First Business News Portal in English from Nepal
KATHMANDU: The recent appointment process for the chairman of the regulatory body overseeing the telecommunications sector has sparked controversy, with allegations of favoritism and nepotism casting a shadow over the selection procedure. Critics argue that the criteria and qualifications set for the position seem to prioritize personal interests over merit, potentially compromising the regulatory authority’s effectiveness.
The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology revealed that 25 individuals submitted applications for the chairman position, forming a diverse pool of candidates, including former secretaries, current secretaries on leave, and former heads of public institutions. Among them, Bhupendra Bhandari has emerged as a notable candidate, raising eyebrows due to his existing role as a consultant for the Ministry.
Bhandari, who currently resides in Dang district, had initiated his application for the chairman position. His dual role as a consultant for the Ministry and an applicant in the selection process has fueled concerns of a potential conflict of interest.
The selection process for the chairman involves the formation of a committee under the coordination of the secretary of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. This committee establishes qualifications and criteria, ensuring a fair and transparent selection process.
However, concerns have been raised regarding Bhandari’s influence within the ministry, potentially compromising the neutrality of the committee’s decisions.
Despite the establishment of standards and qualifications by the committee, concerns linger over Bhandari’s role and its impact on the appointment criteria. Officials argue that Bhandari’s presence in administrative positions could influence the effectiveness of the selection process, especially considering his significant role in the committee investigating Ncell-related matters.
Issues have also arisen in the setting of qualification standards, leading to accusations of undue influence by Bhandari. The current qualifications appear to restrict active professionals in the regulatory sector, specifically those associated with Nepal Telecom.
The criteria now mandate that only individuals above the tenth level of government service are eligible to apply, a departure from past considerations of experience. This change is seen as an attempt to prevent active professionals within regulatory bodies from participating.
An official from NTA commented, “Such qualification setting reflects Bhandari’s influence,” emphasizing the need for an impartial and unbiased selection process.
Bhandari has not submitted his resignation yet, as the provision only applies once the legal appointment process begins. However, concerns persist that his continued presence might impact the competition and influence the imposition of biased selection criteria. Critics argue that his potential conflict of interest could compromise the integrity of the entire appointment process.
The chairman’s position is open to Nepali citizens between the ages of 30 and 65, with varying educational and experiential requirements for government and non-government individuals. Those with government service experience, working at the graduate level or above or at the tenth level, are eligible. External candidates must have a minimum of ten years of relevant experience.
The Ministry will shortlist three candidates from the pool of applicants and recommend them to the cabinet for appointment. The government will then appoint one individual as the chairman, filling the vacancy left by the former chairman, Purushottam Khanal, who resigned earlier.
Who is Bhandari?
Sources close to Minister Rekha Sharma reveal that despite not being a Maoist, Bhandari has been appointed as an advisor due to his close ties with Maoist Chairman and Prime Minister Prachanda and businessman Upendra Mahato.
Upendra Mahato, a businessman with experience in both domestic and international telecom companies similar to Bhandari, has shown interest in the telecommunication sector. Bhandari, a chartered accountant, boasts experience with companies like Ncell, Smart, and UTL.
Mahato, deeply involved in Nepal’s telecommunications sector, has been associated with companies ranging from UTL to Ncell. Notably, he has recently expressed interest in obtaining a license for a telecommunication infrastructure sharing company.
While former Chairman Digambar Jha initiated the process to address Mahato’s interest. However, Chairman Purushottam Khanal intervened and put a halt to it.
Amidst ongoing discussions about the Ncell acquisition, Smart management changes, and the issuance of licenses for new telecom companies, Mahato is actively working to influence appointments within the Nepal Telecommunications Authority.
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