Pathibhara probe report not made public despite promises


By Prem Adhikari, Ilam (Pashupatinagar), Sept. 19: The probe committee formed to investigate alleged irregularities in the management of the holy Pathibhara Temple in Rong Rural Municipality, Ilam, has submitted its report to the District Administration Office (DAO). However, the report has not been made public.

The DAO had formed the committee on June 6 and tasked it with looking into the activities of the old Pathibhara Conservation Organisation (PCO), which has been accused of misappropriation. The committee was asked to present its report within 25 days. However, it submitted it only on Sunday and that too has not been made public. This is despite the fact that the DAO had promised to release the report in the presence of all stakeholders. 

During its investigation, the committee found that the Organisation, which has also not been renewed for many years, had not maintained adequate records of its income and expenses. The PCO also appeared to have not followed the Public Procurement Act while carrying out purchases and constructions. 

The committee was led by Assistant Chief District Officer Dhruba Prasad Koirala. However, sources say that he was unwilling to look at many issues and asked the old PCO to rectify many what he called "minor discrepancies" it was supposed to call out during the course of the investigation itself. He also supposedly pressured other members of the probe committee to only submit half of the investigation report.

Even during the final submission, Koirala apparently tried to conceal several key findings, which prompted Chartered Accountant Prajwol Adhikari, who represented Rong Rural Municipality in the committee, and Internal Auditor Devi Charan Bhandari, who represented the District Treasury Controller Office, to write a formal note of dissent.

Later, Chief District Officer (CDO) Shrawan Kumar Pokharel instructed everyone involved to present the report in full.

The PCO has not released its financial details since the fiscal year 2018/19. It has also not submitted the details of transactions carried out over a period of 19 months; transactions that have not been audited. During this period, the Organisation's bank account had Rs. 1.7 million but the investigation revealed that it needed to have an additional Rs. 8.8 million with it.

When asked why he had not released the final report, Chief District Officer Pokharel said that he would study it first. He also assured that he would forward the findings to the relevant authorities, namely the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority.

"I will release it in due time after I study it," he said, asking everyone to take improprieties normally. "There is corruption in the Pashupatinath Temple too," he said.

But rural municipality representative Adhikari said this aroused suspicion. "While receiving the report, CDO Pokharel told us to forget all about it now. This did not inspire trust."

Meanwhile, the DAO has also refused to share the report with the local government. According to rural municipality chairman Mani Kumar Syangbo, when the local level asked Pokharel for a copy of the report, he said that he could not share it and asked the rural municipality to present a written request.

"We will send a formal written request but if the DAO still does not provide us with the report, we will expose all the facts and issues that they are trying to hide," Syangbo remonstrated. "We will organise a press conference soon."

The locals have also warned of protest if they are not made aware of the probe committee's findings.

Eight months ago, following multiple complaints of embezzlement, the rural municipality took the legal authority of managing the Pathibhara Temple on itself. Since then, the Temple has collected Rs. 10 million in cash offerings, in addition to gold, silver and other non-cash items. Since taking control, the rural municipality has been releasing details of the money and items collected at the temple on a daily basis. 

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