Don’t let them escapeNepal Oil Corporation, the state-owned petroleum monopoly, has made a mockery of the country’s laws by bypassing standard procedures whilst purchasing land to build fuel storage facilities in four different places.
Nepal Oil Corporation, the state-owned petroleum monopoly, has made a mockery of the country’s laws by bypassing standard procedures whilst purchasing land to build fuel storage facilities in four different places.
NOC has bought land in Bhairahawa, Chitwan, Sarlahi and Jhapa to expand its fuel storage capacity. The infrastructure is being built to avert the situation of 2015, when the Indian trade blockade coupled with inadequate stock of petroleum products created panic among the public and fostered black marketing of oil.
Public enterprises like NOC must acquire land through a committee formed under the chief district officer. However, instead of adhering to the law, the oil company invited interested private parties to supply land through a bidding process, enabling the NOC to rope in favoured parties.
Once the private parties were hired to supply land, NOC did not even bother to conduct a study to find out whether the sites proposed by contractors met the safety measures required for the establishment of oil storage facilities. The facilities are being built to keep stock of highly flammable products, such as petrol, diesel and kerosene. These products can wipe out entire settlements in case of fire, and cause irreparable damage to the environment and the ecosystem in case of leakage.
The threat of building on such sites was made evident when a plot of land purchased by NOC in Bhairahawa was inundated by torrential rain. Anyone can guess what would happen if an oil storage facility is built on such a space.
NOC was aware of these risks, but lured by alleged kickbacks, it mustered the courage to flagrantly disregard some of the standard procedures while purchasing land. It is said the petroleum monopoly paid Rs1.6 billion to purchase land in four places, which, as per estimates, is Rs800 million more than the market value.
Currently, various parliamentary committees and even the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, the corruption watchdog, are investigating the matter. If the allegations of misappropriation levelled on NOC officials turn out to be true, concerned authorities should not drag their feet in taking appropriate action.
But lately the public has started losing faith in the government’s ability to punish the guilty because of a nexus of politicians, power brokers and bureaucrats. This loss of faith stems from another suspicion that fraud of this scale cannot be committed without political and state protection. It is time to restore public trust in the government and political leadership; all of those who colluded must be exposed. Doing so is essential because NOC is a public enterprise. If its financial health deteriorates, it will be the taxpayers who will have to fork out huge amounts to bail NOC out.