Snake oil salesmanNOC chief Khadka should not be allowed to hide or tamper with evidences
The Supreme Court on Sunday reinstated the ousted controversial chief of the state oil company to the post he previously held. Gopal Bahadur Khadka, managing director of Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), was sacked by the Cabinet on September 18 for embezzling close to Rs1 billion while purchasing land to build oil storage facilities. Investigations conducted by multiple parliamentary committees and the Ministry of Supplies showed Khadka and his team had misappropriated at least Rs800 million at the time of purchasing land plots in Bhairahawa, Chitwan, Sarlahi and Jhapa. The Cabinet had decided to relieve Khadka from his duty based on this evidence and his non-cooperative attitude during the investigation into the land scam. Following this, Khadka moved the Supreme Court demanding his reinstatement.
As soon as Khadka knocked on the doors of the apex court, many had speculated he would get his job back. This speculation had stemmed from the government’s failure to follow the due process while firing Khadka. The government must allow top brass of state-owned enterprises to furnish clarification before dismissing them. This process was omitted while sacking Khadka, making the case weak. The apex court on Sunday pointed to this lapse to reinstate Khadka.
This is not the first time the court had come up with such a ruling. It has previously reinstated several heads of state-owned enterprises who were sacked without being given an opportunity to defend themselves.
The government was aware of the precedence set by the court, yet it decided to fire Khadka. This was a mistake. Yet government officials say if Khadka was given an opportunity to furnish clarification, he would have used the time to hide and tamper with evidence and even influence higher authorities to be lenient on him. This could have made the case more complicated. This is a valid argument because many have seen Khadka flouting orders of high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Supplies, the parent body of the NOC, and even supplies ministers because of his so-called political connections.
Since he is back in office, he may use these connections to his advantage and even offer kickbacks to officials to bend the rules and go scot-free. The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), which is conducting investigation into Khadka’s case, must carefully monitor these activities. Also, the CIAA must work swiftly in this case as it has already confiscated related evidentiary documents from the NOC. Delay in taking action against corrupt people like Khadka will only dishearten the public, who are tired of seeing immoral and unethical ones getting state and political protection. The delay will also weaken corporate governance at the NOC, deteriorate financial health of the oil monopoly, and encourage other NOC officials to engage in corrupt activities.