Holes in government’s anti-corruption drivePrime minister and Maoist leaders say pressure coming from fellow leaders and coalition.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said he will make his Maoist party better and stronger in the next three months just like in 2008, when the former rebel party had emerged as the largest force in the legislature within two years of its joining mainstream politics.
Dahal, the chief of the CPN (Maoist Centre), said he would achieve such transformation by successfully taking the ongoing anti-corruption drive to its logical end. The Dahal-led government is currently investigating the fake Bhutanese refugee scam, the Lalita Niwas land grab and the recent gold smuggling case.
However, party leaders and observers believe that Dahal, of late, is facing resistance from his own party as many of the Maoist Centre leaders including vice-chair Krishna Bahadur Mahara have been accused in various corruption cases.
“In the past, we were in a war against the state. But, today, we are in a peaceful campaign of transformation to socialism,” said Dahal, while addressing the 20th Doramba Memorial Day at Dandakateri of Dorambha Sailung Rural Municipality of Ramechhap on Thursday.
“Once again it is essential to make the revolution for socialism a success with support from the people. We must create a new environment in the next three months. By then, the party will be vibrant. If that happens, it won’t be difficult to replicate the results of the 2008 [Constituent Assembly] polls.”
Despite the perceived anti-corruption stance of Prime Minister Dahal and Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha, the public still doubts that the ongoing corruption investigations would take their natural course and indict top leaders as the police have not yet interrogated Maoist leaders including Krishna Bahadur Mahara.
“The prime minister is having a tough time dealing with corruption cases due to the pressure from the leaders within the party,” said Ram Karki, the party secretary.
“Leaders around the prime minister seem to be creating hurdles in the ongoing [anti-corruption] drive, though they publicly and in party meetings preach that no innocent should be indicted and no one involved in the corruption spared.”
Immediately after the seizure of a large quantity of gold from outside the Kathmandu airport last month, some pictures and video clips showing Maoist Centre leaders including Deputy General Secretary Barshaman Pun and former Vice-President Nanda Bahadur Pun posing with ‘gold smugglers’ were widely circulated on social media. Though the leaders rejected having dishonest dealings with the ‘smugglers’, the public is not convinced.
Deputy General Secretary Pun, who is also a former finance minister, has already said that he would cooperate with the investigation.
Despite being relegated to the third-largest force in Parliament since the 2013 elections, the Maoist party has been part of several governments.
Dahal is facing problems not only from coalition partners, but also from his own party leaders.
On August 6, the Supreme Court cleared the way for investigating those involved in Cabinet decisions that allowed transfer of the ownership of government land in the name of private individuals, opening the door for the police to start an investigation into the roles of former prime ministers Madhav Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai in the scam.
A division bench of justices Anil Kumar Sinha and Kumar Chudal said those involved in ‘policy decisions’ must come under the scanner.
Following the Supreme Court verdict, the government is under pressure to interrogate former prime ministers—CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Nepal and Nepal Samajbadi Party chair Baburam Bhattarai.
But with less than a day remaining for the Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police to submit its report on the Lalita Niwas land scam, the investigating team is likely to submit its report without quizzing the two leaders.
“It’s true that we will have to submit our report on Sunday, but we have not said we won’t interrogate other people,” said AIG Kiran Bajracharya, chief of the CIB. However, other officials privy to the developments said that given the limited time, the chances of interrogating the two former prime ministers are slim.
But Shrestha’s personal assistant Kamal Giri said the suspects, whoever they may be, will continue to be under the scanner even after the report’s submission.
The meeting of the ruling coalition held on August 15 has termed the Supreme Court’s decision ‘judicial activism’, claiming the court went beyond the demand of the petitioners to order authorities to investigate even Cabinet decisions.
Nepal and Bhattarai had made several decisions in the Cabinets they led with regard to the Lalita Niwas land adjoining the prime minister’s official residence, central bank office and other VIP residences.
Party secretary Karki said the prime minister is in a do-or-die situation as he is under extreme pressure even from within the ruling coalition.
“I have told the prime minister personally that even if we have to leave the government, we shouldn’t hesitate to take bold decisions against corruption,” Karki said. “Everyone knows our compulsion. With just 32 seats, we cannot sustain pressure from larger parties.”
However, some Maoist Centre leaders said Home Minister Shrestha has given a free hand to the CIB to investigate corruption cases. But the CIB has not interrogated the Maoist Centre leaders despite mentioning their names in its investigation report.
The CIB in a recent report has included the names of former Speaker Mahara and his son, Rahul, stating that they were found to be in constant touch with Chinese nationals accused in gold smuggling.
“Our home minister as well as the prime minister have instructed CIB officials to interrogate any Maoist Centre leader they suspect of involvement in corruption cases,” said Yubaraj Chaulagain, a central committee member and Bagmati Provincial Assembly member. “But the CIB has not taken any action against them. It is therefore making people suspect our leaders, as if they are exerting pressure on the CIB.”
With media reports saying that the CIB is submitting its report on Sunday without even interrogating the former prime ministers, the opposition parties have already started attacking and accusing the government of trying to shield them.
During the meeting of the coalition partners, the ruling parties discussed whether the court’s latest ruling on the government’s ‘policy decisions’ on the Lalita Niwas land case was appropriate.
Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Shrestha, while speaking in Gorkha on Friday, said the government will not stay silent as smugglers, fraudsters and their henchmen are trying to create hurdles in anti-corruption investigations.