Attempting to deflect blame, Nepal Trust points to past governments as also complicitA white paper issued by the Nepal Trust alludes to the alleged culpability of former prime ministers Dahal, Deuba and Bhattarai.
Prithvi Man Shrestha
In an attempt to put the ongoing controversy surrounding the Nepal Trust to rest, the Nepal Trust on Tuesday issued a white paper, alluding to the alleged culpability of past administrations.
The white paper, issued by Nepal Trust Chair Ishwar Pokhrel, who is also a deputy prime minister and defence minister, details the Trust’s properties and the lengthy process by which some of those properties were leased out at extremely favourable rates to Yeti Holdings, formally known as Yeti World.
The white paper outlines the involvement of former prime ministers Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Sher Bahadur Deuba in leasing out land at Durbar Marg and Tahachal to Yeti, in an attempt to deflect widespread criticism regarding Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli allegedly favouring Yeti Holdings.
“Currently, an impression has been created that the Oli government handed over the Trust’s properties to Yeti Holdings,” Prabin Raj Dahal, a board member of the Trust, told the Post. “The white paper was issued to remove this illusion and present the reality.”
Dahal clarified that the only decision taken by the current Oli government was to extend the lease period of Gokarna Forest Resort.
“The Trust is not making a loss in leasing out Gokarna land,” he said.
The government extended the lease period for Gokarna Forest Resort by 25 years on December 9 last year.
According to Yangzom Sherpa, also a board member, the white paper was issued to clear the air amid speculations that something is hidden in the lease deals.
“The decision was taken by honouring people’s right to information,” Sherpa told the Post. “We have mentioned what decision was taken under whose government in the tell-all white paper.”
Among the Trust’s decisions that has attracted the most controversy is its leasing out of 14 aanas of land in Durbar Marg to Thamserku Trekking, a subsidiary of Yeti World, for Rs1.4 billion on April 18, 2017.
According to the white paper, when the Nepal Trust board, on August 13, 2014, decided to lease the Trust’s lands in Durbar Marg, Kamaladi and the Tahachal-Soaltee outer complex, Sushil Koirala was the Trust’s patron as prime minister and Bamdev Gautam the Trust’s chairperson as the home minister.
“When the Thamserku’s proposal was approved, Pushpa Kamal Dahal was the prime minister, the patron of the Trust, and Bimalendra Nidhi the home minister,” states the white paper.
Similarly, when the Tahachal plot was leased to Thamserku, Sher Bahadur Deuba was the prime minister and Janardan Sharma the home minister.
Before the amendment of the Nepal Trust Act last year, the home minister used to be chairperson of the Trust. After amendment, the prime minister can nominate a minister as chairperson. Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Pokhrel is the current chairperson of the Trust.
The decision to lease the Durbar Marg land to Thamserku attracted controversy after the 55th Annual Report of the Office of the Auditor General pointed out that the land had been leased at a far lower price than originally quoted. Thamserku had submitted two separate proposals—one quoting Rs6.45 billion and another Rs1.40 billion.
According to the report, the Financial Proposal Evaluation Committee, headed by the Trust's Secretary, had recommended that the Rs6.45 billion proposal be accepted. But Thamserku registered a clarification letter, saying it had only Rs1.40 billion, the rate at which the land was eventually leased.
The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority, acting on the Auditor General’s recommendation, had initiated an investigation into the deal, but the investigation was suspended.
The Trust, however, claims that a technical mistake had resulted in the quote of Rs6.45 billion, and that Thamserku had always only quoted Rs1.40 billion.
In the white paper, the Trust further says that 172 ropanis of the Trust’s lands were transferred to tenants during the administration of prime minister Baburam Bhattarai and home minister Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar.
As per the decision of cabinet’s bill committee, on October 18, 2012, the Trust’s lands in Matatirtha, Thankot, Satungal and Balaju were transferred into the names of tenants citing tenant’s rights. But according to the Trust, as per Section 25 (5) of the Land Act, tenant’s rights cannot be established over government’s lands.
At the release of the white paper, Pokhrel said that the law does not allow the government to transfer government property to individuals.
“We have registered a complaint at the land probe commission, which has sought details about the past decisions of the government regarding these lands,” he said. The land recovery commission—officially known as the Probe Commission into Lands owned by the Public, Government, and Guthis—is headed by former High Court Judge Mohan Raman Bhattarai.
Former prime minister Bhattarai, however, said that the Nepal Communist Party, after being defamed following scandals involving Gokul Baskota and Yeti Holdings, was trying to drag down previous governments as well.
“It’s immoral and wrong,” Bhattarai told the Post. “In order to divert the issue from its own corruption, the incumbent government is spreading rumours and exacting revenge.”
According to Bhattarai, the Matatirtha land never belonged to the Nepal Trust and it was legally distributed to its rightful owners after four different probe committees, including a sub-committee formed by the cabinet’s legislature committee under the leadership of then Nepal Trust secretary Shreedhar Gautam, came to the same conclusion.
“If I had distributed the land to any of my relatives, that could be investigated,” Bhattarai said. “I will make everything clear with all the documents at Wednesday’s Parliament meeting.”
Tika R Pradhan contributed reporting.