11 - 17 December 2015 #786

Trekking loots

Lokmani Rai in Himal Khabarpatrika, 6-12 December


Investigations have revealed that the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) has misused millions of rupees collected from tourists visiting Nepal that was supposed to be set aside for rescue and medical treatment of trekking guides and porters.  

Two separate audit reports show TAAN officials misappropriated over Rs 60 million between 2009 and 2015. The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) and Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament initially showed some interest in investigating the irregularities, but did not follow up.

Every trekker in Nepal pays $10 (if hiking individually) and $20 (in groups) to the Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS) administered by TAAN and the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB). The association had collected over Rs 170 million since 2009 through TIMS cards which all trekkers must fill up and submit before their trips. Audits reveal that TAAN officials spent over Rs 120 million, but more than half the money is unaccounted for. 

As per its agreement with the NTB, TAAN can spend the TIMS revenue only for administrative costs and rescue and medical treatment of guides and porters. Investigations show that TAAN officials squandered the money on foreign tours and snacks. 

“Money meant for workers in the trekking industry, was shamelessly spent on private junkets,” said one NTB official. The audits show that TAAN officials did not even bother to produce bills of expenses which they claimed in many cases.

Two years ago, the PAC instructed the NTB to stop the TAAN from collecting the TIMS revenue from trekkers and it is NTB which prints TIMS cards. Following parliament’s intervention, NTB stopped giving TIMS cards but TAAN printed its own cards and is collecting fees from trekkers.

TAAN President Chandra Prasad Rijal says the newly-elected executive committee is ready to investigate any irregularities, but says the TAAN should not be punished for crimes committed by its past office-bearers. “Chop off the infected finger, not the hand,” he says.

The NTB signed another agreement last year allowing the TAAN to spend the TIMS revenue in exploring and promoting trekking routes. Trekking agencies not involved in the TAAN say the new agreement is just a cover up of irregularities.