CIAA summons raises questionsA day after the Lokman Singh Karki-led Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority summoned high-profile politicians, bureaucrats and civil society leaders for interrogation in potential corruption charges, questions are being raised about the motive
A day after the Lokman Singh Karki-led Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority summoned high-profile politicians, bureaucrats and civil society leaders for interrogation in potential corruption charges, questions are being raised about the motive and timing of the CIAA decision.
In what would have appeared a major anti-graft drive by the constitutional body, the CIAA move appears to be more like an effort to silence and intimidate his opponents, politicians and bureaucrats accused in corruption, critics say.
Even government attorneys who led investigation into ill-gotten wealth of public officials while being deputed at the CIAA in the past say they are surprised at the names of the people summoned by the anti-graft body on Saturday. According to them, none of the accused was under the CIAA scanner in the past.
More than 300 complaints related to illegal amassing of wealth were filed in the CIAA before Karki took charge
as its head. “The list does not include the 29 people summoned by the CIAA. I never saw these names on the CIAA watch list,” a senior government attorney who served the corruption watchdog as a lead investigation officer told the Post.
The letters sent to the 29 individuals on Saturday call them to appear before the CIAA within seven days without mentioning the allegations against them. Most of them are vocal critics of the CIAA chief. Many are affiliated to the ruling CPN-UML, followed by members of the Khil Raj Regmi Cabinet and UCPN (Maoist) leaders. Emerging leaders of UML Surendra Pandey, Rajendra Pandey, Bijay Poudel, Janardan Dhakal, Banshidhar Mishra and Ichchharaj Tamang have been linked to unnamed charges.
Majority UML leaders
UML leaders say they were targeted by Karki to settle personal scores. UML leaders, who were against his appointment as the CIAA head immediately after the Regmi-led Constitutional Council recommended Karki for the position, have been targeted revengefully, the leaders alleged. Even after Karki assumed office, UML leaders had raised questions over the CIAA’s jurisdictions when the Authority ordered scrapping of hydropower licences issued by the Energy Ministry under Radha Gyawali by overstepping its jurisdiction.
“I was the one to raise questions about the CIAA jurisdictions in the parliamentary Finance Committee,” said Surendra Pandey, former finance minister who has been summoned by the Authority. Pandey had forced Karki to sit through the committee’s meeting as he tried to walk out in November last year. “It seems he is trying to take revenge,” Pandey said.
“Targeting individuals for raising voices against the wrongdoings or holding public officials accountable is nothing but abuse of authority [of the CIAA],” said Pandey, challenging commissioners to prove him wrong.
There are also allegations that the CIAA chief is targeting individuals who have spoken against India’s unofficial border blockade.
UML leader Bijaya Poudel believes that his summoning is related to his public position on the blockade. “I am opposing the Indian blockade and demanding resolution of the federalism row internally,” said Poudel.
Relations between another UML leader Mishra and Karki were not so good. Karki was the health secretary while Mishra was appointed a minister. Karki was transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office when relations between the two soured.
“It seems the CIAA action is politically motivated,” former prime minister and senior UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal said in Chitwan on Sunday. Also dragged was Krishna Bahadur Mahara, perceived to be a right hand of UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
There are also concerns about the timing of the CIAA action—given that the parties are engaged in crucial negotiations to resolve the Madhes crisis and end the blockade. There are fears that this episode will distract the political class from dealing with the national crisis with threat to their political careers.
“This is not the right time to expose the names of leaders while we are facing a serious national crisis and rifts are widening with India,” said Ganesh Datta Bhatta, an associate professor at the Tribhuvan University. He objected to the decision to expose individuals before conducting a thorough preliminary investigation. The CIAA charge has tarnished their public image, said Bhatta.
Out of the 11 ministers in the Regmi government, six members, all of them Karki’s peers in the bureaucracy, were summoned on corruption charges. All the six had reportedly opposed Karki’s appointment as the CIAA chief.
“I protested against him in Singha Durbar while he was the chief secretary and opposed his appointment during my time in the election government,” said a Regmi Cabinet member seeking anonymity. Ending more than a six-year-long leadership vacuum in the CIAA, the Regmi government had appointed Karki as its chief in 2013 despite widespread criticism of his track record.
Members of the Regmi government—Shankar Koirala, Tek Bahadur Gharti, Bidhyadhar Mallik, Umakant Jha, Ram Kumar Shrestha and Chhabi Raj Panta—have been accused of amassing property by illegal means. None of them were on the erstwhile Constitutional Council which nominated Karki.
Kanak Mani Dixit, a prominent civil society leader who was vocal against Karki’s appointment, was also summoned. Dixit had campaigned against Karki’s appointment in legal and civil society fronts.
Bhoj Raj Ghimire, who succeeded Karki as the chief secretary after the 2006 Jana Andolan, has also been named. Ghimire and Karki were not on good terms, according retired secretaries who knew them both closely.
Transparency International-Nepal Chairman Bharat Bahadur Thapa, however, asked the politicians to face the interrogation instead of objecting the CIAA move. “For the accused, interrogation itself is an opportunity to clarify charges against them. They can appeal against the CIAA even after they are dragged to the court,” said Thapa.