The corruption conundrumFollowing a wrong process to remove the CIAA chief will complicate matters
The media is abuzz with the threatening demand by Dr Govinda KC: “Either the parliament initiates an impeachment motion against Lok Man Singh Karki, chief of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), or face my fast-on-to-death protest from July 9”. Dr KC is not an insignificant figure in Nepal. A medical doctor by profession, he is popular among the masses for making the government bow down through his more than half a dozen hunger strikes in the past.
The CIAA too was no less harsh in issuing a knee-jerk reaction against Dr KC’s demands, accusing him of “cheap popularity, growing anarchy and above all, a biased and pitiful mindset against the chief commissioner and the commissioners”. The CIAA press release further accuses him of “proximity to medical mafia, self-declared social activists, organised criminals and corrupt people”. The verbal duet must have put Transparency International Nepal (TIN) and other NGOs advocating good governance and anticorruption into a difficult situation. Last year, recognising the hard work and sacrifice of Dr KC, TIN felicitated him with its integrity award. And because of its anti-corruption agenda, TIN has a moral responsibility to support the actions of the CIAA. Now, with the brawl between the two, one can fairly imagine the uncomfortable situation.
Globally, the anti-corruption movement is in the doldrums. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, you name the country and check for corruption and anticorruption stories and you will get plenty. Remember that in the leak of the century, Panama Papers, the list included names of Nepali tycoons and shady dealers.
In my last write up ‘Corruption vs Anticorruption’, I speak of how corruption and anti-corruption have been bungled up, making it extremely difficult to distinguish one from the other. We have a situation where corrupt activities have seeped into anticorruption actions.
Immediately after the appointment of the chief commissioner, the post which had remained vacant for more than six years in the CIAA, I had written in this paper (Karki and Anarchy) that Karki happened to be a wrong person, appointed by a bunch of wrong people at a wrong time. Many wondered how and why he got appointed in the first place. Was he a bargaining chip of the Khil Raj Regmi-led government to hold the second Constituent Assembly elections in November 2013? Some pointed fingers at the South. Why would the Indian embassy donate three dozen vehicles to the CIAA?
Despite being the chief secretary at the height of political regression in Nepal, Karki had all the benefit of doubt. One must admire his courage and dedication to clean the Augean stables in a concerted manner by focusing on shoddy transformer deals, corruption in the immigration department, health sector, hydropower and jholey or ghost schools. He introduced massive sting operations to nab corrupt public officials red-handed. But Karki continues to face criticism over his style of working, for catching small fishes and letting big ones to swim around freely.
Karki’s relationship with Parliament cooled when he refused to attain meetings summoned by the committees other than the Good Governance Monitoring Committee. In return, to neutralise his growing power and influence, five more commissioners were introduced into the CIAA. The subtle conflict between the anti-graft agency and the executive and Parliament reached a climax when the lawmakers decided to chop off the CIAA’s power to investigate “improper conduct” in the new constitution. This came at a time when the agency was expanding its operation vertically and horizontally, by establishing regional offices and sub-offices.
I do not think the CIAA has inadvertently charged Dr KC of “mental sickness”. In fact, the wording does appear in the new constitution. The drafters of the constitution have inserted an additional clause to remove the chief commissioner and the commissioners by the President with the recommendation of the Constitutional Council “for being unable to discharge the duties of her/his office due to physical or mental illness.” Being a medical doctor, Dr KC could have taken this course to remove the chief of CIAA rather than demanding his impeachment. Definitely, he had aimed at a big target. The question is: Will he be able to handle the muzzle of the gun?
The current call for Karki’s impeachment seems to have been based on the logic that two wrongs make one right. Having already appointed a wrong person, following a wrong process to remove him will further complicate matters. First, given that Parliament is almost in limbo, technically speaking, it will not be easy to go ahead with the impeachment process. One may garner the required one-fourth of the members to table the impeachment motion but securing the required two-third majority to pass the motion will be a Herculean task.
Second, the impeachment process does not convey a good message; instead it will further tarnish the already poor image of Nepal. Obviously, Nepal does not fare well in the global ranking of the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) that is annually published by the Transparency International. It comes even worse in the Index of Public Integrity (IPI) recently developed by the European Research Centre for Anti-Corruption and State Building. If the CPI measures the extent of corruption in the public service (negative measure), the IPI measures the society’s capacity to control corruption and ensure that public resources are spent without corrupt practices. It is based on years of research and the evaluation of the efforts of different societies to advance measures to control corruption (positive measure). Out of 105 sampled countries of the world, Nepal is ranked at 98th position.
The fundamental problem with Nepal’s legal and institutional arrangements for an anticorruption drive is the inability to answer the question: Who is responsible for controlling corruption? Do we need an independent agency like the CIAA to fight corruption or is it in the realm of the executive, legislature or judiciary. Without resolving this fundamental issue, we are basically throwing mud at each other which ultimately leaves everyone dirty.
Manandhar is a freelance consultant