Clean chits

If the rate of conviction for financial corruption in high places were any guide, Nepal should be considered among the least corrupt nations in the world. At least one gathers that impression when one looks at the few cases initiated against high-ranking bureaucrats and security personnel and political leaders over the years. In the past one year, the court has cleared several of corruption charges. Jaya Prakash Gupta, a former minister and currently a sitting Congress MP, is the latest in the line, as the Special Court on Monday gave him a clean chit in a corruption case filed by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) in March 2002. CIAA had charged that Gupta had amassed ill-gotten wealth amounting to Rs.22.4 million. The court did not find any discrepancy between his wealth and his legal income. The Special Court has already cleared several high-ranking accused — for instance, former ministers Khum Bahadur Khadka and Govinda Raj Joshi, ex-IGPs Motilal Bohara and Achyut Krishna Kharel.

After the court has cleared the accused, it is not appropriate to comment on individual cases. But why this often happens becomes a matter of great curiosity. In the past, some people held the view that because CIAA had made out weak cases, it tended to lose almost all of them. If the recent verdicts are flawless, one wonders whether CIAA’s charges had not been prejudicial. But it is also an important question whether a person cleared of corruption charges by a court begins to be viewed favourably by the public again. This is so in countries where the rule of law is strong and the judiciary is held in high esteem. It is hard to say that this is always the case in Nepal where court judgements have often been questioned. This calls for the need to remove that impression, and the court has to go a long way.

In this context, Transparency International’s Global Corruption Report-2007 that the Nepali judiciary is one of the most corrupt sectors of Nepali society has not evoked any public surprise. It does not seem to have gone down well with the members of the judiciary, as is testified by Chief Justice Dilip Kumar Poudel’s June 9 comment that it was “biased and prejudiced”. Poudel also levelled the same charge against the media and civil society. But all, including the members of the judiciary, should not lose sight of the fact that when the court has made courageous verdicts in favour of the people and justice, setting aside all undue pressure on it, it has been widely appreciated, for instance, its verdict on the royal commission for corruption control. It was a welcome sign that Poudel also promised to set up a mechanism for curbing corruption in the judiciary but this admission weakens his above allegations. It would be good for the image of the judiciary that its verdicts are above public suspicion. Probably, this has also to do with such factors as the application of different criteria and different interpretations of legal provisions to similar corruption cases to arrive at decisions. CIAA should also do some self-introspection.