Clean, not quite

The Royal Commission for Corruption Control (RCCC) has absolved former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, six former ministers and 27 beneficiaries of the charges of corruption concerning the distribution, through a Cabinet decision, of cash amounting to Rs.3.86 million on various grounds out of the Dashain expense head of the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. Announcing the verdict, the chairman of the three-member panel, Bhakta Bahadur Koirala, said that the Deuba Cabinet’s “decision to hand out cash could not be established as a case of corruption under Clause 17 of the Anti-Corruption Act, 2002.” However, strangely enough, he added that it amounted to abuse of government property. The panel also reminded the Cabinet ‘not to take such decisions in future,’ as the beneficiaries, according to it, were the ones who did not deserve financial help.

Though Koirala, exchanging smiles with Deuba, asked, ‘You always blamed us for being politically biased...what do you say now?’ the latter, talking to the press, branded the whole process as ‘a drama meant to defame political characters.’ The RCCC hears today another corruption case against Deuba, who is unlikely to testify, as before. Yesterday’s verdict seems to be aimed at giving the impression that the RCCC is not politically motivated, but in doing so, it has also exposed its incompetence. The question arises why the RCCC, as prosecutor and investigator, charge-sheeted Deuba in the first place, if it were to clear him later on as the judge?

Not surprisingly, none of the RCCC members is a lawyer or a judge, though it combines the powers of a Special Court and the constitutionally formed Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) — an arrangement which fundamentally violates all democratic principles of justice. If such distribution does not amount to abuse of authority, the RCCC has encroached on the powers of the Cabinet by reminding it not to repeat it, amid newspaper reports that the present Cabinet, too, is being similarly liberal with the taxpayers’ money. Whatever the RCCC’s decisions, it is unlikely to carry much conviction with the general public, as it is thought to be an ad hoc body dogged by public doubts about its constitutionality, let alone its intentions.