Minister in final rush to oust CAAN’s Gautam
KATHMANDU, Sept 22: Determined to remove Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) Sanjiv Gautam, Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Jitendra Dev has made final preparations to seek new clarifications from him within 24 hours.
Minister Dev reached the ministry even on a public holiday Thursday to hold a meeting with Secretary Maheshwar Neupane and other senior officials to seek clarifications from Gautam and oust him from CAAN.
Sources said Dev is preparing to seek another clarification, arguing that the previous clarification furnished by Gautam was not satisfactory. If everything goes as planned, Dev will most likely seek clarifications from Gautam on Friday.
CAAN had terminated the contract of the Spanish company Constructora San Jose SA and put it on a blacklist after it failed to complete the improvement work at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) by the given deadline.
However, taking the side of the controversial company, Dev had earlier sought an 11-point clarification from Gautam.
Sources said there were attempts to oust Gautam before this also. Although then Civil Aviation Minister Jiwan Bahadur Shahi had come under repeated pressure from family member of top political leaders, he had declined to oust Gautam, arguing that he had an excellent performance record. Later, Shahi was shunted to the Drinking Water and Sanitation Ministry.
Gautam is among a few individuals who can represent Nepal with firmness at international forums on the aviation sector.
“If Gautam is removed from his post, it is certain that there will be a smaller chance of being dropped from the European Union’s blacklist. This will spread a negative message about Nepal,” said officials at the ministry.
Sources said power brokers as well as the top political leadership are involved in the controversial bid by Dev to remove Gautam. Acting Prime Minister Bijaya Kumar Gachchhadar, his son Subhash Gachchhadar, senior officials of TIA and a few airline entrepreneurs are involved in the game to oust Gautam. Sources also confirmed that Dev held a meeting with these individuals at Dwarika’s Hotel on September 12 .
Gachchhadar junior and airline entrepreneur Aang Chhiring Sherpa, according to sources, have been putting pressure on Gautam through the political leadership to run two projects worth Rs 500 million each–Aviation Radar and TLS System. Gautam has refused to bow to the pressure.
Additionally, TIA General Manager Devananda Jha assured Dev that he would raise Rs 10 million each from the 35 shops at TIA for Dev’s election war chest, sources claimed. Gautam was opposed to any such move.
In seeking the previous clarification, Dev had accused Gautam of increased the cost of the airport project by prolonging the term of the contract. The government had terminated the contract and withdrawn the Rs 1.65 billion performance guarantee and advance payment made after the Spanish company breached the conditions of the contract.
After the termination of contract, the company sought Rs 4.60 billion in compensation. CAAN in response sought Rs 6 billion in compensation against San Jose’s claim.
The minister for culture, tourism and civil aviation heads the CAAN board of directors, which takes such decisions. San Jose had executed less than 17 percent of the total work in the four years of its contract. The board of directors had blacklisted the company with the consent of the Ministry of Finance and the Asian Development Bank, which is funding the project.
Dev’s move against Gautam works to the advantage of San Jose and puts the Nepal government at risk of losing its legal battle. “So far, we have been winning the legal battle as the government and CAAN spoke with one voice,” said an official asking not to be named. “The clarification episode has initiated a conflict and this is likely to benefit San Jose.”