Caan chief told not to attend his office, asked to report to ministryDespite widespread criticism, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has initiated the process of sacking the chief of the aviation sector regulatory body, in a move that could jeopardise initiatives taken so far to enhance air safety standards in the country.
Despite widespread criticism, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has initiated the process of sacking the chief of the aviation sector regulatory body, in a move that could jeopardise initiatives taken so far to enhance air safety standards in the country.
On Tuesday, the ministry directed Sanjiv Gautam, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan), to stop attending the office and be present at the ministry every day to: review the Aviation Policy; expedite the process of extending compensation to the Korean firm that conducted a detailed feasibility study on construction of an international airport in Nijgad; formulate strategies for effective implementation of national pride projects [under the domain of the ministry]; and initiate the process of establishing the Aviation Safety Inspection Bureau to enhance air safety standards. The ministry has formed a three-member committee under Gautam to perform these tasks. Other members of the committee are undersecretaries Pramod Nepal and Niranjan Ghimire, according to Ghanshyam Upadhyaya, spokesperson for the ministry.
The decision to form the committee was taken at the ministerial level on Monday.
Civil Aviation Minister Jitendra Narayan Dev did not respond to Post’s calls and text message.The move to relieve Gautam, who was appointed Caan director general a little more than two years ago, “temporarily” from his responsibilities at Caan is being seen as the first step towards sacking him.“This is a politically charged case so chances of him ultimately being fired cannot be ruled out,” said a senior official of the Civil Aviation Ministry on condition of anonymity. However, the practice of summoning chiefs of Caan to work in committees is not new, the source added. “So, Gautam could eventually be sent back to Caan again.”
The plan to sack Gautam, according to reliable sources, was designed by a meeting held between newly appointed Civil Aviation Minister Jitendra Narayan Dev, Civil Aviation Joint Secretary Suresh Acharya; Ang Tshiring Sherpa, managing director of Yeti Airlines; Subash Gachhadar, son of Deputy Prime Minister and Local Development Minister Bijay Kumar Gachhadar; and Devananda Upadhyaya, general manager of the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). The meeting was held at Dwarika’s Hotel on September 12.
Right after the meeting, the Civil Aviation Ministry sought clarification from Gautam on 11 different issues. During this process, clarification was also sought on an irrelevant issue related to Caan’s decision to terminate contract with Constructora Sanjose, the Spanish contractor for the $92-million TIA Improvement Project. The contractor was sacked after it could not even meet 20 percent of its construction target in six years and did not show any sign of improving the performance.
Multiple sources said the Spanish contractor worked closely with Sherpa. It is also said TIA General Manager Upadhyaya was sympathetic towards the Spanish contractor. The decision to fire the Spanish contractor, however, was not made by Caan alone. It was made collectively by the Civil Aviation Ministry, the Ministry of Finance, the National Planning Commission and the Asian Development Bank, the main financier of the TIA Improvement Project.
The case to sack the Spanish company was so strong that petitions filed by the contractor in Nepali and Spanish courts were quashed. The case has now reached the Singapore International Arbitration Centre. If Nepal loses this case because of the ministry’s decision to question the legitimacy of sacking the Spanish company, the government will have to pay billions of rupees to the contractor in compensation.
After acknowledging the gravity of this issue, the ministry made Acharya a scapegoat and blamed him for seeking clarification on sacking of the Spanish contractor. Acharya was working as the acting secretary of the Civil Aviation Ministry at the time when the decision to seek clarification from Gautam was made.
Since then the ministry has sought another clarification from Gautam. Gautam sent his responses on Monday. Immediately after the ministry received his reply, a decision to summon him was made.“The minister and the ministry cannot transfer me wherever they wish, or relieve me from my duties, as I was appointed by the Cabinet,” said Gautam. “Only the Caan board has the authority to take such a decision.”
Gautam was appointed as the chief of Caan for a period of four years. One of his biggest achievements since joining the office was to remove the tag of “significant safety concerns” put on Nepal’s aviation sector by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the global aviation watchdog, for failure to raise air safety standards. Removal of this tag is considered first step towards getting the country out of the blacklist of the European Union, which has barred all Nepali carriers from flying in its skies because of poor safety records.