GAESO under UK govt scanner

KATHAMNDU, MAR 13 - The Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen’s Organisation (GAESO), an ex-British Gurkha soldiers’ body, has come under the British government’s scrutiny after reports emerged that it was illegally charging ex-Gurkhas Rs. 60,000  to settle in the UK.

UK’s Justice Minister Lord Bach launched a probe this week after the UK Home Affairs Select Committee was told that GAESO was charging ex-Gurkhas for needless visa advice, even though the advice is freely available at the Gurkha Settlement Office in Man Bhawan, Lalitpur.

Padam Bahadur Gurung, President of GAESO, didn’t want to comment on the issue when contacted. “The inquiry is going on. We cannot say anything on the issue until it’s over,” Gurung said.

However, Krishna Kumar Rai, vice-president of GAESO, had told the Post last month that the sum was being charged for GAESO’s operating expenses, which include “staff salaries, electricity and water bills, and bills for travel abroad”. This was confirmed on Friday by a GAESO official who did not want to be named.

GAESO currently charges Rs. 60,000 to process the documents of ex-soldiers and their families who want to reside in the UK, apart from the £583 for a British settlement visa and £350 for a one-way air ticket.

The official claimed that the sum was a “complete voluntary donation for the benefit of other helpless Gurkhas”.

Last month, the British media reported of several ex-Gurkhas who landed in the UK. without any support. The Daily Mail reported that 70-year-old Unman Singh Gurung had been stranded in Hampshire, and that Unman had sold his home and livestock to get to the UK.

The report also implicated law firm Howe & Co., which advises ex-Gurkhas on their settlement applications.

Rai said GAESO officials cannot spend their own money to fight for Gurkha rights. “It’s their (the applicants’) duty to contribute to the fight.”

This is not the first time that GAESO has been accused of corruption. Members at last year’s general convention alleged non-transparency in the “collection of donations”. “Padam Bahadur failed to show any transparency in GAESO’s expenditures,” said Bhakta Keshar Rai, coordinator of the anti-GAESO Central Convention, formed after the dispute. A case had also been registered at the Lalitpur District Administrative Office nine months ago by the anti-GAESO convention, alleging non-transparency in GAESO’s functioning.

Gopal Siwakoti Chintan, former legal advisor of GAESO, said that it has been collecting “donations illegally” for the last eight years. “Howe & Co. knew about GAESO’s deeds. But they didn’t take it seriously,” he said.

Meanwhile, at GAESO’s Pulchowk office, a man in his early 20s said he had been asked to deposit Rs. 60,000 to start visa processing. “I have been told that my 65-year-old mother, who is frequently ill, will get free treatment and old-age allowance in the UK,” said the man who did not want to be named. He gave the sum after borrowing from his uncle. The man’s father was an ex-Gurkha who had died a few years ago.

Posted on: 2010-03-13 11:17