Not invincibleConditions necessary to provide momentum to Nepali people’s battle against corruption are already present
In the last four years, Dr Govinda KC has staged a series of hunger strikes demanding control of unbridled corruption in private medical colleges and improvements in the standard of medical education. Each strike has ended with the government conceding to Dr KC’s demand to implement reforms. KC ended his eighth hunger strike after the government agreed to expedite the enforcement of previous agreements. It also agreed to commence parliamentary procedures to review the performance of the head of the Commission of Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). KC claims the evidence of the CIAA head’s involvement in Nepal’s corruption nexus is irrefutable.
After Dr KC broke his fast, the government attempted to wear him out through its previous strategy of not acting on its commitments. But KC was not going to give up. He started his ninth hunger strike before Dashain, again demanding enforcement of the agreement on whose basis he ended his eighth strike. (He postponed the ninth strike in view of the festival.) The ninth hunger strike came on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision to review the legality of the CIAA chief’s appointment. Demonstrations in support of KC had started appearing throughout the country.
Examples of corruption
Giving in to KC’s widely popular demands means reining in Nepal’s corruption mafia, which allegedly works in tandem with the country’s politicians. Political party bosses from both sides of the aisle are reported to have instructed their MPs not to bring up the discussion on Dr KC in Parliament. And Parliament went to Dashain recess without any discussion. The silence was deafening. Meanwhile, corruption continues unabated. The following are some examples from recent reports in Nepali media.
Last month, the Center of Investigative Journalism, Nepal (CIJN) circulated an investigative video titled “Thesis on Sale” (http://cijnepal.org.np/thesis-on-sale/). The expose presents dramatic footage of price negotiations between administrative staff at Nepal’s premier educational institution, Tribhuvan University (TU), and an undercover journalist trying to secure a Masters’ degree by submitting a multitude of wholly or partially plagiarised theses. The video identifies a number of TU professors complicit in the act.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal recently assured his colleagues that, at his behest, the head of the CIAA agreed to drop the investigation of misappropriation of funds by his party. If Dahal is telling the truth, both he and the CIAA chief are collaborating to obstruct justice, an act punishable by law.
Recently, the CIAA also announced that it was investigating Nepal’s internationally-respected, privately-operated research institute Social Science Baha on corruption charges. Academics from all over the world have condemned this action. Nepal’s legal experts claim that the CIAA has again acted beyond its authority and that its action has no legitimacy. The CIAA was previously censured a number of times by the Supreme Court for ultra vires acts.
Corruption in the country may be worsening and reversing the trend looks almost impossible. But it need not be so. In the last few years, a number of developing countries have successfully put the corrupt on the run. It is instructive to examine the conditions that gave hope to these countries before we lose hope. Let us look at Brazil and Ghana as examples.
In 2014 in Brazil, an investigation into alleged financial misappropriation by Petrobras, the state-controlled oil company, was launched. The investigation was led by the “dogged and determined efforts of a group of prosecutors and judges.” Inspired ordinary citizens filled Brazilian
streets for days in anti-corruption protests. In a dramatic defiance to the authorities, the employees of Brazil’s anti-corruption office protested, symbolically “holding brooms”, demanding an end to corruption pervasive in their own office.
As a result, the minister responsible for the office resigned. Transparency International reported: “The investigation exposed systemic corruption through Brazil’s elite political class.” To date, scores of Brazilian politicians from across political lines, including sitting senators and two past presidents, as well as police and construction company bosses have been either charged with corruption or are in prison.
Marcus, a young Brazilian, told me he grew up accepting corruption as a part of “our culture.” He now realises corruption does not have to be a part of his culture. “Our young, educated judges, lawyers and journalists have given us a new hope,” he said.
In 2015 Anas Aremeyaw Anas, a young Ghanian journalist filmed undercover government officials, judges and politicians allegedly taking or negotiating bribes. Anas says his mission in life is “to shame and jail” the corrupt. Based on Anas’s evidence, more than 30 judges and 170 judicial officers have been implicated in Ghana’s biggest corruption scandal. Many resigned voluntarily.
Anas was recognised by the US President Obama for risking life to uncover truth and for service of democracy. The African Courier, a magazine which reports on Africa and its diaspora’s experience, comments: “Ghanaians, especially politicians and public officials, have been awoken by Anas’s work…Anas’s efforts have shown great potential of deterring more people from indulging in corrupt acts.”
The coming together of an independent, fair and fearless judiciary, committed investigative journalists, simmering public outrage against corruption and active anti-corruption crusaders made huge dents in the culture of corruption in both Brazil and Ghana. It instilled confidence in the people by demonstrating that the battle against the corrupt is not unwinnable.
In Nepal, the rejection of political interference and the assertion of independence by the Supreme Court, the courage demonstrated by the CIJN journalists, the relentless fight waged by Dr Govinda KC and the simmering public anger against the corrupt have brought together the conditions necessary to give momentum to Nepali people’s battle against corruption.
There is no reason why the experiences of Brazil and Ghana will not be replicated in Nepal. The present situation cannot and will not continue forever.
Koirala, a retired geotechnical engineer in Canada, was a consultant to the National Planning Commission