Corrupt copsThe reputation of the august police force has been marred by unabashed corruption
Corruption in the Armed Police Force (APF) was exposed after four of its inspector generals including a sitting chief were probed by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) over charges of pocketing millions of rupees illegally during their stay in office. The heads of the paramilitary force, once better known for its courage in countering Maoist guerrillas during the conflict era, have now been tainted by corruption. Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kosh Raj Onta became the first head of the elite force to be suspended over corruption charges. He is accused of pocketing millions of rupees while procuring and supplying goods to the force units. Following a CIAA directive, the government suspended him fearing his stay in power could influence the investigation or result in the destruction of evidence.
A preliminary investigation carried out by the anti-graft body shows that Onta pocketed Rs 70 million by working in collusion with suppliers and producing fake documents. The CIAA has released him on bail of Rs 100 million. The anti-graft body suspects that millions were embezzled by calling tenders internally. It has not yet examined the charges against Onta of misusing funds while procuring materials for the paramilitary force and possessing assets disproportionate to his known sources of income.
Onta comes from an engineering background and was appointed as the head of the paramilitary force in 2012, breaking the tradition of force commanders
leading the institution. Soon after assuming office, he was engulfed in controversy over alleged corruption. When CIAA investigators interrogated Onta about the allegations, he not only admitted misusing funds but also fingered his predecessors saying that arranging extra money to celebrate special functions was a traditional practice. Acting on information provided by Onta, the anti-graft body has launched a corruption probe against three former IGPs—Basudev Oli, Shailendra Shrestha and Sanat Kumar Basnet.
Basnet, who was once a contender for the post of the commissioner of the CIAA and hoped to get the job after retiring from the APF, is now busy answering questions about his involvement in questionable deals. Preliminary investigations have revealed that Oli, Shrestha and Basnet engaged in massive corruption during their days in office.
The three ex-IGPs are out on bail of Rs 7 million, Rs 10 million and Rs 80 million respectively. Investigators say the trio will likely face other charges including possessing property disproportionate to their known sources of income. Their ability to produce millions in less than an hour to post bail has raised questions if their assets were obtained legitimately.
A chequered history
Corruption in the police force does not end here. The Nepal Police, a centuries-old institution responsible for maintaining law and order, has a worse reputation. The force had earned a very bad name during the Panchayat era, but it was widely perceived that the institution would improve its tainted image after the restoration of democracy in 1990. Nothing has changed even after the country was declared a federal republic in 2007. In fact, corruption has become the norm, and top officials rarely complete
their terms without getting involved in some wrongdoing. The reputation of the Nepal Police has been equally marred by controversy and corruption during the republic era. During the period 1990 to 2015, all the 13 IGPs of the Nepal Police except Ratna Shamsher, Dhruba Bahadur Pradhan, Shyam Bhakta Thapa and Kuber Singh Rana have faced corruption charges.
Retired police chiefs Om Bikram Rana, Hem Bahadur Gurung and Ramesh Chand Thakuri are facing corruption cases at the Supreme Court for misusing Rs 290 million while purchasing equipment for the Nepali peacekeepers deployed in Sudan. The case tarnished the country’s image in the international arena and Thakuri was suspended. All the ex-police chiefs have appealed their convictions by the Special Court, a fast-track court formed to deal with corruption cases. The three ex-IGPs along with 31 senior officials were accused of pocketing millions of rupees in kickbacks while purchasing materials for the Nepali UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan.
Another retired IGP Rabindra Pratap Shah, who had taken over after Thakuri was suspended, is also being probed by the anti-graft body over charges of amassing property through illegal means. Their predecessors Moti Lal Bohara, Achyut Krishna Kharel and Pradeep Shamsher JB Rana had also faced corruption charges although the apex court later acquitted Bohara and Kharel.
The unholy nexus between security officials and politicians, unscrupulous competition to get promoted to top positions and extreme politicisation in the appointment of the head of the institution have promoted corruption. This has compelled police officers with good track records to compromise their professional ethics. Since security forces have to follow the chain of command, even honest officials cannot speak out against the wrongdoing of top officials until they retire. High officials abuse the public procurement process to make money so that they can appease the political class for personal gain. This has weakened the authority of law enforcing agencies and their effectiveness.
An untouched institution
The financial activities of the Nepal Army are often not scrutinised. After Nepal ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2011, efforts were made to bring the army, INGOs, NGOs, political parties and the judiciary under the CIAA’s jurisdiction. The army has been lobbying against the move. The then army chief Gaurav Shamsher Rana’s formal suggestion is enough to understand the army’s intention. An army delegation led by Rana had submitted a list of recommendations to the chairman of the Constituent Assembly in 2014 in response to its call for public inputs on the draft constitution. The army had then urged the government to keep it out of bounds to the CIAA.
An international survey has put Nepal’s defence sector in the high corruption risk list. A defence corruption survey conducted by Transparency International-UK has placed Nepal among high corruption risk countries ranking it in Band D (on a scale of A to F). The army’s tight chain of command prevents leakage of corruption-related complaints. All-expenses-paid foreign trips for media persons and close relations with influential people have kept cases of corruption in the army a secret.
Considering the growing number of corruption scandals in the security agencies, there should be no delay in adopting all the measures necessary to make them transparent and accountable to the public. Since corruption in Nepal has become a chronic disease posing a serious threat to the common people’s survival, no stone should be left unturned to cure it. We have no alternative but to change anti-corruption laws in accordance with international standards, widen the ambit of anti-graft bodies, and strengthen their effectiveness through an informed citizenry to cure the deep-rooted corruption.
Sharma is with the political desk at the Post