After Deuba, Dahal hesitates to publicise his property detailsThough public unveiling of property details is a voluntary act, it is an established practice in mature democracies.
The first elected government after the restoration of democracy in 1990 started the practice of making public the property details of the prime minister and ministers.
The practice started by then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s cabinet continued until 2018. Except Khil Raj Regmi and his team, all prime ministers and ministers until the time of the second KP Sharma Oli government made their property details public.
However, the Sher Bahadur Deuba government which succeeded Oli broke the tradition. Deuba and his ministers didn’t make their property details public despite being in power for a year and a half. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal seems to be following in Deuba’s footsteps. He appears to be in no hurry to make the details public despite being in power for over 100 days now.
In 2017 too, then-prime minister Dahal had not published his property details in his first 100 days in office. He did so later, and only after considerable public pressure.
The Corruption Prevention Act, 2002 requires prime ministers and ministers to submit their property details within 60 days of joining the government while all public position holders need to submit the details within 60 days after the end of each fiscal year. In addition to the prime minister and ministers, the rule applies to all elected representatives and government employees.
Although the Act doesn’t make it mandatory to unveil the property details, successive prime ministers and ministers made them public as a sign of their commitment to transparency. The details were made public after their submission to the Council of Ministers.
Former Secretary Krishna Hari Banskota, who also is a former chief commissioner of the National Information Commission, said there is a practice of disclosure of public officials’ assets in many countries that believe in transparency.
“Then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala had started a good practice of property details disclosure. It is unfortunate that the practice has been discontinued,” Banskota told the Post. “This shows our political leadership doesn’t believe in transparency.”
There is a separate section on the website of the prime minister’s office regarding property details. The section says the property details of Dahal and six of his ministers have been received, but are unavailable for the public.
Activists advocating transparency say making property details public is one of the ways to increase a government’s credibility. “But governments are becoming more and more regressive when it comes to maintaining transparency,” Padmini Pradhananga, the president of the Transparency International Nepal, told the Post. Nepal is among the most corrupt countries in the world, ranking 110 among 180 countries surveyed.
In his property details made public while becoming prime minister for the second time in 2016, Dahal had claimed he did not have property in his name. Dahal's only property was one kattha (338.57 metres square) of ancestral land in Chitwan and three tola (1 tola is 11.66 grams) of gold, both owned by his spouse Sita Dahal.
In December 2016, Dahal claimed he did not own anything besides what he had declared. “When we brothers received our shares of parental property, I got one-and-a-half bigha of land. I sold it all and donated the cash to the party,” Dahal had said at a press meet in Bharatpur, Chitwan.
However, only last year he had a house built in Bharatpur on 10 kattha land. On September 25 last year, on the day of Ghatasthapana of Dashain, he hosted a house warming at the new place, which he claimed was built on his ancestral land.
His claim contradicted what he had said in 2016. The right to information experts say the main reason leaders hesitate to disclose property details is the fear of exposure. “Prime Minister Dahal must make his property details public while apologising for lying in the past,” said Banskota.
“The properties of those holding public positions cannot be a private matter. I believe one can file an application under the right to information demanding Dahal and his ministers to make their property details public.”
Dahal’s personal aides say there was no problem in publicising the property details. “They might be made public,” Haribol Gajurel, prime minister’s chief political advisor, told the Post. He, however, refrained from giving clear answers on why the details were still hidden and when the disclosure would be made.