Clear confusion

NC-D president and former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and the minister for physical planning and works in his erstwhile cabinet, Prakash Man Singh, have declared that they will not appear before the Royal Commission for Corruption Control (RCCC) to answer the latter’s queries. It has summoned Deuba in connection with two cases of corruption. One relates to his decision to ‘expedite’ the work of the access road to the Melamchi drinking water project, and the other relates to ‘misappropriation’ of funds from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. On Monday, RCCC issued a similar notice to Singh regarding a corruption case which also relates to contracts on the same access road. Both Deuba and Singh have dubbed RCCC ‘unconstitutional’ and alleged that its moves are aimed at defaming political leaders who have opposed the Royal steps.

The Supreme Court has the sole authority to settle the question of the constitutionality of RCCC or its activities. Indeed, a case is pending with the court seeking an order to declare its activities unconstitutional. RCCC is investigating the case of Rs. four million disbursed by the Deuba cabinet as Dashain expenses to various persons, despite the fact that the matter is sub judice with the apex court. This intrusion has serious implications for the judiciary and the country’s justice system, besides RCCC’s mandate to investigate judges and members of constitutional bodies. If the disbursement case is decided by the court, can RCCC decide it in another way? Or what will happen if RCCC decides on the case before the apex court does? The Supreme Court should thus resolve the confusion at the earliest.

RCCC has been formed under Article 115 (7) invoking the emergency powers to issue orders to meet the exigencies, though nowhere under Article 115 (1), which provides for declaring a state of emergency, is corruption mentioned as one of the exigencies. Moreover, under Article 115 (7), the orders so issued (in this case, to form RCCC) will cease to be operative as soon as the emergency is ended. This means RCCC is a temporary arrangement. Then, what will happen to the cases it is now hearing or may take up later on when the emergency is terminated? Moreover, RCCC is looking into cases of abuse of authority, an area only the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has been authorised by the Constitution to deal with. A question being raised, therefore, is whether the formation of a new commission to hijack some of the functions of the existing constitutional body is legally or otherwise justified just because the latter has proved ‘ineffectual.’ If that argument were to be extended to other areas, the scenario for the rule of law regime would be quite nightmarish.