Those responsible for acting against corruption should do their duty on the basis of the lifestyles of the holders of public offices and the expenses they have made
After the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990, the Cabinet once decided that the members of the Council of Ministers would have to disclose their property details and the time given for this was set 15 days after the assumption of office.
With each change of government, it has been a practice with them to disclose their property details – but it has been a halfhearted act, as most of them do so very late, and some others do not do so at all.
To take the latest example, after more than four months in office, the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led coalition government decided on Sunday to disclose the details of the assets held by the Prime Minister and ministers.
According to the Prime Minister’s Press Advisor Govinda Acharya, the members of the Council of Ministers had furnished their property details to the concerned agency and these were not made public as the Cabinet had to take a decision to that effect.
It is somewhat surprising that every time a new government takes office, ministers submit (or do not submit) their property details by taking their own time and every time the Cabinet has to decide whether to make them public.
This requirement for public disclosure of property relates to the concept of good governance as well as the need to maintain transparency and accountability on the part of the holders of public office.
If those in the highest positions of government can show a good example, this practice becomes easier to apply to the lower levels of government. But in fact, this practice has become a half-hearted ritual performed just for the sake of form, not for ensuring transparency and accountability.
Numerous ministers have come and gone and most of them, after the practice was adopted, submitted their property details, almost all of them belatedly, but what happened with such disclosures? Did the public come to know the property details of the ministers at the end of their tenures?
The answer is a sad No. Did this practice then help discourage corruption or abuse of authority? Most probably, the answer is in the negative, here too.
Have the ministers also been required to disclose their sources of income to justify the wealth they possessed at the time of disclosure?
Were the public given the details to know how they had obtained the cash they had disclosed, how they had acquired the land they had disclosed, how they had obtained their gold and silver and other possessions, and whether their previous income was taxable, and, if so, whether they had paid the tax, and so on.
Without taking effective measures to take into account these and other factors, such disclosures of property would prove virtually meaningless, as experience has shown.
Those who indulge in corruption do not say they have done so, and in most cases corruption cannot be proved on the basis of documents, nor can corrupt government servants and other holders of office be caught red-handed, except in a very limited number of cases.
Therefore, those responsible for acting against corruption should do their duty on the basis of the lifestyles of the holders of public offices and the expenses they have made and the actual wealth they possess in various forms.
With the advancement in information technology the government is also following the digital or online path. Recently, the government decided to put its decisions on its website within 24 hours.
It means that public will have an easy access to the government decisions impacting on the public life. Minister for Information and Communications Surendra Kumar Karki uploaded cabinet decision in Nepal Gazette amidst a function.
He said that the government was also preparing to print bank notes and postal tickets within the country. For this, it is preparing to purchase printing press and other equipment for that purpose.
It is a good move that Nepal Gazette, which is the government’s authentic paper, is going digital, a move to help make government offices paperless. Despite the government’s tall claim of making all its offices digitalized, most government websites are hardly updated or new information uploaded.
What is urgently needed is that the government and its line ministries should upload all information including those directly related to the public life on official websites.
A version of this article appears in print on December 13, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.