Due punishmentCIAA finally investigates NOC land deal, but case isn’t over until the guilty are punished
The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) this week finally began interrogating ex-Managing Director of Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) Gopal Khadka on his role in the controversial land purchase deals. At least Rs1.26 billion has been known to be misappropriated, and the figure could rise to over two billion after investigations conclude. Though the interrogation presents a welcome step towards resolving this massive instance of embezzlement, the case isn’t over until the guilty are punished. And it is troubling that the CIAA took so long in reaching this point.
Khadka, fired by the government on September 18 last year due to his involvement in the land deal, was reinstated by an order of the Supreme Court on October 9. The court’s reasoning was that the government did not follow due process when firing Khadka. Since then, the government has recalled Khadka to the Supply Ministry so that he could not affect work at the NOC, while awaiting further investigation by the CIAA into the embezzlement case.
For its part, the CIAA had not shown any concrete attempt to investigate the land deals and Khadka’s involvement in it until recently. Going as far back as September, the media and multiple parliamentary committees had been critical of the anti-graft body dawdling in opening investigations. A study by a parliamentary sub-committee under the parliamentary Industry, Commerce and Consumer Welfare Committee had concluded that NOC paid three to four times more than what the brokers had paid to the owners of the land in four districts—Bhairahawa, Chitwan, Sarlahi and Jhapa. The panel’s report also showed that the NOC top brass, middlemen and local administrative chiefs had colluded to show that prices paid were reasonable.
Even as the CIAA investigated Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) officials and harassed NEA chief Kulman Ghising (who was hailed as a hero for bringing down power outage times) in August 2017, they neglected to investigate Khadka’s dealings, despite requests from the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to do so around the same time.
Now, more than eight months since the controversy began, it seems that the anti-corruption body has finally agreed to take matters seriously. This past week, they have begun interrogating all board members and senior officials at the NOC. It appears that they have been meticulous too, gathering information from over 200 people, including landowners, middlemen, erstwhile secretaries of local bodies who were involved in the deals and local people, before approaching the NOC’s senior officials and board members this week.
This is good news. The amount involved in the embezzlement case is not a meagre sum. The CIAA should definitely attempt to recover the funds. And while it can, and should, be heavily criticised for taking this long to begin formal investigations into the case, the CIAA will eventually be judged on whether it can bring the perpetrators to book. Justice, even belated, is better than none at all.