Commissioned to fail?People doubt the new panel formed to investigate gold smuggling can do its job well.
At long last, a commission has been formed to investigate a spate of high-profile gold smuggling cases that have proven to be a big challenge for the rule of law as well as to the country’s international image. After weeks-long negotiations, leaders of major political parties have agreed to form a four-member commission led by a former high court judge. It was constituted after the main opposition party CPN-UML obstructed parliament proceedings for days demanding formation of such a powerful body. It insisted that the probe by the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police would be inadequate to get to the root of the problem as police officers may not be able to grill top-ranking officials, ministers and politicians. Opposition leaders claimed that one after another case of organised cross-border smuggling made the formation of an independent and powerful probe panel imperative as international smuggling on such a scale would have been impossible without the involvement of senior politicians and officials.
The most recent 60kg and 9kg gold smuggling cases, among others, have spotlighted lapses at Tribhuvan International Airport. As foreign nationals from India, China and other countries have been arrested in connection, it is apparent that international smugglers run a cross-border gold smuggling nexus from Nepali soil. Such cases have also indicated the risk of Nepal being projected as a hub of gold smuggling and money laundering.
The CIB has already conducted a rather in-depth investigation in these scams and filed cases in the court. As the commission has been formed separately, it shouldn't supersede the CIB's investigation. One of the major arguments the main opposition put forth while demanding the high-level probe commission was that the CIB officials may not be able to interrogate ministers and senior politicians. Leaders from ruling parties however were in favour of fully entrusting the CIB, a vital state agency. At last, they agreed to the UML’s demand. The commission can now expand its inquiry to higher authorities such as ministers and politicians, with the police investigation done so far forming a strong basis for their action. Besides, the commission has been entrusted with suggesting policy, legal and structural reforms to address the loopholes that are being exploited by smugglers.
There is a public perception that commissions and probe panels are formed in Nepal only as a face saving measure for agitating parties or groups. This time too, the public does not quite believe that the new commission will discover the truth and punish high-ranking politicians and officials. The suspicion is rather that this “bipartisan” commission too has come into being to ensure that no big shot, either from the ruling parties or the opposition, finds himself enmeshed in the smuggling cases.
Even in the past, most recommendations offered in the final reports of such bodies have been shelved. The onus is thus on the newly formed body to prove its relevance and the government authorities and other stakeholders to let it work independently. A lot of time has been wasted in partisan bickering on commission formation. Not a moment of the three months it now must go to waste.