A big blot

The controversy surrounding the Supreme Court verdict which struck the name of a business firm, the Mahalaxmi Sugar Mills, off the blacklist of loan defaulters has entered a new phase with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) unanimously recommending to the House of Representatives that it initiate impeachment proceedings against the SC judges concerned. According to PAC chairman Chitra Bahadur KC, its recommendation was based on the conclusion that the court verdict had created “anarchy” in the financial and judicial sectors. PAC implicates four judges — Arjun Prasad Singh and Badri Kumar Basnet had issued the verdict in favour of the mill which was later upheld by the larger bench of Kedar Prasad Giri, Badri Kumar Basnet and Top Bahadur Magar, that ruled out a review of the verdict, disappointing the five aggrieved petitioners or the lending agencies. Among the four judges, Singh retired some five months ago, and another judge, Basnet, retires in a few days. PAC had launched an investigation into the matter after the five lenders submitted an application to the Speaker seeking action against the judges concerned, which led a number of MPs to complain that the verdict in question constituted a hurdle to the loan recovery.

The ball is now in the court of the full session of the parliament, which alone, but with a two-thirds majority, is empowered to remove from office the Chief Justice or any other judge of the SC on the grounds of incompetence, misbehaviour or failure to discharge the duties of his office in good faith. In this particular case, questions such as who should repay the loan and how much or whether the judges should be impeached are matters to be decided by the designated agencies. But as a matter of principle, bank loans must be repaid. Secondly, anybody who has done wrong should not go unpunished, howsoever high up he or she may be. The necessity of staying above suspicion applies even more to certain positions of public trust and responsibility, such as the judges. This becomes necessary because, without being publicly perceived to be clean, impartial, just, independent and ethical, they cannot be expected to discharge the functions of their office with any degree of credibility.

The PAC recommendation has already presented ethical questions for those concerned, including the judges, severely weakening the moral ground from under the feet of some of them. The crux of the matter is not whether particular persons should be brought to book, it is rather the question of applying certain standards of behaviour, legal or otherwise, to the holders of high office. Any failure on this count should automatically attract questions of accountability. Otherwise, good governance would remain a dream unfulfilled. At this juncture

of history when serious public debate is going on and the major political forces are busy negotiating how best to build a new Nepal through an entirely new constitution to be written by the people themselves, the unpaid billions in bank loans would represent a big blot.