Impeachment vs appointmentIn contrast to a famous saying, it is not corruption but anti-corruption that is fighting back in Nepal
There is a famous line in anti-corruption literature: when you fight corruption, corruption fights back. We have come to a situation where it is extremely difficult to differentiate between corruption and anti-corruption, or between personal vendetta and a genuine fight against corruption.
We have come to this situation primarily as a result of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) chief’s obduracy, some civil society members’ determination to impeach him at any cost, the executive messing up with its record keeping system, the late awakening of the judiciary, the toothless parliamentary committees, and the inept political leaders. The donors are also to be blamed; having invested Rs74 million on a citizen engagement project, they must be in a situation of awe with a state of total disengagement. The ongoing face-off between the CIAA, the Supreme Court, the executive, the civil society members and the media reflects how we have closed the vicious circle of corruption of politics and politics of corruption. Incidentally, it is not corruption but anti-corruption that is fighting back in Nepal.
The efforts of some civil society members to impeach the CIAA chief were going nowhere. Given the hung parliament-like situation, it is near impossible to initiate an impeachment process. Obviously, you cannot initiate one through fast-onto-death strikes and mass picketing. It must have come as a sigh of relief with the Supreme Court’s decision to review the legality and hence the legitimacy of Karki’s appointment procedures. This could be the reason Dr Govinda KC postponed his hunger strike for a week.
PM Dahal may relax, saying that he has already conferred with the CIAA chief or that this is all due to the CPN-UML’s incitement during his absence. The timing and the sequence of events, and the way the CIAA press briefing was held on September 16 to reopen the investigation into corruption in the cantonments have resulted in a big political earthquake. In an interview with the BBC Nepali Radio service, Maoist leader Barsha Man Pun hinted at the CIAA’s threat to reopen the case of cantonment corruption as a ‘bargaining tool’ to extract political leverage on the case related to the appointment of its chief that is currently under review at the Supreme Court. In the interview, however, Pun also did not fail to leave a cryptic message, “We should refrain from harassing an honourable position.” Since our politicians are good at churning out compromised solutions, the ongoing tussle may end up with a patchy solution like ‘we pretend to not see each other’. Given the chain of events leading to the current situation, it is difficult to see how PM Dahal’s claim of “kura milisakyo” (the issue has been resolved) gets into operation.
Earlier, a journalist estimated the scale of the Maoist PLA cantonment corruption to be not less than Rs3 billion. There were three sources of corruption. First, a monthly deduction of Rs1,000 from each registered combatant, which numbered 18,525. This is estimated to be Rs1.14 billion. Second, the salaries of 2,432 absentee combatants, estimated to be Rs1.34 billion. And third, the 20 percent commissions charged to the suppliers of rations for the combatants housed in the cantonments. This is estimated to be not less than Rs600 million. The Maoists themselves have admitted that Rs40.5 million invested in Janamaitri Hospital came from the money siphoned off from the allowances of the PLA fighters. The reopening of the investigation of the case may roll the heads of many political leaders associated with the peace agreement in 2006. There is even a possibility of the UN being dragged into the case, as it was responsible for the verification of the Maoists combatants. The case has the potential to jeopardise the whole peace process.
Style of writing
Now, let us have a look at possible implications of the Supreme Court reviewing the legality of Karki’s appointment by the then government headed by Khil Raj Regmi. The Supreme Court can interpret the legality of the appointment of the CIAA chief, but it cannot fire the chief. Article 238(4) of the constitution has categorically mentioned the conditions for vacating the post of the CIAA chief. If the judges unanimously conclude the appointment to be unconstitutional, the possible impacts could be huge.
What will happen to Karki’s decisions and actions during last three and half years of his tenure? Can we have the Royal Commission for Corruption Control (RCCC)-like verdict annulling all the actions and decisions of the body during that period? Meanwhile, the impeachers have failed to inform the public whether they are against Lok Man Singh Karki as an individual or the CIAA as an institution. If you assume Karki and the CIAA to be one and the same, we run into a deeper problem of individualising an institution.
The crux of the problem lies in the inability to differentiate between the wheat and the chaff or between substance and mechanism. It must be a shameful act on the part of the drafters of the constitution to spell out technical criteria for appointment without delving into the substance. Why do we need a retired secretary to head the CIAA? We can also question the need for five commissioners. What is the source of this magic number? While a small neighbouring country like Bhutan can afford to invite international consultants to review and design appointment criteria for its anti-graft agency, we continue to indulge in the same old administrative style of writing that resorts to vague, ambiguous and double-meaning words and sentences in the legal and administrative documents. Someone reading the response letters from the Cabinet and the Ministry of General Administration to the Supreme Court over the latter’s request to produce original documents can have the feel of this style of writing that, obviously, infuriated the Court to issue a seven-day ultimatum to produce the documents.
Manandhar is a freelance consultant