KATHMANDU, Sept 15: A few board members including Dolindra Prasad Sharma, chairman and general manager (GM), of Sajha Prakashan recently approached Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Gopal Man Shrestha, demanding Rs 400 million to pay the loans of the state-owned publishing house.
Sources close to DPM Shrestha have revealed that GM Sharma, former education ministers Pradip Nepal and Dinanath Sharma, both nominated board members of Sajha Prakashan, have put pressure on Minister Shrestha to release the amount before the Dashain festival.
DPM Shrestha admitted that Sajha board members including GM Sharma have requested the ministry to provide the amount to Sajha. “They recently came to the ministry and asked me to release Rs 400 million, citing reasons to pay to the retired staffers,” Minister Shrestha told Republica. “I clearly told them that I cannot provide a single penny to Sajha at this moment of controversy,” he said, adding that he would take action against GM Sharma.
Republica and Nagarik dailies have published a series of news reports since July 22 on multiple irregularities at Sajha Prakashan. GM Sharma has been accused of appointing those close to political leaders and media persons, not carrying out audit after he was appointed in Sajha, not maintaining records of annual incomes and book publications, allowing private publishers to use Sajha logo, transferring Rs 5 million from Sajha to the GM's account, and also serving as chairman of the publishing house against the rules.
The Cabinet headed by the then Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal had decided in the second week of December, 2016 to provide Rs 300 million including Rs 100 million as grant to Sajha Prakashan while the latter demanded Rs 400 million. The government released the budget to the publishing house after a month in order to pay the retired officials, loan and upgrade the office management and infrastructures. However, GM Sharma did not pay the retired officials reasonably nor did he pay back the loans and manage the office.
Sajha owes nearly Rs 70 million to different banks including Rs 18.8 million to Citizens Bank and Rs 46 million to Sahakari Bikas Bank. According to GM Sharma, it has to pay Rs 280 million to its retired officials and Rs 15 million as royalties to various writers and authors.
From the Rs 300 million received from the government, Sajha cleared the due of about Rs 150 million it owed to Janak Education Materials Center while about Rs 30 million was paid in interest to various banks, according to Sajha Prakashan. However, there is no clear record of the expenditure and income of the Sajha Prakashan for last five years.
Sajha Prakashan bid farewell to 96 staffers who opted for voluntary retirement a year ago. However, the publishing house is yet to pay them. “We have been paid only 20 percent of our remaining allowances and salaries,” said some retired Sajha officials, “GM Sharma has pledged us to pay us fully before the upcoming Dashain festival.” Sajha Prakashan has claimed that it has to pay a total of Rs 280 million to 172 retired officers.
When Republica called GM Sharma to seek information, he disconnected the phone. Sajha board member Dinanath Sharma said that a recent board meeting of Sajha had decided to ask the Ministry of Education (MoE) for the amount in order to pay the retired staffers. “I have just arrived in the Kathmandu Valley after a weeklong visit to the districts. GM Sharma might have contacted the ministry for the fund,” he said. “If the ministry provides the money, the retired staffers will be paid this Dashain,” he added.
The Sajha directive 2073 (2017) clearly mentions not to appoint new officials while making provisions for giving golden handshake to the staffers who have served Sajha for at least 20 years.
However, chairman Sharma appointed 86 officials including four officers on contract against the rules instead of paying the retired officers. Interestingly, the appointed staffers include close relatives of political leaders, administrators, journalists and their relatives, and people close to GM Sharma. Some staffers were appointed after the implementation of the election code of conduct enforced during the local polls 2017.
Sharma was appointed the GM of Sajha Prakashan by the then education minister Chitra Lekha Yadav on January 19, 2015. GM Sharma was also given the post of chairperson on July 26, 2015 by Yadav. His term ended in January 2017. In January 2017, he was reappointed the chairman and GM for four years when Dhani Ram Paudel was the education minister.
Following a report by the probe panel formed by the ministry, the MoE has sought clarification from GM Sharma. The Public Accounts Committee of parliament has been investigating the irregularities at Sajha Prakashan. The Commission for the Investigation of the Abuse of Authority, too, has started investigating the irregularities after news reports were published in Republica and Nagarik dailies.