Controversial provisions in corruption-related bills to be revised but private sector to remain under the purview of anti-graft bodyOpposition leaders and the private sector continue to object to the bills.
The Standing Committee of the ruling Nepal Communist Party has agreed to revise the controversial provisions on two corruption-related amendment bills, but the party’s lawmakers are adamant on including the private sector under the purview of the national anti-graft body.
Opposition parties and the private sectors have been criticising the government for trying to expand the jurisdiction of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority when it has failed to control corruption in the public sector.
The Legislation Management Committee of the National Assembly had presented its report on June 22 after clause-wise discussions on the two corruption related amendment bills to the Prevention of Corruption Act (2002) and the third amendment to Commission for Investigation of the Abuse of Authority Act , saying that ‘list of the public limited companies will be published in the national gazette after determining their standards’.
“We are committed to include the private sector under the purview of the anti-graft body because other regulatory bodies do not have the right to investigate corruption in the private sector,” said Parshuram Meghi Gurung, chairperson of the committee.
He, however, said that the jurisdiction of the anti-graft commission would be limited.
Gurung said the Upper House will endorse the two bills on Wednesday.
The decision of the committee comes at a time when Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has assured the private sector representatives that the bills would be revised so that their businesses won’t fall under the commission’s oversight.
On Monday Oli had informed the private sector that the government was ready to reconsider the provisions in the bills.
“There are several regulatory agencies to look into the private sector. So it is not that the commission itself should be the agency to oversee the irregularities in the private sector,” Oli said at a webinar organised by the Confederation of Nepalese Industries.
Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada also told the webinar that the government sympathised with the concern of the private sector.
“Some provisions in the bills were incorporated to make them compatible with the international convention. The practical problems that the private sector could face from the bills would be addressed,” Khatiwada said.
Nepal is a party to the United Nations Convention against Corruption that commits to prevention of corruption in the private sector, political parties and government agencies, among others.
The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority has been demanding jurisdiction over the private sector based on the same provision of the convention. The bills, however, have courted controversy, as many suspect that the provision could result in a witch-hunt against private individuals and institutions.
The bills were supposed to be passed by the National Assembly on June 23 but it was put on hold after strong protests from the private sector as well as the main opposition party, Nepali Congress.
Subsequently, the Standing Committee meeting of the ruling Nepal Communist Party on June 24 had decided to hold the bills until a political consensus is reached on the issue.
The Legislation Management Committee of the National Assembly, which had earlier endorsed the bills, is reviewing the contentious provisions. Some other controversial provisions, however, will be revised as per the demands of the opposition parties.
“We have decided to remove the private sector from the jurisdiction of the anti-graft body, except those having public concerns,” said Dinanath Sharma, leader of the NCP parliamentary party in the National Assembly. “The provision of issuing a stay order to halt the works of the projects will also be removed.”
A day before the prime minister’s meeting with the leaders of the private sector, deputy leader of the parliamentary party of the ruling party Subash Chandra Nembang and leader of its National Assembly Sharma along with other lawmakers had decided to limit the ambit of the public limited companies and remove other contentious provisions.
Meanwhile, some opposition leaders have accused the ruling party of plotting to continue with the contentious provision of allowing the anti-graft body to investigate into the irregularities in the private sector in whatever way possible.
“They have not consulted with us and I am not aware of the revision that the ruling party is making on the controversial provisions,” said Radeshyam Adhikary, leader of the Nepali Congress parliamentary party. “We will comment only after looking at the document.”
The Legislation Management Committee of the National Assembly had presented the amendment bills to the full house on June 22 after clause-wise discussions. The amendment bills were registered at the Upper House on January 20 and were sent for discussion to the committee on February 5 and 18.
Currently, the anti-corruption commission only has the authority to investigate public institutions, which have been defined as “government funded or semi-government bodies” by clause 2 (C) of the anti-corruption law. The amendment seeks to include all “institutions registered as per the law” which will bring all registered companies, private institutions, and even non-governmental institutions under its jurisdiction.
According to the amendment bills, insurance companies, medical colleges and related hospitals, universities and colleges, public limited companies and projects run by domestic and foreign institutions that receive funding from any of the three layers of government will come under the commission’s jurisdiction.
In a joint press statement on June 24, the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Confederation of Nepalese Industries, two key private sector bodies, said that bills would ruin the investment climate in the country at a time when the country is facing economic crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The provisions in the bills will intervene on professional freedom of the private sector companies,” the statement reads. “ Instead of making an effort to make the economy run well, the introduction of such a bill will encourage people to desert their businesses.”
Prithvi Man Shrestha contributed reporting.