AAR Corporation to buy two 274-seater Airbus 330-200 series wide-body aircraft worth $209.6 million.

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. The two wide-body aircraft started operation on August 1.

Following NAC’s inability to fly its Airbus A330 wide-body aircraft in a full-fledged manner, the corporation has been facing huge loss in the operation of these aircraft.

It has been learned that NAC has made Rs 264 million earnings through its two A330 wide-body aircraft — between August 1 and September 15 — while it has spent Rs 756 million for their operation.

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