Middlemen lobby for their interests in parliamentary Public Accounts CommitteeCommittee members themselves expressed concern after a local agent for a foreign firm lodged a complaint and was then summoned as an expert on the matter.
Members of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee have raised serious questions regarding the functioning of the House panel that is mandated to look into governmental financial irregularities. Some members allege that there are vested interests at play in the committee.
Committee members began to raise questions after Bijaya Mishra, an alleged “expert” in the field of information technology and communications, filed a complaint with the committee last week arguing that Nepal did not need a security printing press and that the cost of setting up one in the country was too high. Members sensed something was afoot when Mishra, who is the representative of a Swiss firm vying for the same security printing contract, was called in to testify before the committee as an expert.
“The way he was called as an expert at PAC has raised serious questions,” committee member Surya Pathak told the Post. “How can a man who is the local representative of a foreign firm become an expert because he was unable to secure his business? PAC is increasingly turning into a battlefield for middlemen, which I have already cautioned Chairman Bharat Shah and Secretary Rojnath Pandey against.”
PAC has a wide mandate to probe financial irregularities, including findings by the Auditor General, reports in the media, and the government’s own expenditure accounts.
According to Pathak, a similar episode had taken place during a global call for the maintenance of Nepal Airlines’ Airbus engines. After Nepal Airlines called for global maintenance bid in March, a British firm and a German firm had been shortlisted with the contract eventually going to the British company. However, the German firm lodged a complaint at PAC claiming financial irregularities while awarding the tender. PAC duly ordered Nepal Airlines to halt the maintenance process.
“Again, this was a fight between two local representatives of foreign firms,” said Pathak. “The committee should be mindful while following up on complaints, should conduct a discussion in-house, and should provide credible, evidence-based directives to the government or concerned agencies.”
Numerous other issues, including the procurement of two wide-body aircraft for Nepal Airlines, the Baluwatar land scam, and share distribution of Hyatt Hotel, have come before PAC but none of the committee’s directives has been implemented by the government. And the committee itself hasn’t followed up with the government for not implementing its directives.
“Before holding any discussion on a complaint, PAC should hold a serious in-house debate that is based on evidence, facts and legal grounds,” said former PAC Secretary Som Bahadur Thapa.
According to Thapa, in functioning democracies, recommendations from parliamentary committees are fully implemented within two-to-six months and Nepal’s Parliament should make sure to do the same.
“PAC should conduct regular monitoring of its recommendations or directives and remind the government if its recommendations are not implemented,” said Thapa. “It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that all recommendations and directives are implemented in a timely manner.”
Committee chairperson Shah and Secretary Pandey were both unavailable for comments.
Of late, PAC has been receiving complaints from international firms and companies who have business interests in Nepal but have failed to secure contracts, a committee official told the Post.
“In order to end this tendency, PAC should carve a clear bottom line on what kind of issues can be discussed,” the committee member told the Post.
Former committee member Ramhari Khatiwada said that a committee like PAC should be able to weather political and business interests or it will cease to function.
“When I was a member of PAC in the last Constituent Assembly, we used to get pressure from political leaders, business people and interest groups but we never entertained them,” said Khatiwada. “PAC should not expend its energy in personal issues; rather, it should discuss policy corruption, large-scale corruption, and financial irregularities. Any middlemen who come to PAC after not getting business should be treated as a joke.”