Thursday, February 9, 2012

Combatants suspect misuse of Rs 3 billion from 'PLA fund'


KATHMANDU, Feb 9: The seven PLA cantonments continue to remain tense as combatants demand answers about the possible misuse of the ‘PLA fund’ and the return of their share of money from it.

The leadership of the cantonments meanwhile has either kept mum over the issue or, at worst, resorted to beating up and threatening the combatants with consequences. But the combatants say they are determined to trace the money and will not give up until they get satisfactory answers.

“We are not going to leave the cantonment until the issue is settled. None of us above company commander level has left the cantonment even after receiving our voluntary retirement checks,” said Nep Bahadur Kuwar Magar, vice-commander at the PLA Sixth Division, Surkhet.

Some combatants in the PLA Third Division, Shaktikhor, are even contemplating legal remedies over the matter. “We have been given assurance that the party leadership will settle the issue amicably. If it doesn’t do so in the next few days, we will begin a legal process,” said Udaya Bahadur Chalaune, vice-commander at the Third Division who left the cantonment under threat from the commanders.

What is ‘PLA fund’?

The ‘PLA fund’ was created at each of the seven cantonments with money drawn from three sources – monthly deduction of Rs 1,000 from each combatant’s salary, the salaries that cantonment commanders drew in the name of absentee combatants, and commissions received while awarding contracts for supplying rations to the cantonments.

The combatants were told that the money would be put into the fund transparently and part of it would be used for “emergency” purposes and in the welfare of the combatants — the details of which were never fully explained to the combatants.

“There was vagueness and a lack of clarity since the beginning about the purpose of establishing the fund and its use, which has resulted in this mess,” said Vice-commander Magar.

Amount of money in ‘PLA fund’

It is not easy to ascertain exactly how much money the PLA fund has but it’s also not difficult to make calculations that would be close to the truth.

For instance, the first source of the fund was the monthly deduction of Rs 1,000 from each combatant. That means, Rs 19 million per month and 228 million per year from 19,525 combatants. In five years, the monthly deduction of Rs 1,000 would alone contribute over 1.14 billion rupees to the fund.

The second source of money for the PLA fund was the salaries that the cantonment commanders drew in the name of absentee combatants. The PLA was drawing salary and ration allowance for 19,525 combatants till November last year. The recounting of combatants concluded in the first week of December by surveyor teams sent to the cantonments by the Special Committee found that 2,432 combatants were absent.

The commanders were drawing salary and ration amounts for these absentee combatants as well. Since the government provided a monthly salary and ration allowance of Rs 9,230 per combatant, the PLA was drawing Rs 22.4 million per month, or Rs 242 million every year, in the name of the absentee combatants.

It’s difficult to establish since when the 2,432 combatants went missing from the cantonment as it is likely they left on different dates. But there is another side to the story: many combatants who had deserted the cantonments were recalled by the commanders to receive their voluntary retirement package with a tacit understanding that those combatants would surrender half the money to the PLA, and the number who turned up shows that the absentees from the cantonments were far more numerous than 2,432.

So if we allow these two discrepancies to cancel each other out and assume that 2,432 combatants were absent from the cantonments since the very beginning, the PLA drew Rs 1.34 billion from state coffers in the name of the absentees.

The government provided an average of Rs 2,730 per month to the 19,525 combatants as ration allowance. This means Rs 53 million per month and Rs 639 million per year and Rs 3.19 billion in five years. Contractors supplying the rations concede that the PLA used to take at last 20 percent in commission from them. So, the PLA may have earned at least Rs 600 million in commissions while awarding the ration contracts during the five years.

Misuse of ‘PLA fund’

In total, the PLA fund should therefore comprise at least Rs 3 billion (Rs 1.14 billion from deduction of monthly combatant salaries, Rs 1.34 billion drawn in the name of absentee combatants and Rs 600 million received in commissions for ration contracts).

When the combatants in the cantonments pressed the commanders to disclose the total amount of money in PLA fund, commanders at the PLA First Division at Chulachuli, Ilam said they have only Rs 60 million. The commanders in the second division said they have Rs 90 million in the fund and similarly the third division has Rs 140 million, the fourth division has Rs 80 million, the fifth division Rs 30 million, sixth division Rs 20 million and the seventh division Rs 40 million. This means the seven PLA Divisions have a total of Rs 460 million.

The commanders also told the agitating combatants that they were asked to send 60 percent of the money from the PLA fund to party headquarters, meaning party Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and they did so accordingly. They have also said that the rest of money was spent on construction, fuel and miscellaneous expenses.

Since the PLA commanders have failed to make a transparent accounting of the PLA fund, the combatants are in no mood to accept what they have been told. Nor are they willing to forgo the money reportedly sent to party headquarters.

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