EDITORIAL: Crime and punishment
Basnyat’s arrest has proved that corruption is not possible without a nexus between politicians and bureaucrats
The Special Court on Sunday remanded former chief commissioner of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), Deep Basnyat, to judicial custody in Dillibazaar prison on charges of his involvement in helping to register the Baluwatar-based government land – as Lalita Niwas – in individuals’ name.
Basnyat is the first former chief of the anti-grant constitutional body to be sent to jail on charges of corruption and misappropriation of the public land worth billions of rupees. As per the court order, Basnyat, who is also the former secretary, has been accused of embezzling Rs 9.65 crore. He was sent to jail after the Special Court denied him a bail.
On February 5, the CIAA had filed a corruption case against as many as 175 individuals, including former prime minister and Vice-President of the Nepali Congress, Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar, for their role in the Lalita Niwas land grab scam. The anti-grant body has also file a charge-sheet against Rukma SJB Rana and his family members as defendants in the case. Rukma SJB Rana and his family members had first acquired the land from the government way back in 1990 and sold them to other individuals.
As a secretary at the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works, Basnyat had taken a decision to transfer 27 ropani of land to the Rana family and fake tenants (mohis). The Sarada Prasad Trital-led probe panel submitted its report to the Prime Minister, saying the government had forfeited only 14 ana of land of Subarna SJB Rana and had paid compensation to Subarna for the remaining 284 ropani of land. As per the Trital panel’s recommendations, the government has halted the sale and purchase of the plots in Lalita Niwas.
It was a high-profile corruption case involving the political bigwig, bureaucrats and land mafias.
Basnyat was appointed as the CIAA commissioner on April 1, 2016 and was appointed as CIAA chief on May 22, 2017. Besides the CIAA investigation, Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police and Department of Money Laundering Investigation have also launched separate probe into him and his family members on charges of amassing wealth disproportion to his known sources of income. Although Basnyat has denied his involvement in the case, all evidences collected in the course of investigation carried out by the CIAA and Trital Commission point fingers at his direct role in embezzling the public land. Basnyat had, in fact, reached the Special Court after 10 months of filing the corruption case against him, hoping that he would also get a bail, like others, due to the coronavirus pandemic. His arrest may give the public a solace at a time when the government has faced public wrath for indulging in corruption.
Cases of corruption can be controlled to a great extent provided that the anti-graft body launches its investigation impartially and books even the political bigwigs and bureaucrats. This incident has clearly established the fact that corruption is not possible without a close nexus between high-profile politicians and bureaucrats, who know how to misuse legal loopholes. In this case, the Special Court deserves thanks for sending the high-profile former bureaucrat to jail. It has proved that no one is above the law.
Fill vacant posts
The Constitutional Council meeting, which was scheduled for Sunday morning, was postponed due to lack of a quorum. Main opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba and Speaker of the House of Representatives Agni Sapkota, both of whom are council members, expressed their inability to attend the meeting citing their already busy schedules. The constitutional body has not been able to appoint about 45 positions in various constitutional commissions due to row among the council members over who should be appointed to these posts.
The constitutional positions play important roles in imparting duties in their respective bodies, which are considered independent from the executive.
These positions should have been filled immediately after the formation of a new government. It is understandable that the council members did not attend the meeting, chaired by Prime Minister, as they are bargaining for the vacant posts, where they want to appoint the persons of their choice. Whatever interest that they may have, it should be resolved amicably, well before the start of the meeting. Their indecision has hampered the smooth functioning of the constitutional bodies, some of which have chairpersons only for a long time.