Tara Bhattarai for GPI – WNN Justice
(WNN/GPI) Kathmandu, NEPAL, SOUTH ASIA: Telephones ring continually in the office of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority, the apex constitutional body that investigates governmental corruption. But staff officers in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, are too busy to answer them. Piles of files sit pending action in other employees’ offices.
This busy space contrasts with the five commissioners’ offices, including the chief commissioner’s, which are vacant except for dust-covered furniture. Some of the rooms are locked.
The chief commissioner’s post has been vacant since November 2006, and the other four commissioner positions have become vacant in the years since, says Krishna Prasad Dhungana, the commission’s spokesman and joint secretary. The previous commissioners retired after the fixed six-year tenure of service, and the government has not elected new commissioners to replace them.
The commissioners are in charge of investigating corruption cases involving high-level public officials.
The commissioner positions remain vacant because of disagreements among political parties and strategies by corrupt politicians who want to remain in office, anti-corruption advocates and politicians say. Because these roles are vacant, the commission has investigated fewer high-profile cases since 2006. Other organizations work to curb corruption in Nepal, but they have not made substantial progress. Anti-corruption advocates and politicians say political parties must boot out corrupt members in order to end the cycle and restore citizens’ faith in politics.
Nepal has one of the highest corruption levels in the world, according to a report by Transparency International Nepal, the national chapter of a global organization to curb corruption and to increase public accountability, says Tham Nath Ghimire, the chapter’s senior media officer.
Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index assigns Nepal a 27 out of 100, with 0 signifying the highest level of corruption and 100 signifying the lowest level of corruption. The index ranks Nepal 139th of 176 countries and territories, with 176th being the most corrupt.
If someone files a corruption case against a public service official, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority, created in 2007, conducts the preliminary investigation, Dhungana says. The commission refers authenticated cases to the Special Court of Nepal, which provides fast-track justice for cases of corruption and abuse of authority.
Politicians and anti-corruption advocates attribute the delay in filling the vacancies at the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority to unintentional and intentional factors: disagreements among the major political parties and strategies by corrupt politicians.
The commissioner posts remain vacant because of the major political parties’ disagreement in appointing them, Shanti Maya Pakhrin says during a phone interview. Pakhrin is a former Constituent Assembly member and the committee secretary for one of Nepal’s major political parties, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), in Dolakha, a district northeast of Kathmandu.
The other three major political parties are the Nepali Congress; Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist); and the United Democratic Madhesi Front.
The president is in charge of appointing the commissioners. But the Constituent Assembly, an interim legislature tasked with preparing a new
national constitution, must first endorse a candidate to the president with a majority vote, says Hiramani Sharma, the undersecretary at the prime minister’s office.
Baburam Bhattarai, who served as prime minister until March 2013, dissolved the Constituent Assembly in May 2012 because it failed to draft a new constitution within the stipulated time. The disagreement among political parties in the Constituent Assembly led to a deadlock in government decisions, Bhattarai said while still the prime minister.
“Due to the ongoing political impasse, the important constitutional posts are vacant, which is very shameful,” he said.
To end this political deadlock, Nepal’s major political parties agreed to form an interim government in March 2013. They appointed Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi as the prime minister until the national election, which is tentatively scheduled for June or November 2013.
Without the Constituent Assembly, the Constitutional Council, a five-member council that recommends officials’ appointments, can suggest commissioner candidates to the president, Sharma says. But the Constitutional Council has not yet done so.
But corrupt officials may also be keeping the commissioners’ posts vacant on purpose.
Political parties’ leaders and high-level officials protect corruption perpetrators and are leading the country into a frightening condition, Bhattarai said while prime minister. He said that corrupt officials were so powerful that he feared they would force him from his position.
The government is delaying filling the commissioner positions as a planned political strategy, says Kedar Khadka, an anti-corruption advocate who has worked for more than 12 years in 10 of Nepal’s 75 districts. This impunity and delayed justice aggravate corruption in Nepal.
“None of the major four political parties have raised the issue of corruption at the political level due to fear that the leaders and cadres of their own parties may be implicated,” Khadka says.
The Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) has raised the issue of the vacancies in the commission several times during the meetings of the four major parties since the vacancy of the chief commissioner post, Pakhrin says.
Because commissioners investigate the corruption cases involving high-level public offices, these vacancies have prevented the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority from filing these types of cases with the Special Court of Nepal, says Dhir Bahadur Chand, the court’s registrar.
