Scrutiny of the government’s policies is necessary to see that they were not framed at the behest of interest groups
The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has just filed corruption cases against 14 persons for renting out 60 ropanis of land around the Fun Park at Bhrikuti Mandap at a much lower price than the market value. The defendants had failed to follow the legal procedure of awarding the contract through a tender in renting the land. While the CIAA’s effort to bring the corrupt to book is appreciable, its pursuit will create a stir only when the ‘big fish’ involved in big scams are also brought into its net. This, however, is easier said than done. Following the 33-kilo gold smuggling case last April, the Home Minister himself had said that the big fish involved in the scam would be made public. He has so far failed to live up to this word. It is unfortunate that corruption cases involving big money get fizzled out over time, with the authorities knowing fully well that both the public and the media lose interest in them with time. And one way of doing this is to form a separate commission, as in the case of the Airbus wide-body scam.
Corruption is not only rife in Nepal, it has also become insitutionalised, but little is being done to combat it, apart from the rhetoric about zero tolerance being made by those in the government. In the 2018 Corruption Perception Index, released last week by Transparency International, Nepal has slipped two notches compared to the previous year, but this does not seem to raise many eyebrows here. Nepal now ranks 124, from 122 in 2017, out of 180 countries. Among the SAARC countries, Nepal is ahead of just Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The 2018 CPI is based on 13 surveys and expert assessments to measure public sector corruption. With such ranking, corruption poses a threat to Nepal’s democracy and federalism. Corruption undermines democratic institutions and weak institutions become unable to combat corruption, thus creating a vicious cycle. To make real progress against corruption, as advised by Transparency International, institutions responsible for maintaining checks and balances over political power must be strengthened. They must also be allowed to operate without intimidation. And, of course, a free media, free from intimidation, is a prerequisite.
It would be naïve to think corruption can be controlled overnight even if there is the political will and commitment. But one could start cleaning the Augean stables at a few places where corruption is known to be embedded, such as the courts, the customs and the land revenue office. A thorough scrutiny of the government’s policies is also necessary to see that they were not framed at the behest of interest groups, thus allowing corruption to flourish ‘legally’. The CIAA can achieve a lot in controlling corruption if it is strengthened legally and given enough human and financial resources to file cases against those in high places. Instead, the ‘party-isation’ of its recruitment process has made the anti-corruption body a lame duck. The Prime Minister has repeatedly said he would not tolerate corruption. Let that be seen by giving the anti-corruption bodies some real teeth.
The Chitwan National Park (CNP) is home to the endangered one-horned rhino. However, it is shocking that a large number of rhinos are dying of natural causes. Park officials say as many as 90 rhinos died of natural causes in the last five years. The largest number of rhinos, numbering 29, died in the current fiscal, according to the statistics maintained by the CNP. The dead rhinos were below 25 years of age.
Some of the rhinos got killed during fights among themselves while others died after being trapped in the quicksand, falling off the ridges and even in labour pain. Most of them died during the rainy season when they were being swept away by the heavy floods. Similarly, as many as 77 rhinos were killed by poachers between 2000 and 2005. There are still 605 rhinos in the park. The alarming rate of natural deaths of the pachyderms and the poaching have greatly worried the officials. Although the CNP has taken various measures, such as building ponds inside the park, more efforts are needed to protect them from the natural deaths. Over population of the rhinos could be one of the reasons leading to the growing rate of their natural deaths.
A version of this article appears in print on February 06, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.