EDITORIAL: Comply with statute

The proposed CIAA bill must be compatible with the constitution, which has given it powers and defined its jurisdiction

A constitutional body like the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) should not be given more powers than what has been stated in the constitution. The more powers it is given, the more the chances of their misuse if past instances are anything to go by. It is, therefore, imperative that the lawmakers hold wider consultations with the concerned stakeholders and constitutional experts before making an amendment to the bill related to the CIAA. Before any amendment to an act is made, it should also be in conformity with the constitution, which has clearly defined the role and powers of such a body. Recently the government tabled a bill to this effect at the National Assembly, proposing to give more legal teeth to the anti-graft body. It may be recalled that the CIAA, while submitting its annual report to the President on December 24, had also sought more powers so that it could launch a probe even on the policy-level decisions taken by the council of ministers, a demand, many believe, is beyond the scope of the constitution.

As per the constitutional provisions, the CIAA can investigate a public officer only when it has reasons to believe that the erring officer has abused power through corruption. But a new provision proposes giving it powers to take action against a public officer even for ‘abusing’ power. The mere abuse of power should not come under the CIAA’s jurisdiction. Likewise, the bill proposes taking action against those public officers who have not followed the mandatory procedures, or passed the buck to others, taking action against public officers for sealing a public procurement deal without following the due process. However, as per Article 239 (4) of the constitution, the CIAA has been authorised only to draw the attention of the concerned officer for making mistakes. Neither has the bill defined the meaning of ‘policy decision’ taken by the officials.

Section 13 (a) of the bill has authorised the CIAA to seek any certified copy of any document from any office. This provision, if passed as it is, might adversely impact a development project as in the past. The construction of a development project might be unnecessarily delayed, leading to cost overruns. If the CIAA is allowed to probe into irregularities or corruption in any project or programme, the bill should also clearly mention how much time the CIAA should take to complete its findings. The proposal of taking action against a public office holder on charges of ‘improper act’ is also unconstitutional as the new constitution has removed it from the CIAA’s jurisdiction. Both the letter and spirit of the constitution has it that the CIAA can take legal action against a public office holder only when s/he is found to have indulged in corruption. However, it cannot take any pre-emptive action against anyone else, assuming that s/he is going to abuse authority through corruption. A bill must be compatible with the constitution. This is where the lawmakers must use their conscience and make prudent judgments while drafting or amending the bill. They must also keep in mind that a bill that contradicts the constitution will be declared null and void by the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court.

Child abuse

Revelation by a report of the Bangkok-based ECPAT International that Nepali children are at high risk of sexual exploitation should not raise many eyebrows. Almost daily reports of child abuse, especially sexual exploitation, in the media attest to just how vulnerable they are to such abuse in society. Poverty is the main reason why children, especially girls, become susceptible to sexual exploitation. It makes them vulnerable to trafficking or forces them to take up jobs where they could be exploited, such as the entertainment industry both inside and outside the country.

Child, early and forced marriages, as a way of coping with economic hardships, also raise children’s vulnerability to sexual violence. Education, as a right enshrined in the constitution, holds the key to preventing the sexual exploitation of children. Quality education with emphasis on learning a trade will prepare them for life and embolden them to make decisions that concern them, including marriage. If the government has the will, there is no reason why many of the social ills cannot be abolished, as has been shown by its crusade to tear down all the menstruation huts in the ru