During the tenure of the former chief commissioner, the commission filed cases with the court against six former ministers on charges of corruption, including receiving cash, goods and property illegally, Chand says. Following their convictions in court, they had to pay fines, serve jail time, and hand over money, goods and property to the government.
“These were the high-profile cases of that time,” Chand says. “But, at present, no such cases are registered.”
The commission did not file many cases of serious corruption, such as graft and illegal property hoarding, to the court in 2011, according to the Transparency International Nepal Report 2012.
But this is not because politicians are not corrupt, Chand says.
“The reason of not filing the serious cases at the Special Court is not [a] decrease in corruption as such, but it is rather due to the long vacancy and absence of the chief commissioner to lead, direct and steer the CIAA decidedly,” Chand says. “Only the cases of corruption by minor government officials, police officers and of the fake educational certificates are registered at present.”
The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority registered 8,839 petitions in the fiscal year 2011 to 2012 and investigated 5,466 cases, according to the commission’s records.
The commission filed 125 cases in the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year to the Special Court of Nepal, which convicted 59 and ruled 66 not guilty or in need of further investigation. And since July 15, 2012, the commission has filed 189 cases to the court, which convicted 57 and ruled 132 not guilty or in need of further investigation.
Current issues of public office corruption include government employees taking bribes, abusing authority or misusing diplomatic passports, says Keshab Prasad Ghimire, the commission’s undersecretary and assistant spokesman. He is not related to Tham Nath Ghimire.
Meanwhile, other governmental and nongovernmental organizations are also working to curb corruption in Nepal’s public offices.
The National Vigilance Centre, under the supervision and control of the prime minister’s office, keeps complaint boxes in different offices and public places across Nepal, says Krishna Prasad Poudel, the center’s spokesman and joint secretary, in a phone interview. It broadcasts public service announcements against corruption through various communication channels. It also suggests policies and strategies to the prime minister’s office to combat corruption.
The regular monitoring from the center helps decrease corruption, Poudel says.
Another anti-corruption initiative is the Civil Society Anti-Corruption Project by Pro Public, a nonprofit and nongovernmental anti-corruption organization, Khadka says.
“The Civil Society Anti-Corruption Project has been organizing programs to organize public opinion against corruption through radio programs and public hearing campaigns,” Khadka says. “Still, the results have not been satisfactory.”
But these programs have not led to effective law enforcement or other substantive results, Tham Nath Ghimire says.
“It is, therefore, necessary that the government should attach topmost priority to this issue and that the major political parties should have determination to eradicate corruption from the country,” he says.
Although the pending election of the new Constituent Assembly will allow for the appointment of commissioners, corruption will persist because the same politicians win election, says Mukunda Subedi, the spokesman for the Nepali Congress in Sunsari, a district in southeastern Nepal.
In Nepal, corruption has been institutionalized because corrupt people constitute the majority of the main four political parties, Subedi says. These people again ascend to the top posts of the executive and legislative state branches, perpetuating corruption.
“Corruption cannot be controlled unless the persons in charge of the political system are changed,” he says.
Subedi says that corruption is rampant even within his party, and some former ministers of his party are spending their lives in jail after the court convicted them.
“I do not hesitate to say that Nepali Congress is a poor party of rich leaders,” Subedi says.
Anti-corruption campaigners face threats and harassment, so people prefer to turn a blind eye to it instead of filing a report against corruption, Khadka says. He has received many threats by phone and even in person.
“Campaigns against corruption, being against the interest of the political power, we, the campaigners, and our families are threatened with murder,” Khadka says. “There was an attempt to murder me inside the chamber of a government minister in the recent past.”
The government’s inability to come together against corruption is hurting the country, Tham Nath Ghimire says. Political parties’ attitudes and differing goals create a fertile ground for rampant corruption in Nepal, affecting governance, development activities, peace and security, employment, tax collection, public services, educational standards, agricultural development and many other issues.
“Lack of focus of the state on good governance has adversely affected efficiency, transparency, accountability and even international image,” he says. “The public service organizations that are organizationally weak and ineffective can’t meet the public expectations. Every day, the country is moving towards the whirlpool of rampant and blatant corruption.”
As such, Nepal’s people are losing faith in political parties, Pakhrin says.
“The political parties should seriously take up the issue of corruption,” she says. “But due to discord between the parties, the solution has been aborted and, as such, people have stopped believing them.”
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