Calls to probe Maoist cantonment scam growingPrime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s Maoist party has been accused of misusing funds meant for combatants.
As the government is being praised for ‘catching big fish’ in the fake Bhutanese refugee scam, demand is also building from various quarters for an impartial investigation into alleged corruption in Maoist cantonments.
The case dates back to 2007 when the then government had decided to provide Rs5,000 a month to as many as 19,602 former Maoist combatants camped in seven cantonments and 21 satellite camps set up across the country. The provision was to be continued until the time the combatants were either integrated into security agencies or chose volunteer retirement.
In 2010, 4,008 combatants were disqualified for being either underage or late recruits.
The distribution of money to former rebels courted controversy as Maoist leaders allegedly pocketed a big chunk of the fund. In 2013, of the total 19,602 combatants registered by the United Nations Mission to Nepal (UNMIN), 1,460 were integrated into Nepal Army while some others chose a rehabilitation package offered by the government.
Other parties have been accusing the then Maoist leadership and top commanders of profiteering from the funds that should have gone to the combatants. They were also accused of accepting salaries and allowances on behalf of thousands of combatants who had already left the cantonments.
Although some Maoist Centre leaders said Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was positive on probing the alleged corruption in cantonment funds, no prominent leader has talked about the issue in public.
So there is a question of whether the Dahal-led government will ever undertake the probe.
Leaders from rival parties claimed that Dahal cannot do so because that would put him in a difficult situation.
“Both the prime minister and Congress chief Sher Bahadur Deuba could be indicted in the cantonment case,” said Raghuji Pant, a standing committee member of CPN-UML. “I don't think this government will probe it.”
The main opposition party UML, through its three-day central committee meeting that concluded Saturday, demanded that the government investigate all corruption cases, including the one related to cantonment funds.
However, the Maoist-led government and leaders of the Maoist Centre have so far been tight-lipped on the issue.
Even within the Maoist Centre’s rank and file, dissatisfaction is palpable over the alleged corruption, in which the party leadership had allegedly misused a large amount of money collected from the combatants.
Around a decade ago, a corruption complaint was filed at the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) against Maoist leaders, including Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai, charging them of pocketing government funds allocated to pay salaries and allowances to former combatants by producing fake combatants.
The complaint also charged the leaders of embezzling the amount meant to procure rations for the combatants. In the complaint, the Youth Association Nepal, UML’s youth wing, had accused the Maoist leadership of misusing at least Rs4 billion.
Notably, the Office of the Auditor General had cleared the budget allocated for cantonment operation and management including the salary and allowances of former Maoist combatants.
Some Maoist Centre leaders, however, have started speaking up, prodding the party leadership to explain the issue to the public. They say that the party shouldn’t hesitate to investigate the matter since it hadn’t embezzled as much money as has been rumoured.
In a recent Facebook post, Subodh Serpali, the chair of the Young Communist League (YCL), the youth wing of the Maoist Centre, said that as the party keeps facing accusations every now and then, the party leadership should settle the issue.
He added that if any of the commanders are found guilty, the YCL will hand them over to the government and help the authorities take necessary action.
“The UML and the Congress have benefitted the most by the sacrifice of Maoist fighters, but they have also been accusing the party of misappropriating the funds meant for cantonments,” said Serpali. “Why didn’t KP Oli or Sher Bahadur Deuba initiate a probe when they led the government?”
He said the UNMIN-led joint monitoring and coordination committee was responsible for distributing the funds to the fighters living there and the well-audited reports are now shelved in the Home Ministry following the integration of some Maoist combatants into the Nepal Army.
“Anyone can see the files there,” Serpali said. “UML leaders like Ishwar Pokhrel, Bhanubhakta Dhakal and Gokul Baskota should be given the responsibility to probe it.”
The YCL chief said Dahal’s government should minutely probe the case and ‘enlighten’ the public.
“I am sure that our leadership and commanders are not involved in any such corruption,” Serpali said. “If anyone is found guilty on this front, the YCL will hand them over to the police.”
Former chief of the YCL Ram Prasad Sapkota, who goes by nom de guerre Deepshikha, also said the issue should be probed so as to clear the air.
“Fighters were given cheques individually and as such there was no room for corruption,” Sapkota told the Post. “But even to convince the people, the government should initiate a probe.”
Sapkota claimed that his party’s rank and file also wants an investigation as the opposition parties often exaggerate the matter to vilify the Maoist Centre.
Some Maoist leaders, however, believe that the UML and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party are trying to divert the people’s attention from the ongoing investigation into the fake Bhutanese refugee scam after the arrest of some of their top leaders.
“Other parties raised the already closed cantonment issue to divert public attention after the Maoist-led government started getting praise for its anti-corruption efforts,” said Hitraj Pande, chief whip of the Maoist Centre. “Our party is not involved in any kind of financial embezzlement.”