CIAA files graft charges over quake relief procurements

21 Mar 2016 in Media Caravan by Manisha

Seeks recovery of Rs 27.1 million

As tens of thousands of people in Kathmandu spent their nights under makeshift shelters put together with tarpaulins and plastic sheeting in the weeks after the April 25 earthquake, a handful of government officials were engaged in serious irregularities, according to investigations carried out by the  Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). 

The anti-graft body has so far brought charges of corruption against half a dozen civil servants and eight tarpaulin suppliers at the Special Court in two separate cases concerning the procurement of relief materials. The CIAA has sought to recover a combined amount of Rs 27.1 million from the accused.

Those charged include three officials of the Ministry of Urban Development who have been accused of setting up middlemen and working in cahoots with tarpaulin  suppliers. They failed to make direct purchases from the main producers and suppliers, according to the charge sheet.

The investigation has also  found that relief materials procured by the accused officials were of low quality, but they submitted bills for exorbitant amounts, claiming that the tarpaulins were of high quality. The cost of the materials was inflated by up to three times. The bill presented was for Rs 12 per square feet although the unit cost to the main supplier was only Rs 4, the CIAA said. 

The officials bought a total of 27,678 tarpaulins worth about Rs 50 million and distributed these till May 2. They then purchased about 250,000 tarpaulins worth Rs 640 million through a procurement panel formed by Narayan Khadka, a former minister for urban development (MoUD). 

Though the tarpaulins were procured in a hurry through a special decision of the cabinet on April 26, the procurement bills were prepared only on May 2, the day when the special procurement ended and a more formal procurement process was initiated by the panel. 

The storekeeper and three other officials at MoUD had prepared a detailed record of the quality, size, quantity and unit price of the tarpaulins along with a receipt. Five suppliers including Hamsram Pandeya of the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry have also been charged.

The CIAA has seized all the procurement documents for investigation purposes. 

The CIAA has also filed a case at the Special Court against three civil servants, including Local Development Officer of Kathmandu Tirtharaj Bhattarai, for paying bills that included customs tax although this latter had been waived. The loss to the state coffers was to the tune of Rs 3.5 million. Three other suppliers--Mithileshwor Tiwari of New Pashupati Trade and Suppliers, Jhamka Prasad Gautam of Dipesh Enterprises and Hom Prasad Gautam of Sebika Enterprises-- are also charged. 

In a press release issued after the case filing, the CIAA said, “Civil servants were found shamelessly involved in raking in money instead of serving the  earthquake victims.” 
CIAA Spokesperson Krishna Hari Pushkar said the civil servants were bent on lining their pockets rather than providing relief to quake survivors.
  “There was also delay for weeks in the delivery of relief materials,” added Pushkar. 

Bharat Bahadur Thapa, Nepal chapter president of Transparency International (TI), said such depravity during an emergency period marked a new low in corruption in Nepal. “Some people thought it was OK to siphon off money meant for procuring relief materials,” said Thapa. “This was really unfortunate and it happened mainly because of weak governance and poor monitoring.”    

Former minister Khadka, however, denied any intentional corruption in procurements by the civil servants. “All the procurements could not properly evaluate prices and quality in the time of crisis,” he said, adding that analyzing the real situation will yield a fairer picture and do justice to the civil servants. 

Several relief material procurements in the aftermath of the earthquake are under the CIAA scanner, investigation officials said. But they did not divulge details.

Published Date: 24th Feb, 2016
Written By: Rudra Pangeni
Published In: Republica

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