NCELL Controversy: Government in disarray, Opposition maintains silence

Gyanu Ghimire

December 5, 2023


NCELL Controversy: Government in disarray, Opposition maintains silence

Key leaders of Nepali political parties/File

KATHMANDU: A contentious situation has emerged following the revelation that Axiata Group, holding an 80 percent equity stake in Ncell Axiata Limited, traded its shares without notifying the government. The controversy has sparked widespread debate on social media platforms, yet leaders from both the ruling and opposition parties have opted to remain tight-lipped.

The Malaysian telecommunications giant, Axiata Group, recently announced the conclusion of its investment journey in Ncell, citing a decline in revenue as the primary motive. In response, the Nepal Telecommunication Authority issued a notice instructing Axiata to seek approval before conducting any trades, while the Patan High Court concurrently issued a show cause order to the company.

Amidst the unfolding situation, leaders of the ruling party are preoccupied with foreign visits, and the Chairman of the main opposition party, CPN-UML, KP Oli, is engaged in Sudur Paschim, fueling speculation that both the government and opposition are deliberately neglecting the case.

Government’s Response:

When Axiata Group made its decision, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was in Dubai, Vice Prime Minister Purna Bahadur Khadka in Ghana, and Law Minister Dhan Raj Gurung in Brazil. 

Upon returning, PM Dahal held a meeting with the chief secretary and announced the formation of a committee under Minister for Communication and Information Technology, Rekha Sharma, to study the case. 

Minister Sharma emphasized that Axiata must obtain permission to sell shares, clear dues, and fulfill its responsibilities toward the government.

PM Dahal, in recent discussions with the media, pledged to scrutinize the case and ensure Axiata Group is held accountable.

Confusion within Nepali Congress:

Vice President of Nepali Congress and Law Minister Dhan Raj Gurung expressed unawareness, stating, “I was in Brazil, and I don’t have any information about discussions in the party and the government regarding the case.” 

Deputy General Secretary Bhishmaraj Angdembe added that the party will declare its stance only after a thorough study.

Opposition’s Silence:

The CPN-UML, as the main opposition, has chosen to remain silent on the Ncell case. Party leaders, when questioned, referred to their ‘Mechi-Mahakali Campaign’ as a reason for not actively addressing the issue. General Secretary Shankar Pokharel cited the ongoing campaign as a hindrance to studying the case.

Lawmaker and Chief Whip of UML, Mahesh Bartaula, echoed similar sentiments.

Coalition Parties’ Position:

Key members of the coalition government – CPN (Maoist Center), CPN (US), and Janata Samajbadi Party – have maintained a similar stance, asserting that the party is yet to conduct a study and is unaware of the details of the case.