EDITORIAL: Property and propriety

Besides bank balance, almost all ministers have investment in non-productive sectors like land and gold, which shows they don’t practice what they preach

Bank balance, land plots, houses, gold and silver and cars. That’s the pattern of the property owned by our Cabinet ministers. The property details of our ministers show that they are rich, thanks to their spouses who are “even richer”. A quick recap: Prime Minister KP Oli has Rs 4.2 million in a bank, a whopping increase of Rs 3.5 million compared to what he had two years ago. A house and 17-18 tolas of gold are in his wife’s name. Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport Raghubir Mahaseth tops the list with Rs 7.2 million cash and 52 tola of gold. His wife’s property easily surpasses his. Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada has land plots in Jhapa, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Dolakha worth Rs 10.49 million, 10 tola of gold and one kg silver. Other ministers are also in the same league, with majority of the property in the names of their spouses.

The dizzying details of our ministers’ assets were enough to send Twitter into a tizzy, and the Twitterati lost no time to take a dig at “our rich communist ministers and their richer better halves”. Disclosure of property details that run into millions of rupees and huge amounts of gold does obviously spark interesting conversation in a country like Nepal where 28.6 per cent of people are still multi-dimensionally poor – their lives are battered by several deprivations simultaneously. In a society where corruption rules the roost, people do tend to look askance at public office holders, for they  find the property owned by ministers a bit disproportionate to their income source. People’s increased curiosity to know the “source” of income of their ministers and public office holders is but obvious. There, however, is nothing wrong in owning property. This is a fundamental right of every citizen guaranteed by the constitution.

What is, however, worrisome is the way our ministers are “holding” their property. None of the ministers has investment in productive sectors. Isn’t it strange that Finance Minister Khatiwada, who is never tired of calling for increasing investment in the productive sector, has accumulated cash in the bank, amassed gold and has been sitting over land plots? Today’s government has promised prosperity by enhancing investment in the productive sector. But the property details stand as proof that our ministers do not practice what they preach. We are not questioning the source of income of our ministers. The moot question is: How can we expect the ministers’ continued refrain of boosting productive sector to translate into reality when they themselves are so bent on holding cash and investing in non-productive sectors like land and gold? How can they convince the private sector to invest in the productive sector when their own investment is towards the non-productive sector? Their property details have laid bare a huge gap between their intent and action. That aside, disclosure of property details in Nepal has become a ritual with no tangible impact. If this provision has to be followed, accountability must come into play. After all, members of the general public hold the right to know the sources of income of the people who are elected by them. Property is fine, but propriety must prevail.

CIB’s expansion

With a view to making criminal investigation faster and more effective, the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) is all set to establish its offices in all provinces. CIB Director Pushkar Karki has said growing rate of cyber, financial and organised crimes has made it even more challenging for the CIB to take timely action so that no perpetrators will go scot-free. The CIB felt its presence in all provinces due to growing number of such crimes. The CIB was established in 2010 to investigate complex criminal cases.

As per law and regulations, the CIB can establish its offices even outside the Capital. Nepal Police headquarters is the only authority which refers a serious criminal case to the CIB to investigate. It mainly tackles, among others, financial offences, frauds, human trafficking, organised crimes, smuggling of gold and wildlife body parts and hundi business. It is also tasked with implementing court verdicts and handling with bitcoin racket, also known as crypto currency, banned in the country by Nepal Rastra Bank. However, the government needs to allocate sufficient funds and skilled human resources to expand its services in all provinces. The CIB’s expansion will certainly help control the aforesaid crimes.